Archive for October, 2010

The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (6 of 7)

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division (sans the C’s) with the sixth of a seven-part  series (Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5) …

New Jersey Nets
NEW JERSEY NETS
by Mark Ginocchio, Nets Are Scorching

New Jersey Nets' Brook Lopez (11) posts up as New York Knicks' Ronny Turiaf defends during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, in New York.

The Nets might have an All-Star on their hands with Brook Lopez. (AP)

ON THE NETS: I think the Nets are going to surprise some people this year and be a lot better than last year.

Not Oklahoma City Thunder good, but maybe eighth seed in the East good, which could still be below .500.

I think Brook Lopez is going to go a long way in establishing himself as an All-Star, and while I’m advocating being patient with Derrick Favors, I see him being used to lure a superstar over to New Jersey this season (Carmelo Anthony?).

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics are clearly the class of the Atlantic Division this season, and they’re once again one of the favorites to be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

With their age, I can see them hitting some ruts during the regular season, and of course all of their core guys have to be healthy for the playoff run, but the Celtics are one of the few teams out there that I think are capable of defensively shutting down Superfriends in Miami.

With that in mind, I’ll be rooting for them if/when their paths cross.

New York Knicks
NEW YORK KNICKS
by Tommy Dee, The Knicks Blog

New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire speaks with the media during the Knicks' Media Day at their training facility Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, in New York.

The addition of Amar'e Stoudemire has Knicks fans thinking playoffs. (AP)

ON THE KNICKS: The Knicks will be improved, assuming Amar’e Stoudemire stays healthy.

They need the trio of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chander and Anthony Randolph to make strides on both sides of the ball to get the most out of Mike D’Antoni‘s transition offense quarterbacked by Raymond Felton.

Of course, the Carmelo Anthony situation will continue to loom, and this is a pressure-packed season for the coach, seeing that his system has taken a tremendous hit with fans over the last two years.

They still have roster flexibility, and I expect them to land Anthony, but in the meantime they have to consistently win free-throw attempt battles and out-rebound their opponents. Those are two constants for playoff teams.

If they do that — and knock down their open jumpers — they’ll be a playoff team. If they don’t, it could be another lost season in the Big Apple.

ON THE CELTICS: I actually love what the Celtics did this offseason. To this day, I think they beat the Lakers if Kendrick Perkins doesn’t get hurt.

But they’ve loaded up the front line with size, and age, with both Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal, which is key because of the status of Perkins’ health — and it makes them deeper up front against the likes of Miami and Orlando.

The Celts owned the Magic last postseason because they chose to guard Dwight Howard 1-on-1 in the post, and it proved effective as he couldn’t kick out to open shooters. Perhaps more importantly, with the Big 3 in Miami, I believe the Heat are vulnerable up front. That’s the way to attack them.

If Rajon Rondo continues off his impressive playoff performance and the Celtics maintain health, then they should be right there in the end once again.

Off the floor, I love the addition of Lawrence Frank, one of the most prepared minds in the game today.

Philadelphia 76ers
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
by Brian Ward, Depressed Fan

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins, right, seated next to Sixers President and General Manager Ed Stefanski,  makes remarks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Monday, May 24, 2010. Collins is back as an NBA coach after seven seasons as an analyst with TNT. Collins is excited to take over the 76ers, the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1973 draft.

It might be asking to much for Doug Collins to lead the Sixers to the playoffs in his first season. (AP)

ON THE 76ERS: The Sixers had an up-and-down summer. New general manager Rod Thorn and head coach Doug Collins are both clear upgrades.

Sending Willie Green and Jason Smith out of town was a case of addition by subtraction.

Evan Turner is taking his lumps right now, but while he may not be scoring as much as we’d hoped, he’s producing in other areas and contributing while figuring out the difference between the Big Ten and the NBA.

I’d be feeling much better about the Sixers’ prospects if it wasn’t for the Samuel Dalembert trade. Ed Stefanski pulled the trigger on a deal that basically gutted the Sixers interior defense and defensive rebounding without a thought to who would fill that void.

To make matters worse, he took back the second year on Andres Nocioni‘s contract in the deal, which submarined the Sixers’ cap space for next summer. It was a horrible trade from every angle.

If the Dalembert trade hadn’t been made, I’d feel pretty confident in predicting a 10-15 game turnaround for this team and probably a trip to the playoffs in Colllins’ first season at the helm.

As things stand, however, the Sixers’ talented perimeter players won’t be able to cover for their feeble stable of bigs, and it’s a stretch to think they’ll win 35 games. If I had to make a prediction today, I’d say 30-52.

ON THE CELTICS: From the outside, looking in, the Celtics don’t look as strong as they did last season.

Their core is a year older, and the addition of Shaq is going to open some major holes in their defense.

