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Posted: Wednesday January 28, 2009 12:08PM; Updated: Wednesday January 28, 2009 6:15PM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >
INSIDE THE NBA

While the Marbury rumors swirl, Celtics rediscover their groove

Story Highlights

As the schedule has eased up a bit, the Celtics have taken off on a dominant run

The hot streak comes amid rumors that Stephon Marbury could join Boston

It wouldn't make sense for the Knicks to release the exiled point guard now

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Kendrick Perkins (right) and the Celtics are back to defending like they did during their record-setting start.
AP
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BOSTON -- Before we touch on the Celtics' rejuvenation, let's start by agreeing that Stephon Marbury isn't going to come walking through their door.

Of course, Marbury could decide to slice millions of dollars off his proposed contract buyout, which may (or may not) compel the Knicks to release him. But that probably isn't going to happen, based on Marbury's stance dating back to last summer.

Amid the clamor of Marbury-to-Boston rumors, no one has been able to explain this one: Why would the Knicks cooperate by waiving Marbury? They're going to pay him $18 million or more -- and then set him free to watch him make shots on behalf of an enemy team on New York's dime? Between his salary and the luxury tax, Marbury is going to cost the Knicks close to $40 million this season in return for zero production. On top of that, we're supposed to believe that New York will release him so he can help the Celtics win another championship in June, or, worse yet, help another Eastern rival beat out the Knicks for the No. 8 playoff spot?

Over the next three weeks, Knicks president Donnie Walsh will continue trying to trade Marbury's expiring $21 million contract to a team seeking cap relief. But there is likely to be no such deal, because Marbury's name is poison, because New York needs two-year contracts that won't hurt its 2010 free-agent budget, and because the rest of the league is disposed to hurt -- rather than help -- the rich Knicks.

Let's assume the Feb. 19 trading deadline has passed and Marbury remains lodged within the Knicks' payroll like a kidney stone. Marbury must secure his release and sign with another franchise by March 1 to be eligible for the playoffs with his new team. The Knicks aren't going to enable Marbury to play elsewhere unless he first helps them by saving them millions on his salary (and the residual millions in luxury tax).

At that point, it wouldn't be surprising if Knicks owner James Dolan decided to not release Marbury under any circumstances. The Knicks have already endured the worst period of their divorce from Marbury, and it's not like they owe him anything: In return for almost $100 million in salary, he has provided them with no playoff success while doing far more harm than good to the franchise in recent years. Even if Marbury offers to leave money on the table, Dolan may nonetheless decide to hold him accountable to his contract while setting a new precedent that he won't be pushed around by players like Marbury.

Any way I look at it, Marbury-to-Boston is a long shot at best.

For their part, the Celtics look like they have no need for Marbury at the moment. Following their 2-7 slide over the holidays, the Celtics entered Wednesday's game against Sacramento with eight consecutive wins. That streak includes a run of extraordinary victories against winning teams in which Boston has amassed leads totaling 109 points over the last four games.

The Suns, Magic and Mavericks, in particular, have hopes of making deep playoff runs, but all three contenders were exposed in the last week by the turbine rotations of the Celtics' defense. There were times last Sunday when the Mavs appeared to be playing against six or seven Celtics, so often were two defenders pressuring the ball.

"We haven't come across a team that plays this effective defensively,'' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.

No team endured a more congested first-half schedule than the Celtics, who played their 41st game midway through Week 12 of the season (Jan. 14). Their final 41 games are being played over 13 weeks, which is a more helpful breadth than it would appear.

"Think about it: We have six back-to-backs the rest of the season,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "We had [six] in the month of November.''

The Celtics say they've reverted to last year's championship form because they've recently had enough practice time to reform their defensive rotations and work on ball movement offensively.

"Throughout the whole month of December, I don't remember us having a practice because we had so many games crammed in,'' captain Paul Pierce said. "We were going into hotels and putting the tape down [on ballroom floors] and trying to mimic what teams were doing, but it's not the same thing as having practice. We believe in what we do, and the reason we play well is because we practice it.''

The Celtics rank No. 1 in field-goal defense (42.2 percent) and No. 2 in offense (shooting 48.2 percent from the floor). Though they've separated themselves from the tier of playoff teams that rely on perimeter shooting, this recent stretch doesn't change the fact that the Celtics' bench could use another big man defensively as well as a guard capable of handling the ball and shooting three-pointers. In the case of the latter need, they shouldn't count on trying to fill it with Marbury.

 
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