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The OG Sports Show: “Lakers Talk” is high comedy 11.05.10 at 5:43 pm ET
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Is “The OG Sports Show: ‘Lakers Talk'” the worst thing to ever happen to the internet? Then again, this could be the best analysis ever of the Rajon Rondo upside down headband issue and whether Shaquille O’Neal is “the most unprofessional athlete in the world.” I can’t decide. Either way, we need to get this guy on the Green Street payroll. Judge for yourself …

I think my favorite part is the guy who provides this analysis on Shaq:

“Disrespecting the great Dr. Jerry Buss, like, yelling, you know, while Jerry was there with his family on the, which is the owners, by the way — the Buss family, who own the franchise. So, he disrespected him there, and then in the same way he’s disrespected, like, Playboy lifestyle, Busses and ’70s. Like, I guess Shaq was saying, ‘Hang out with girls your own age’ and getting all disrespectful in the press. I mean, I don’t know. Who doesn’t? Nobody.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Hilarious.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Rajon Rondo, Shaquille O'Neal
Irish Coffee: Big Threes, by the numbers at 11:58 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Sports Illustrated ranked the top 14 trios in the NBA, and the Celtics’ Big Three — Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and … Rajon Rondo (not Ray Allen) — came in third, behind the Heat’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as well as the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.

Personally, I think the Celtics’ top three players are better than the Lakers’ (because of Odom), so I decided to take a look so far at the top-10 Big Threes by the numbers — their cumulative win score and their average player efficiency rating.

BIG THREE ………………………………………… PER ………. WIN SCORE

Heat (James, Wade, Bosh) ……………………… 20.89 ………….. 4.61
Lakers (Bryant, Gasol, Odom) ………………….. 25.87 …………. 12.06
Celtics (Rondo, Pierce, Garnett) ……………….. 19.34 …………. 10.09
Hawks (Johnson, Horford, Smith) ……………… 20.31 ………….. 6.44
Thunder (Durant, Westbrook, Green) ………….. 19.88 ………….. 1.76
Spurs (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili) ………………. 19.92 ………….. 8.79
*Bulls (Rose, Noah, Deng) ……………………… 20.14 ………….. 5.54
Magic (Howard, Carter, Nelson) ………………… 23. 61 …………. 1.51
Mavericks (Nowitzki, Kidd, Terry) ………………. 22.06 ………….. 9.85
Jazz (Williams, Jefferson, Millsap) ……………… 20.88 …………. 7.84
(*replaced Boozer with Deng because of injury) 

It turns out, through the first two weeks of the season, of the top 10, the Lakers’ Big Three has been the most efficient and the most productive in their victories.

Among the top 10, the C’s Big Three actually has been the least efficient, mainly because of turnovers (9.4 per game). In terms of contributing to wins, though, the Boston trio has been the second-best of the group — because of their unselfishness (21.2 assists per game) and defense (4.6 steals per game).

All this points to one thing: As Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. He turns the ball over (4.0 per game) more than any other Celtic,  but he also records more assists (an astounding 16.4 per game) and steals (2.6 per game). What these numbers don’t account for is the fact that Allen is the best fourth banana in the league.

The most surprising result is where the Heat’s Big Three finished in each category. They ranked fourth in efficiency and eighth in win score. Still, they’re 4-1, which means two things: 1) Miami Thrice has yet to learn how to optimize their efficiency together; and 2) they’re supporting cast may not be so bad.

THE ERRORS OF THEIR WAYS

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann took a look at the league’s top three teams — the Lakers, Celtics and Heat — and how they’re addressing they’re greatest flaws.

The Lakers have jumped from No. 11 last season to No. 1 through five games this season in offense — scoring 114 points per 100 possessions in their 5-0 start.

Last season, the Celtics grabbed 73.8 percent of available defensive rebounds, ranking 13th in the league. This season, the C’s have nabbed 76 percent, ranking fifth through five games. That makes them the fifth most improved rebounding team.

Miami owns the most improved defense in the league, allowing just 87.9 points per game. Considering the Heat have already faced Boston and Orlando, that’s even more impressive. As Schuhmann points out …

Three seasons ago, the Celtics had the best defense of the last 20 seasons, allowing 8.6 points per 100 possessions fewer than the league average. Miami isn’t going to hold its opponents to 14.6 points fewer than the league average all season, but that five-game mark is impressive. In 2007-08, the Celtics had just three five-game stretches where they held their opponents under 88 points per 100 possessions.