That being said, they have a cakewalk through the Atlantic, and they’ll probably finish somewhere between the No. 2 and 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, depending on health.

If Kendrick Perkins comes back healthy in time for the playoffs, they could make a return trip to the Finals, but I think that’s a bit of a long shot.

Toronto Raptors
TORONTO RAPTORS
by Zarar Siddiqi, Raptors Republic

Toronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani, of Italy, speaks to reporters after the team's basketball training camp finished for the day at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday Oct. 2, 2010.

Andrea Bargnani is hoping the Raptors aren't as some media outlets are predicting. (AP)

ON THE RAPTORS: 26 wins.

The Raptors aren’t as bad as ESPN is making them out to be. They could be on par or better than teams like Philadelphia, Indiana, New Jersey, Detroit, Washington and New York, so there will be wins to be had.

The defensive effort has been solid in training camp, and if the Raptors can get consistent offensive production out of Andrea Bargnani and the Italian improves his defensive awareness, they have enough players who can play and carry the load.

Jarrett Jack, Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa can complement the youth of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, but the question will be whether the Raptors can rely on their defense to keep them in games when their star-starved offense goes into a funk.

Last year, they were dead last in defensive rating. If they can become a middle-of-the-pack team, it could be a decent rebuilding year, but I don’t see the playoffs on the horizon.

ON THE CELTICS: The health of the two O’Neals and Kevin Garnett will dictate how the Celtics will fare.

The Raptors saw first-hand how volatile things can be with Jermaine O’Neal if he’s injured, and if you have to rely on Shaq giving you cover at center, then the Celtics could be in trouble in the postseason, much like they were when Perkins went down in the Finals.

From what I’ve seen of Rajon Rondo, he looks to have improved his outside game to the point where he can make a sagging defense pay.

With Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all good mid-range shooters and passers, it will make the Celtics hard to stop, and we know the defense will be there.

Barring injury, I’d pick the Celtics to win 57 games but lose to the Bulls in the postseason (yes, I think the Bulls will be good) as Tom Thibodeau comes back to haunt you.

If injuries hit early, there will be a firesale.

Stay tuned for the final portion of this seven-part series: the Boston Celtics.

Shaquille O’Neal: ‘Tuesday night we ain’t losing money’

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal had stated following his team’s preseason win over the Knicks in Hartford, Oct. 16, that he had been in bigger openers than this season’s meeting against the Miami Heat. O’Neal stated at the time, “In the last 20 years I’ve had bigger openers. It’s big to you guys, but you guys like the hype. Everybody wants to talk about the young team, but the last 10 years I think I’ve been there I think four times and I haven’t seen a young time do it yet … Especially with all the social media … I’ve been in much bigger games.”

But after looking at his 18 season-openers in the NBA — which have translated to a 13-5 record for his teams — O’Neal admitted that Tuesday night’s showdown did distinguish itself.

“Maybe ’02 was a big one,” he said, referencing his Lakers’ 87-82 loss to the Spurs. “I guess this probably does rank up there as one of the biggest openers.”

Just moments before looking at the list of his openers, which started with his Magic beating the Heat, 110-92, in 1992, O’Neal commented on how well the media was publicizing the Celtics’ meeting with the Heat.

“All the talk of [the NBA] losing money. Not on Tuesday night we ain’t losing money,” he said.

Here is a complete list of O’Neal’s openers (with his team in bold):

1992: Orlando 110, Miami 100

’93: Orlando 116, Miami 96

’94: Bullets 110, Orlando 108

’95: Orlando 99, Cleveland 88

’96: Lakers 96, Phoenix 82

’97: Lakers 104, Jazz 97

’98: Lakers 99, Rockets 91

’99: Lakers 91, Utah 84

’00: Lakers 96, Portland 86

’01: Lakers 98, Portland 87

’02: Spurs 87, Lakers 82

’03: Lakers 109, Mavs 93

’04: Miami 100, Nets 77

’05: Miami 97, Memphis 78

’06: Bulls 108, Miami 66

’07: Pistons 91, Miami 80

’08: Phoenix 103, Spurs 98

’09: Celtics 95, Cavs 89

Video proof Kendrick Perkins is back – at least in practice

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

WALTHAM — You have to crawl before you walk and walk before you run.

In the NBA, you have to stand on a court before you can really begin think about getting back into a game following reconstructive knee surgery.

But as one can see from this video – filmed Monday at Celtics practice – Kendrick Perkins certainly looks the part as he appears to be in the best shape of his career, a clear sign he has done significant rehab work already following June’s rebuild of his right knee after it buckled and collapsed in Game 6 of the NBA finals, along with the Celtics’ hopes of banner No. 18.

Now, looking the part of a svelte, lean and mean big man, Perkins has hit the court and has started shooting short jumpers and free throws.

