|NBA Power Rankings, 2012-13||10.29.12 at 7:19 pm ET|
It’s almost Halloween, another NBA season is upon us and the league’s landscape changed once again, but the Celtics are title contenders and so too are their most heated rivals. Let’s get right to the 2012-13 debut of our semi-regular NBA power rankings. Here’s the wrinkle: What’s the scariest aspect about each team this year?
1. Miami: LeBron James set the Celtics, Thunder and entire world on fire during his run to a first NBA championship and second gold medal, proving doubters wrong in every corner of the globe (including this cubicle). And he and the Heat only seemed to figure it out midway through the Eastern Conference finals, which means they could be even better, especially with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis in tow.
2. L.A. Lakers: A starting five of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard is terrifying, but so is their bench. The Lakers won’t get 82 games from any of those starters, so how close each comes to that number will determine if they can unseat the Thunder beyond arbitrary power rankings.
3. Oklahoma City: After reaching the NBA finals last season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got their first taste of what it will take to earn the Larry O’Brien trophy, so they’ll be hungrier than ever. They’ll just have to set the table for Kevin Martin coming off the bench instead of returning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden.
4. Boston: If the Celtics can reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on grit and balls alone, imagine what they can do with a rotation deeper than six. Once Avery Bradley returns, coach Doc Rivers can go 12 deep and weather most injury storms, which have been downright Hurricane Sandy-esque in recent years.
5. San Antonio: Before losing four straight to OKC in the Western Conference finals, the Spurs won 20 straight and 31-of-33. That’s the value of a deep roster. But I’m still buying more stock in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo & Co. than Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili & Tony Parker Inc.
|Irish Coffee: Don’t forget about Paul Pierce||10.29.12 at 12:18 pm ET|
Paul Pierce has been an afterthought this Celtics camp. Well, you know, as much as the captain and face of the NBA’s most storied franchise — and one of the league’s few legit title contenders — can remain in the shadows.
Think about it. The summer began with the return of Kevin Garnett, whose arrival five years ago saved a team relegated to mediocrity for two decades. And it ended with the emergence of Rajon Rondo, who grabbed the reins for the next 10 years. In between, Ray Allen spurned the Celtics, who in turn made their own headlines: Drafting Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph; adding Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jason Collins, Darko Milicic and Leandro Barbosa; re-signing Brandon Bass; and restoring Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox.
Meanwhile, Pierce quietly shared a family photo at the beach here or a picture of his workout routine there. After all, he too rehabbed from injury — a sprained left MCL this past June that may have meant the difference between a Game 7 loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals and a third NBA finals appearance in five seasons.
Heck, Pierce had to share his 35th birthday on Oct. 13 with C’s coach Doc Rivers, who turned 51 the same day. Even his admission to potentially retiring or requesting a trade had Garnett not returned barely moved the needle, as they say. Such is the life now of the 10-time NBA All-Star entering his 15th season for the same franchise.
|Jason Terry on Celtics: ‘We’re legit; we are for real’||10.28.12 at 4:44 pm ET|
On Celtics-Heat rivalry: ‘I’ll never forget ‘05-06 for me [when the Heat beat his Mavericks in Game 6 of the 2006 NBA finals]. I should be a two-time champion right now, but it wasn’t so. I’ll never forget that feeling, walking off that court in Game 6 in Dallas, when the confetti dropped on our head. I like to remember winning the championship, but what sticks in my mind more than anything is when we lost. I’ve gotta believe it’s a feeling similar to what Boston felt last year in Game 7, so I come right into the rivalry, I’m yearning for it and that’s game No. 1. Whether it was Miami or somebody else, it’s just basketball, it’s the season and it’s Game 1.’