Boston’s best defensive five-game stretch came right after Thanksgiving that season, when the Celtics held five opponents to 86.1 points per 100 possessions. They were actually more dominant to start last season, when they were holding their opponents to 85.2 points per 100 possessions after five games and 85.4 after six.

Looking at all these numbers is telling me one thing: Miami is going to be very scary this season. If indeed the Heat’s defense is this good and they’ve yet to maximize their offensive efficiency, they’ll win 65 games — at worst.

THE BEST NUMBER OF ALL

Speaking of numbers, Basketball Reference ranked each uniform number by the number of win shares accumulated by the players who wore that number.

And guess which number finished at the top of the list: No. 33. The Celtics had a player who wore that number. I think his name was Bird.

Here are where the uniform numbers of the current Celtics ranked …

No. 0 Avery Bradley (44th)
No. 4 Nate Robinson (6th)
No. 5 Kevin Garnett (18th)
No. 7 Jermaine O’Neal (22nd)
No. 8 Marquis Daniels (24th)
No. 9 Rajon Rondo (28th)
No. 11 Glen Davis (10th)
No. 12 Von Wafer (11th)
No. 13 Delonte West (23rd)
No. 20 Ray Allen (17th)
No. 34 Paul Pierce (7th)
No. 36 Shaquille O’Neal (46th)
No. 43 Kendrick Perkins (34th)
No. 55 Luke Harangody (42nd)
No. 86 Semih Erden (unranked)

Obviously, based on this, Robinson and Wafer are going to have a huge impact this season, while Shaq and Rondo will have little to no effect whatsoever. Right?

FORBES’ HIGHEST-PAID NBA PLAYERS

The list of highest-paid NBA players, gathered by Forbes Magazine, is fairly hilarious. Sure, Bryant is legitimately slotted as the league’s No. 1 earner. After that, it all falls apart.

Rashard Lewis is the second highest-paid player in the NBA? Ouch. He’s making $20,236.92 for every point he scored last season.

Garnett is the lone Celtic on the list at No. 3 — earning $18.8 million this season.

Michael Redd is only making $18.3 million this season. Practically a bargain. He’s played 51 games combined over the last three seasons — half the length of his six-year, $91 million contract. On the bright side, it’s only about $1 million per game.

How would you like to be paying Andrei Kirilenko $17.8 million this season? Thankfully, Gilbert Arenas only has four years and $80,154,460 left on his deal.

No wonder David Stern wants to slash NBA salaries. Not that it’s going to happen.

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

Read More: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, NBA
NBA Power Rankings, 11/4 11.04.10 at 4:45 pm ET
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1. LA Lakers (5-0): No Andrew Bynum? No problem. All the Lakers have done to begin their road to a third consecutive NBA championships is start 5-0 and beat opponents by an average of 13 points. The only bad news on their front is that Rick Fox got tossed from “Dancing with the Stars.”

2. Boston (4-1): The Celtics‘ 4-1 start — including victories against the playoff contending Heat, Knicks and Bucks — has proven that the Cleveland loss was only a fluke. Delonte West’s return from suspension in another five games will provide a much-needed boost.

3. Miami (4-1): The Heat are 4-0 since losing to the Celtics on opening night. It’s no surprise that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all scoring in the double digits for Miami, but James Jones‘ 11.6 points per game has to be a welcome surprise for head coach Erik Spoelstra.

4. Atlanta (5-0): Too high? Sure, they’ve only beaten the Grizzlies, 76ers, Wizards, Cavaliers and Pistons. But other than the Lakers they’re the only 5-0 team in the league. And they’ll probably head into Orlando on Monday night with a 7-0 record. Now that’s a must-watch game.

5. New Orleans (4-0): I obviously don’t expect the Hornets to stay in the top five for too long, but it’s impossible to ignore what they’ve done so far: home victories against the Bucks and Nuggets, and road wins against the Spurs and Rockets. That’s four solid wins. A healthy Chris Paul David West once again give New Orleans a more-than-legit 1-2 punch.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, NBA
NBA Power Rankings, 10/28 10.28.10 at 2:40 pm ET
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1. LA Lakers: After receiving their championship rings, the Lakers started 1-0, thanks to new addition Steve Blake, who nailed a last-second 3-pointer to defeat the Rockets — on an assist from Kobe Bryant. Wait a second, Kobe trusted a teammate? And a new teammate to boot? I must have read that wrong.

