Rondo's injury, Bynum's return to shake up Eastern Conference

Rondo's injury, Bynum's return to shake up Eastern Conference
January 27, 2013, 9:00 pm
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Finger Rolls

• A day after missing most of the second half during the Sixers’ big victory over the Knicks at the Wells Fargo Center, coach Doug Collins missed Sunday’s practice session with a sinus infection. The coach remains day-to-day for Monday’s game against Memphis.

• Meanwhile, guard Jason Richardson also missed practice on Sunday. Richardson sat out of his third straight game on Saturday and remains a game-time decision for Monday’s game.

• Also from Sunday’s practice, assistant coach Michael Curry said the team has been anticipating Andrew Bynum’s return by working on different sets. That way, when the big fella jumps in with his teammates for the first time this season, it won’t be a shock to the system.

“We have to get ready to do things so that when he comes, we’re ready to move into the next phase of what kind of sets we want to run and what kind of personnel we want on the court with him,” Curry explained.

Last Monday Bynum said that he was still on track to return sometime before—or after—the All-Star break.

• Fearless forecast? Bynum plays in the Feb. 13 game in Milwaukee to close out the first half. With a week off between games, Bynum can make his debut, recover and then be ready to go again in the next game on Feb. 20. Just a guess…

Go on, admit it …

When the news broke midway through the Celtics’ victory over the Heat on Sunday afternoon that point guard Rajon Rondo tore his anterior cruciate ligament and would be out for the remainder of the season, your first thought was about Jrue Holiday.

As in could Holiday be the starting point guard for the East in the NBA All-Star Game in Houston in a couple of weeks?

Certainly, with Rondo out and headed for surgery, the East All-Stars will need a starting point guard. Since Kyrie Irving finished higher in the fan voting than Holiday, chances are Irving will get the nod.

Nevertheless, expect Holiday to get a few more minutes than he might have had Rondo been in the game.

Now for the big picture part …

With Rondo out for the rest of the season, we're left to wonder how his absence will affect the Eastern Conference playoff race and, to a smaller degree, the shape of the Atlantic Division.

Could the Sixers benefit from the Celtics’ misfortune? Well, yes. Absolutely.

Believe it or not, at 18-25, the Sixers are just 2½ games behind the Celtics for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, a fact that has not been lost on Doug Collins’ crew. With wins in just three of their last 11 games and a subpar 8-19 record since Dec. 1, the Sixers normally would be in the doldrums, perhaps even playing with lottery ping-pong balls as the main objective.

But during the same stretch that saw the Sixers go from four-over .500 to seven under, the Celtics have gone 12-16, with just one win in their last seven games.

And now they don’t have their best player for the rest of the season.

“Any time you look [at the standings] and know that if you string a few wins together and you’re right back in the mix, especially if we can get some momentum heading into the All-Star break, it’s something to look forward to,” said Spencer Hawes, who was back in the starting lineup for the first time this season during Saturday night’s victory over the Knicks (see story). “But we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We don’t want to look past anyone or forward to any other team.”

That’s sage advice, though it might defy human nature a bit. No one needs to look at the stats to see that the Celtics are not nearly as good without Rondo, but here a few objective measures anyway:

Headed into Sunday’s double-overtime win over Miami, the Celtics were 2-3 and averaged 93.2 points in games Rondo missed. With Rondo, the Celtics were 18-20 and averaged 95 points per game. Those numbers jibe with those that show the Celtics score exactly three fewer points per 100 possessions without Rondo on the floor than with him.

By comparison, the Sixers score nearly a point less per 100 possessions without Holiday on the floor and were 0-4 with 96.5 points in games Holiday was out with an injury.

In other words, imagine the Sixers without Holiday, multiply it by three, and that’s what the Celtics are without Rondo.

“It was a big blow to everybody in here, me included," veteran Kevin Garnett told reporters after the victory on Sunday. “It’s tough. We had a tough game, came in, and he told the whole team in the locker room. It’s tough, tough on everybody. [Rondo is] becoming the heart and soul of this team. He’s coming into his own and had some bumps in the road, but we’re just trying to be supportive for him.”

Granted, supporting casts do matter, and the Celtics' remain superior to the Sixers' in that respect. Though aging and not nearly as productive as years past, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry are a bit stronger than the Evan Turner, Thad Young and Nick Young.

Although, as long as we're adding and subtracting, are the Celtics nearly as good as the Sixers if Andrew Bynum is added to the mix? That remains to be seen, but there is a palatable sense of excitement around the Sixers’ coaching staff that Bynum is inching closer and closer to a return. During Sunday’s practice session at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Bynum continued to work out on his own without a setback.

“It’s encouraging that he’s doing more and more work,” said assistant coach Michael Curry, who ran the practice session with Collins out with a sinus infection. “We did a lot to get him. When you see him on the court, he’s one heck of a player. He’s starting to do some things at shoot-around and his level of activity has picked up. He’s here working three hours or so a day. Yeah, you’re going to get excited.”

For Boston, there could be even more excitement to come. Rondo had not yet told his teammates that he was going to miss the remainder of the season before the trade rumors began to heat up. Naturally, the 15-year veteran Pierce was the first name into the fray considering he has a player option worth $15.3 million next season, only $4 million of which is guaranteed.

There is already a report from ESPN that the Celtics, Grizzlies and Lakers have discussed a three-way trade, the framework of which would send Pierce to Memphis, Pau Gasol going to the Celtics and Rudy Gay to the Lakers.

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