On C’s title chances: ‘A lot of times when you see your team on paper before the season, you’re like, ‘OK, we might have a chance.’ But as we worked through the September month, which was earlier than usual, into training camp, the trip to Europe to our last practice today, we’re legit; we are for real. And I think to a man we are a very tough team. I think our bench is deep, but our starting lineup is a beast. These are champions. These are guys who know what they want, and the ultimate goal is to win a championship.’
|Irish Coffee: Do Celtics really have NBA’s best bench?||10.26.12 at 1:45 pm ET|
“We haven’t made [me coming off the bench] official yet, but if that is the case we have the deepest bench in basketball,” Terry said after Thursday’s practice. “The Clippers may have something to say about that, but for us in this locker room, our mission every night is to go out and outwork and outscore everyone’s bench.”
Similarly, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, “If you could play 10-on-10, we would beat everybody.”
The mission here is simple: Determine the accuracy of their claim, breaking down the C’s division, conference and eventually the entire NBA. But first let’s look at Boston’s depth behind a not-so-bad starting five: Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Kevin Garnett. (For the purposes of this exercise, we’re inserting Terry and Sullinger into the starting lineup, since both took the floor first for 5-of-8 preseason games.)
|Courtney Lee throws down after Celtics practice||10.25.12 at 9:53 pm ET|
|Brandon Bass: ‘When my name is called, I’ll be ready’||10.25.12 at 4:54 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Celtics coach Doc Rivers indicated he already knows whether Brandon Bass or Jared Sullinger will start against the defending NBA champion Heat on opening night, but he’s not showing his cards, and Bass doesn’t seem interested in discussing whether he’s in that five-card draw or not, either. If he even knows.
“I’m confident in my work ethic — that when my name is called, I’ll be ready,” said Bass. “You’ve got to take care of what you can take care of, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to continue to work hard and do what I do. That’s what got me here, and that’s how I’m going to continue to grow as a player.”
When the curtains came up on Thursday’s practice, Bass wore a green t-shirt along with the four known starters: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Courtney Lee and Rajon Rondo. (Jason Terry conceded what everyone already assumed: He’ll spare Rondo and Lee off the bench in Avery Bradley‘s absence.) Sullinger wore white.
“I think that’s all Doc,” added Bass. “Doc sees that we have a talented group and we have more pieces than we had last year, and he’s just trying to see which group works best with who and things of that nature. But, being a player, you just play, continue to work on your game and just be able to make a play when your name is called.”
|Celtics’ ‘legit chance of beating’ Heat, Jeff Green as NBA’s ‘most underrated player’ and other Charles Barkleyisms||10.24.12 at 10:28 am ET|
Round Mound of Sound Charles Barkley joined fellow NBA on TNT studio analysts Reggie Miller and Shaquille O’Neal on a conference call Tuesday afternoon relayed by both the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and all three agreed the Celtics have “a legit chance of beating” the Heat this season.
- Barkley: “LeBron [James] covers up a lot of weaknesses because he’s so physically amazing, but Boston to me has a legit chance of beating them.”
- Miller: “I love what Boston has done. They are 1-2 in the Eastern Conference. … This is a team that is primed. I would not be surprised to see those two teams in the conference finals again.”
- O’Neal: “Miami is the team to beat. However, if Boston is healthy … they have a shot.”
Given that both teams met in an Eastern Conference finals that lasted seven games before Miami ultimately captured the NBA championship last season and the Celtics made significant upgrades to their roster, none of these remarks are all that surprising. But this one from Barkley is somewhat startling.
“I think the most underrated player in the NBA is Jeff Green,” said Barkley, who also proclaimed himself “a big Jeff Green fan” last season. “I know he didn’t play last year. I loved him in Oklahoma City. When he got to Boston, he went late into the year, so he really never got comfortable. I think he is going to be fantastic.”
Barkley also made some classic Barkley statements about the C’s Atlantic Division rivals.
“The Celtics got an older Kevin Garnett and a Paul Pierce,” he said. “They brought in all these younger guys to bring in energy and take the load off of Garnett and Paul Pierce, and the Knicks brought in a bunch of old geezers. Listen, I’m a big Marcus Camby fan and Jason Kidd is one of my favorite players, but they’re not going to be able to keep up in a seven-game series with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or playing against the Celtics in a seven-game series. Not even the 76ers — and I love what the 76ers have done — or the Brooklyn Nets. Those old guys are not gonna be able to compete with those young guys when those games come every other day.”