The big man is expected to be out until at least January following the repair of the ACL in his right knee.

The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (5 of 7)

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division with the fifth of a seven-part  series (Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4) …

Atlanta Hawks
ATLANTA HAWKS
by Jason Walker, Peachtree Hoops

Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew is interviewed during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, in Atlanta.

Can Larry Drew get more out of this Hawks team than Mike Woodson did last year? (AP)

ON THE HAWKS: The Hawks spent the summer, once again, reinvesting in the status quo (see Johnson, Joe), which has seen them improve on their record every season since their 13-win nadir in 2004-05.

The major changes were on the bench, where the team replaced Mike Woodson with longtime assistant Larry Drew. Gone are the constant switching defensively and the heavy reliance on iso-sets offensively in favor of a motion offense and playing it straight defensively.

Such change should result in a rise in turnovers, a stat that has always kept the Hawks’ offensive efficiency near the top of the NBA but also kept their best defenders, Josh Smith and Al Horford, in better positions to help the team defensively.

The Hawks were also very fortunate last year in terms of injuries, so their lack of depth didn’t harm them in terms of their regular-season record.

Between the adjustment to new schemes and a likely injury or two to the main core, the Hawks should see the end of their annual increase in win total, but the continued improvement in their younger players (Smith, Horford, Marvin Williams and Jeff Teague) should help balance that somewhat, giving them another 50-win season, fourth in the conference — and getting bounced again in the second round of the playoffs.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics have a good thing going … and going … and going with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, led by one of the most exciting players in basketball in Rajon Rondo.

The true test of whether your franchise is a contender is when the regular season predictions don’t mean jack squat, and the C’s have been in that neighborhood ever since acquiring KG and Ray. It’s a great place to be, and this season is no different.

With a plethora of big men (Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Glen Davis) to supplement the core roster in case of any injury up front due to age (and there is considerable age there), Boston should be able to capture home-court again, which makes them a very tough out come postseason time, as they proved so well last season.

I believe they’re a lock for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Charlotte Bobcats
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
by David Arnott, Rufus on Fire

Charlotte Bobcats players, from right, Stephen Jackson, D.J. Augustin, and Gerald Wallace, share a laugh as they pose for photos during media day for the NBA basketball team in Charlotte, N.C. , Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

Gerald Wallace (left) and Stephen Jackson (right) will rely on new starting point guard D.J. Augustin to run the offense. (AP)

ON THE BOBCATS: The Bobcats will have a huge hurdle to overcome this season, having lost their starting point guard and starting center (Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler).

Barring a trade, they’re looking to replace them with D.J. Augustin, a young player Larry Brown seems to despise, and Nazr Mohammed, a center whose sell-by date is long-since passed (last season’s career year notwithstanding).

Even if Gerald Wallace remains an All-Star, and Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas continue playing as well as they did last season for the Cats, they’re going to struggle to get to 40 wins — and could easily finish with near 30 wins.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics’ window could be closed this season, given the likely continued decline of Pierce, Garnett and Allen.

There’s also no telling, really, how much Tom Thibodeau meant to the Celtics’ defensive excellence the past few years, and any kind of decline on that end of the floor might be the death knell for them as true title contenders, since no one on the team is a killer offensive threat.

So, give them 50 wins again.

Miami Heat
MIAMI HEAT
by Benny Vargas, All U Can Heat

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade, left, Chris Bosh, center, and LeBron James react on the bench during the second quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 in San Antonio.

The success of Miami's Big 3 may depend on what they get from their bench. (AP)

ON THE HEAT: After a much ballyhooed offseason, the Heat enter the 2010-11 season as legitimate title contenders.

The additions of Chris Bosh and LeBron James along with the re-signing of Dwyane Wade has caused a seismic wave throughout the league, which could signal the beginning of a new NBA dynasty on South Beach.

Miami will have to battle through glaring holes at the 1 and 5 spots, despite their newly assembled constellation of stars.

The Heat must find a way to become a cohesive unit, within an 82-game span, leading into the playoffs. Once the postseason gets underway, expect Miami to face difficult obstacles in Boston and Orlando. Both teams have been together longer and have big edges at the center and point guard positions.

Predicting Miami’s season is difficult, because so many factors come into play. Look for the Heat to make the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston and for the series to go seven games with the decisive contest being held in Miami.

The Heat will have a stellar regular season, earning the top seed in the East, but don’t expect them to match the record-setting 72 wins that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls managed to get.

ON THE CELTICS: While Vegas odds-makers have listed the flashy names on the Heat lineup as favorites to win the Eastern Conference, one has to love the Celtics’ chances.

Boston solidified their roster this offseason with several free-agent signings. The additions only help to strengthen a team that was a Kendrick Perkins injury or a few more key rebounds away from winning an NBA title.

Boston has All-Stars at every position on the floor. While Allen declined a bit last year, Rondo’s emergence as an elite NBA player compensated for the slip in Allen’s game. KG and Shaq must be held back a bit during the regular season, so they can be healthy and rested for the playoffs.

Expect to see Boston easily win the Atlantic Division but to finish with the third seed for the playoffs. The Celtics showed last year that they don’t need to overexert themselves for 82 games in order to have postseason success.

No matter their seeding, the Celtics should be considered the Eastern Conference favorites once the playoffs begin. In the end, it will be Boston and Miami squaring off for a chance to dethrone the Lakers.

Orlando Magic
ORLANDO MAGIC
by Evan Dunlap, Orlando Pinstriped Post

Orlando Magic guards Vince Carter, left, and Jameer Nelson celebrate from the bench during the second half of Game 1 in the second round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks in Orlando, Fla. , Tuesday, May 4, 2010. The Magic won 114-71.

Vince Carter (left) and Jameer Nelson are happy to be part of Superman's supporting cast. (AP)

ON THE MAGIC: I’m expecting bounce-back seasons from Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson, as well as another year of improvement for Dwight Howard.

I’ve pegged them for 62 wins, because although the East got stronger this offseason, the Magic certainly didn’t decline in talent level from the last two seasons, when they won 59 games apiece.

Carter worked hard on his body this offseason and appears to be much more comfortable on the floor. His jumper has rarely even caught the rim in preseason, as he’s getting his body square and legs into the shot before firing away.

Orlando brought Quentin Richardson aboard, largely due to his 3-point shooting, which will force the Celtics to think twice about leaving him open. The Celtics exposed Orlando in the conference finals last season by utterly ignoring Matt Barnes on the perimeter, due to his unreliable outside shot, which freed them to pack the paint, stymieing Howard inside and shutting down driving lanes for Carter and Nelson. Clearly, Richardson will be one key against Boston.

Orlando will likely win far more games than the Celtics do this season, but don’t let that disparity fool you: If these teams meet for the third consecutive postseason, it’ll be anyone’s series.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics proved last season that they’re a tough team to peg, at least until the playoffs roll around.

Given the continuity in Boston’s locker room, at least as far as leadership is concerned, I expect another season of Doc Rivers managing his players’ minutes closely, and the players conserving their energy.

This approach worked to great effect last year, as they took the defending champion Lakers to the brink in the Finals after most basketball observers counted them out, first against the Cavaliers and then against the Magic.

Overall, I’ve pegged the Celtics for a win total in the mid-40s, likely 46-36. If that seems low, or insulting, to the Boston faithful, I think it’s instructive to point out the regular season doesn’t mean a whole lot to this team.

While I’m dubious that the Celtics can flip the switch again, so to speak, Rivers will keep that possibility open so long as he’s able to keep the veteran core fresh. And regardless of their health or engagement level, they’ll always be a tough matchup for the Magic.

The cost-effective additions of Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal — along with Perkins — give Boston three of the top five Dwight Howard defenders in the league.

Washington Wizards
WASHINGTON WIZARDS
by Beckley Mason, Truth About It

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) reacts after making a dunk against the Atlanta Hawks during the fourth quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game in Washington, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. Wall scored 19 points in the Wizards 107-92 win over the Hawks.

Just how far can uber-athletic rookie John Wall lead his veteran Wizards team? (AP)

ON THE WIZARDS: The Wizards enter the 2010-11 season with positive energy flowing out their ears.

John Wall has already proven to be a man-child not only as an ankle-breaking wunderkind, but as a steady-handed floor marshal — unafraid to put veterans in their place, literally, on the basketball court.

But however solid Wall may be this year, the squad as a whole is perforated with imperfections. Gilbert Arenas can’t guard anyone, only a couple players can hit 3s and the Wizards’ young posts have a history of weak rebounding and late help defense.

See, this is a team full of “you know, if…”s. Because, you know, if Gilbert stays healthy and embraces the off-ball responsibilities like he did in the preseason, if 30-year-old Josh Howard returns to his near All-Star levels of play, if JaVale McGee builds on his breakout summer, if Andray Blatche plays like he did down the stretch last year (21 points a game from January to March), and if Al Thornton eschews the mid-range game and focuses on becoming Count Dunkula, this could be a pretty good team.

That’s far too many ifs for the irresponsible optimism that pervades D.C. hoops fans — but an appropriate amount for a team heading into a 35-47 season.

ON THE CELTICS: Was the Celtics’ run to last year’s Finals the last violent spasm of a dying monster, or simply proof that the beast was slumbering throughout the regular season?

Rondo is superb (Hubie Brown voice) and the East’s best point guard, but the rest of the Celtics’ starting five is declining — that is, unless The Big Ticket really is bouncing back on that right knee.

Boston’s pride won 50 games last year and is replacing Perkins with the chalk outlines of the O’Neals, a significant downgrade defensively and offensively (KP is the best screener in the league). The frontcourt is deeper, but also less effective until Perk returns, and then at what level will he play?

The Celtics should also be concerned after losing Tony Allen, the East’s best perimeter defender and resident LeBron/Wade specialist. Who fills that void? Ray, Pierce, Nate Robinson, Delonte West all fall well short defensively.

On any other team, these concerns would lead one to declare, “They will be worse than last year.” But this is the Celtics, who, like the Spurs in the West, must be taken seriously until emphatically proven otherwise. Most of the East sucks yet again, so 50-plus should be in the cards once more — 55-plus if Garnett is truly “back.”

Stay tuned for Part 6 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.

The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (4 of 7)

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division with the fourth of a seven-part  series (Check out the Western Conference in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) …

Chicago Bulls
CHICAGO BULLS
by Doug Thonus, Chicago Bulls Confidential

Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, from left, pose for a photograph during the NBA basketball team's media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, in Deerfield, Ill.

Carlos Boozer's injury has disrupted the Bulls' ability to jell before the season begins. (AP)

ON THE BULLS: The Chicago Bulls are a team with a lot of strengths, but the early injury to Carlos Boozer has hurt their odds of building up continuity this season.

Much like the Celtics, they carry considerable injury risk going forward. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Boozer, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer all have injury risk on top of that of a normal player, while Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans are also struggling with various minor injuries in preseason.

A healthy Bulls team would have a puncher’s chance at any team in the East if they jelled well and played to their full potential. But a Bulls team that can’t get on the floor together to build continuity is closer to Atlanta and Milwaukee than to Boston, Orlando or Miami.

The big question mark will be how much of an upgrade Tom Thibodeau is from Vinny Del Negro. The Bulls’ schemes have given fans a reason to be hopeful, and if Thibodeau can get more out of the talent than Del Negro the roster might have more upside than a cursory glance would indicate.

Given the injuries and unknowns, a realistic upside for the Bulls is an Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami, while a realistic downside is a first-round exit to one of the Big 3.

I’d place the Bulls fourth in the conference with my expectations set at a second-round exit at the hands of Miami, Boston or Orlando after a hard-fought, first-round victory against Atlanta or Milwaukee.

ON THE CELTICS: The Boston Celtics strike me as a team that should play well this season and have another excellent postseason.

There is some legitimate fear that the wheels could fall off the bus at any given point, given that the vast majority of key players are at the age where injuries increase and performance can rapidly spiral downward.

However, the team is excellently coached and has tremendous depth, continuity and experience. Their upside, if all goes well, is NBA Champion. They were a Kendrick Perkins ACL away from likely winning the chip last season, and they’re the one team that has a shot to give Miami fits in the Eastern Conference.

Their downside is as a fifth seed that gets bounced early in the playoffs if they struggle to integrate new personalities, can’t find solid rotations once Perkins is back or struggle with age and injuries.

I’d place the Celtics third in the East in the regular season, but I think they’ll top Orlando in the second round. I’d place my expectations at an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat in a tough series.

Cleveland Cavaliers
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
by Andrew Schnitkey, Waiting for Next Year

Cleveland cavaliers coach Byron Scott yells from courtside during the first half of the NBA preseason basketball game on the University of Pittsburgh campus, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, in Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers won 106-80.

Byron Scott leads the Cavaliers in the wake of LeBron James' departure. (AP)

ON THE CAVALIERS: The Cavaliers are indeed going through a transition phase, but transition may be the name of the game for this team.

Under new head coach Byron Scott, the team wants to get out and run in transition and use a new motion offense to try to implement a team-oriented approach. This is obviously a shock to the system after years of watching LeBron James dominate the ball himself and stand around dribbling.

The Cavaliers have looked good so far in the preseason, relying on the new youth movement with guys like J.J. Hickson, Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions showing a lot of improvement.

The team has heard all offseason how they are nothing now that LeBron is gone, but most of these players know nothing but winning. There is still a winning mentality on this team, and they are already playing with a chip on their shoulders as they look to prove doubters wrong.

This is a team that will be better conditioned than most teams and will not be outworked by many teams.

Having said that, there are still some major issues. A lack of true center will be a major problem for this team, as will be the potential defensive setback the team faces from losing a lockdown wing defender like LeBron.

Above all else, though, there’s no true go-to guy here. That will cost this team many games in the fourth quarter’s waning minutes.

This will be a gritty team that will play hard and make things tough, but ultimately there’s no replacing a LeBron James in one season. I predict a record of 31-51.

ON THE CELTICS: Well, obviously, I saw firsthand what Shaquille O’Neal brought to the Cavaliers last season. It wasn’t pretty, and he often complicated things as the team struggled to adapt to his presence.

In fact, the Cavaliers actually seemed to play better without Shaq when Anderson Varejao could slide to the 5 and Hickson could play the 4. So, I’m not optimistic about what Shaq has left to offer the Celtics this season.

Having said that, I still expect the Celtics to be one of the top three contenders in the East this season. The Big 3 plus Rondo is an effective core, and adding Delonte West should prove to be a nice boost to the team’s depth.

Much like last season, I expect to see the Celtics more or less coast through much of the regular season and then really turn it on in the postseason.

The Eastern Conference is stronger, but I don’t see anyone in the Atlantic threatening the C’s alpha-dog status there. I project a record of 52-30 and another division title. And I expect the Celtics to be the Heat’s toughest out in the playoffs.

Detroit Pistons
DETROIT PISTONS
by Brian Packey, Detroit Bad Boys

Detroit Pistons' Jonas Jerebko, right, of Sweden, drives past Atlanta Hawks' Jamal Crawford, left, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 7, 2010, in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Pistons defeated the Hawks 90-88.

Pistons fans can only hope the injury to Jonas Jerebko doesn't signal deja vu. (AP)

ON THE PISTONS: After a year full of sprained ankles and utter disappointment, the Pistons have a clean slate heading into the new season.

While there isn’t a completely clean bill of health after the Jonas Jerebko injury, the Pistons are much healthier and claim to be very determined to prove their doubters wrong in 2010-11.

Unfortunately, while less injuries and DETermination should lead to more wins, it won’t be enough to put the Pistons back into the playoffs. Record: 36-46.

ON THE CELTICS: With everyone talking about the Heat this year, it might be easy to forget about the Celtics again (similar to how the Magic stole their spotlight last year with their 2009 Finals run).

But, similar to how they surprised teams in the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics are as for real as they were in 2008. The additions of both O’Neals should boost their defensive presence inside and even open things up a little on the offensive side for their own Big 3.

If they can stay relatively healthy, I’d say they’re a lock for 55 wins this season. 

Indiana Pacers
INDIANA PACERS
by Jared Wade, Eight Points, Nine Seconds

Indiana Pacers' Danny Granger, left, Darren Collison, middle, and Roy Hibbert pose for a photo during the basketball team's media day in Indianapolis, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.

The addition of Darren Collison (center) gives the Pacers a Not-So-Big 3. (AP)

ON THE PACERS: To most NBA onlookers, it will not be a remarkably different season in Indiana than the past few. But for Pacers fans, there will be at least one key difference: Hope.

With the acquisition of Darren Collison, the continued — and perhaps vast — improvement of Roy Hibbert and the expected rock-solid production of Danny Granger, the team should for the first time in a half-decade have a true foundation.

This foundation is not earth-shattering. No one will be calling them The Big 3. But it is an actual nucleus, and a lot of people smarter than me think that Paul George, the team’s first-round pick No. 10 overall), should already be included in talks of a more promising future.

Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts, to a lesser degree, are expected to show some people that they can be valuable rotation players in this league as well.

On top of all that, the team has a bevy of expiring contracts to use as trade assets if they so desire. Some $30 million will be coming off the books next summer, and since so many GMs/owners will likely be looking to clean their salary caps up before the looming CBA negotiations/probable lockout, Larry Bird should have plenty of opportunities to get some quality players back for any of Mike Dunleavy ($10.5 million), T.J. Ford ($8.5 million) or Jeff Foster ($6.7 million).

I expect the front office to flip about half of its expiring contracts (they also have the Jamaal Tinsley buyout, worth around $5.5 million, “expiring” come June) for some mid-tier players they want (think the Kevin Martin deal last year). Then they’ll let the rest expire. Come summer, that will let them fill some more holes through free agency.

No, they won’t be getting an Amar’e Stoudemire, a Chris Bosh or a Carmelo Anthony — but they’ll have a direction by the time this season ends. That will feel like something new to fans.

And if they can somehow play well enough to score a seventh or eighth seed and get into the playoffs this year, well, Pacers fans can truly consider this the beginning of a new era for a franchise that needs nothing more desperately than to begin a new era.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics should make the Eastern Conference Finals in their sleep. Until we see just how good the Heat are, it’s tough to call anything more than that.

And if Miami is as dominant as I think they’ll be, the Celtics might just be too old, but if Eric Spoelstra‘s boys don’t jell completely, there’s no reason that Boston can’t win the whole thing.

The depth on this roster is somewhat absurd. Obviously, a lot of people aren’t expecting much out of the law firm of O’Neal & O’Neal, but they’re two big bodies that will make a difference and take a ton of defensive pressure off of Kevin Garnett and Perkins.

You certainly don’t want to rely on Jermaine O’Neal to score in the post at this point, but he still alters shots, swats weak attempts and takes charges at a high level.

The Delonte West acquisition was huge. Even with Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, the team lacked some ballhandling ability outside of Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce last year. He gives them a guy off the bench who can go off for 20, just be a spot-up shooter or even initiate the offense. Plus he guards people.

Nate has his strengths (namely energy and hustle), but he can’t do all that. That will make this team more dynamic — presuming, ya know, he keeps his head on straight.

With Ray Allen, Paul and KG all one year older, the bench is going to be key. They need consistency out of the reserves, and if Doc Rivers can figure out how to keep all these bodies happy — something I’m sure he will, like he did last year by keeping Nate ready to go even while glued to the bench — there’s no reason, other than a possibly unstoppable Heat juggernaut, that they can’t bring home Banner 18.

Milwaukee Bucks
MILWAUKEE BUCKS
by Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball

Milwaukee Bucks power forward Drew Gooden drives past Charlotte Bobcats DeSagana Diop during the first quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, in Green Bay, Wis.

The addition of Drew Gooden gives the Bucks some much-needed depth up front. (AP)

ON THE BUCKS: Milwaukee — with its eager, younger players and overlooked veteran additions — likely has its sights set on the Celtics.

The two teams had a few memorable moments last year and could have had something special in the playoffs had things worked out on the last day of the season.

Milwaukee stocked up themselves this offseason, signing Drew Gooden just after adding Corey Maggette for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.

Milwaukee focused on keep their core players from last season while looking to address their main weaknesses this offseason, namely free-throw shooting and power forward size and depth.

The Bucks seemed to have succeeded on both accounts and will very likely be in the hunt for the Central Divison crown. If they capture it, they still may have a hard time surpassing the Celtics’ win total.

A top-four finish doesn’t seem out of the question for the Bucks, and at the very least a playoff spot seems certain.

ON THE CELTICS: Last year, the Celtics seemed prime to fade into the sunset of NBA teams who once were contenders. This year, they seem to have reloaded and added considerable depth to counter their considerable age.

Everyone is talking about the O’Neal’s, Shaquille and Jermaine, but let us not forget that the Celtics quietly, and wisely, picking up Delonte West this offseason.

After trotting out Nate Robinson, Eddie House and at times even Tony Allen as a backup point guard last season, the Celtics definitely needed to address their backup point guard position this past summer. West’s steady hand (I can’t believe I just wrote that and meant it) could be very useful when Rondo is out of the game.

The added bulk up front helps, too, especially if the new technical rules lead to numbers quickly adding up for KG and Perkins. The Celtics have added new blood and appear to be in as good a shape as any of the teams in the East that don’t play in Miami.

Another division title and top-four seed likely awaits the Celtics at year’s end.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.

Irish Coffee: Celtics & Heat get … it … on

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Just how out of control has the hype surrounding the Miami Heat gotten this season? Here’s Exhibit A: The Whiskey Tango All-American Bar & Grill in Hollwyood, Fla., is picking up the bar tab each time the Heat lose a game this NBA season.

I guess basketball fans in Miami will be drinking for free tonight.

And just how out of control has the hype surrounding the Boston Celtics gotten this season? Here’s Exhibit A: This guy will trade his car and his camera for a pair of tickets.

I’m guessing Vince Wilfork wouldn’t trade front-row tickets for a 1994 Honda Civic.

By the way, if you’re looking for front-row tickets to tonight’s game between the C’s and Heat, Stub Hub has got one for you. It’ll only cost you $18,824.00.

NBA COLUMNISTS WEIGH IN

The NBA is upon us, and that means newspaper columnists are waxing poetic about who will win, who will lose, who will rise and who will fall in the league this year. Let’s check in with some of the best columnists covering the league around the country.

The Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon says this NBA regular season is the most anticipated since Michael Jordan‘s 1995 return to the game, and he picked the Celtics over the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals …

“Now, they’ll find out what it is like to get every team’s best, most fanatical and purposeful effort every night, starting in Boston tonight,” Wilbon wrote. “And they’ll do it without having the savvy that comes from winning a championship together . . . which is why I don’t believe that Miami is going to win the NBA championship this season. Oh, they’ll win three or four before this group calls it quits – but not this year. They can win 65, 66 games in the regular season and it won’t help them one iota during the playoffs.”

The New York Post’s Peter Vecsey not only believes the Los Angeles Lakers will win a third straight title this season — but he thinks they’ll win a fourth next year. In his eyes, the only team that stands in Kobe Bryant‘s way? The Orlando Magic …

“Only a David Stern-stimulated, full-term lockout, Jerry Buss deciding he’s bored of winning or a dashboard-light outage can stop the Lakers from seeing paradise next season. Only Orlando and injuries can prevent them from three-peating this season.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Heisler is in Boston, and he’s reopening the wounds of Game 7. Good times …

“Remember Game 6 in 2008 when the Celtics sent the Lakers home as crispy critters in a 131-92 rout that recalled the horrors of the rivalry from 1959-1984, when the Lakers were 0-8 in Finals meetings featuring Frank Selvy‘s miss, Jack Kent Cooke‘s balloons, James Worthy‘s interception, Magic Johnson‘s dribbling out the clock, the Sauna Game, the 3 a.m. fire alarm, fans rocking their bus.

“This Celtics loss was worse.

“At least the Lakers never blew a 13-point second-half lead in Game 7 with a title within their grasp.”

Meanwhile, ESPN polled 25 of its NBA writers, and 24 of them picked either the Lakers or Heat to win the NBA title. Only ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg picked the Celtics.

Speaking of ESPN writers, Chris Sheridan‘s pick for Defensive Player of the Year: Tony Allen? Wait, what? Is Sheridan related to Tony?

Tom Brady in Detroit Pistons v Boston Celtics, Game 2

Tom Brady has got his popcorn ready for tonight's Celtics home opener.

TOM BRADY ON THE CELTICS

We all know the only guy whose opinion really matters when it comes to the Celtics is Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. While he won’t be in attendance tonight, he still shared his thoughts on the C’s with Dennis & Callahan this morning:

“I love the Celtics, and they were one game away last year from winning it all. Those guys know how to get it done. They did it a few years ago. Last year, it was heartbreaking to lose to the Lakers the way they did. But if anybody knows how to do it, it’s Doc (Rivers) and KG (Kevin Garnett) and Ray (Allen) and Paul Pierce, who’s been such a great player for so long.

“They add Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal, they’ve got a lot of great players, so they don’t need any advice from me. They know how to do it. I’ll be excited to watch them. They’ve got a great opportunity as well. I hope they take advantage of it.”

Brady really went out on a limb with his prediction there, didn’t he?

HEAT, C’S PLAYERS WEIGH IN 

For the most part, members of the Celtics and Heat are saying all the right things leading up to tonight’s game. We sifted through all the run-of-the-mill answers to the millions of NBA opening-night questions to bring you the best from each team:

“For us, this game is to set the tone,” Glen “Big Baby” Davis told NBA.com. “We have to set the tone against a team like that and just let them know, hey, you guys got a new group of guys, but we’re still the team to beat in the East.”

“I’ve had my battles with Boston the last few years when I was back in Cleveland, and I’ve seen the great games they’ve had with Miami also, so we’re going to take the challenge and it’s going to be fun to start the season this way,” LeBron James told The Miami Herald. “It’ll be a very hostile environment, and us being the most hated team in the world, it’ll even be more hostile.”

 Lace ‘em up, fellas. It’s game time. Keep checking in at WEEI.com all day. We’ve got plenty more preview stuff leading up to the game, and we’ll have you covered pregame, in-game and postgame. I think I just wrote game too many times.

Can you tell I’m excited for this NBA season to tip off? Maybe I’ll buy that front-row seat at Stub Hub.

 

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Doc Rivers: C’s just ‘other team that’s playing’

Monday, October 25th, 2010

WALTHAM — So finally, thankfully, mercifully no more hype – just the game.

Ever since the game was announced as part of the full NBA schedule on Aug. 10, news and sports outlets across the country and the globe circled Oct. 26 on their calendars as a “must-cover” event at Boston’s TD Garden.

Doc Rivers maintains those news and sports outlets won’t be in Boston Tuesday to see a great game but what they think will be one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

“All eyes will be on the game in Boston, but I think all eyes will really be on Miami. We’re the other team that’s playing and we’re just going to show up. But I’m sure everybody is there to see Miami.

“It’s opening night, it’s great. It’s opening night at home. We’ve had a lot of time to prepare for the game, which is nice, and we’re ready to play.”

Rivers said Monday that he feels confident his team is ready for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat on Tuesday at TD Garden.

And it’s fitting that James plays his first official game on the same court he played his last for the Cavaliers. But unlike Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last May 13, James will be playing alongside players named Wade and Bosh, even if those three played very little together in the preseason because of Wade’s nagging hamstring injury.

“I would say it probably hurts them more than it hurts us,” Rivers said. “It probably hurts both teams, not being able to scout them and see what exactly what they’re going to do when they’re all on the floor. You can make the case that not being able to practice at all [together] it may hurt them as much. I don’t think it matters. I guarantee you that Wade will have the ball a lot, so will LeBron and so will Bosh.” (more…)