2. Boston: The Celtics made their statement on opening night: When they’re up for a game, they can beat anybody in the league, including the LeBron-led Heat. Then they made another statement last night: When they’re not up for a game, they can lose to anybody in the league, including the LeBron-less Cavaliers.

3. Miami: LeBron was right when he said after the loss to the Celtics that Rome wasn’t built in a day. In reality, it was built over the course of 870 years. I don’t think it’ll take that long for the Heat to start jelling. They played pretty poorly in the opener — and still almost beat our No. 2-ranked team on the road.

4. Oklahoma City: Kevin Durant took his first step towards claiming his MVP trophy, totaling 30 points and seven rebounds in a season-opening win over a team that will probably be one of the league’s best defensive squads (the Bulls). So, what’s in store when he plays against the Pistons tomorrow night? Watch out.

5. Orlando: I overheard a conversation at the TD Garden the other night. One guy said to another, “Hey, how come you don’t like Orlando’s chances this year?” The other guy’s reply? “They still have Vince Carter, don’t they?” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why — no matter how impressive their preseason was — they’re not higher.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, NBA
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (7 of 7) 10.26.10 at 2:28 pm ET
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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 finish the seven-part series with five forecasts from some of the best Boston Celtics bloggers around (Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6) …


BOSTON CELTICS
by Jeff Clark, Celtics Blog

ON THE CELTICS: When you are six minutes away from an NBA championship, what do you do to make up those six minutes in the next year?

You try to get a little bit better. The Celtics are hoping that their gains are greater than their losses.

Is Kevin Garnett‘s improved health enough to make up for the creeping age of this roster? Are Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal enough to make up for the loss of Kendrick Perkins for half a season (at best)? Is Delonte West enough of an offensive upgrade to make up for the loss of the surprisingly steady defense of Tony Allen?

If the Celtics can stay a little bit healthier, maybe they can win a few more games to give them more home games in the playoffs. Maybe, just maybe, that will be the little edge they need to make up those six minutes and raise another banner.

 
BOSTON CELTICS
by John Karalis, Red’s Army

ON THE CELTICS: With all the talk of what other teams have done this offseason, few people have paid a lot of attention to the fact that the Celtics — a team that was within four minutes of a title — addressed their two most pressing needs: Size and depth.

Now, the Boston Celtics boast what is probably the deepest team in the NBA.

Fast forward to the playoffs — since it would take the most catastrophic of events for this team to miss the playoffs — and the C’s will start their usual rotation of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, KG and Perk.

That means you have Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal, Glen Davis, Delonte West, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels coming off the bench.

A team of those six guys would challenge for the last playoff spot in the East … and they’re backing up a starting five that, as Doc Rivers loves to say, still hasn’t lost a playoff series.

The Celtics’ team chemistry has been remarkable. So, questions as to whether these guys can coexist are already answered.

They matched up well against most Eastern teams already, so the added size will only give the C’s more guys to throw at Dwight Howard.

The added depth will be able to keep up with Chicago or Atlanta. And the combined size and depth are the perfect counter to a heavily front-loaded Heat team.

Ultimately, this Celtics team has too much for the rest of the league. Even if a couple of guys get banged up, they have the depth to overcome it and properly rest guys for the playoffs.

Miami will be really good. The Celtics — with their experience, depth and size — will be just a little better, and they’ll get that 18th banner this year.


BOSTON CELTICS

by Jay King, Celtics Town

ON THE CELTICS: Before the preseason started, I predicted that the Celtics were destined to lose to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were tough enough by themselves. Once Pat Riley paired them together and sprinkled a little Chris Bosh on top, they became the team to beat — regardless of who won the Eastern Conference last season.

Then the preseason happened, I got to see the Celtics play in real life rather than on paper, and I’m no longer convinced they’ll fall to the Heat (Yes, I realize it was just the preseason; bear with me).

I expected many of the older Celtics to digress this season. Instead, almost every Celtic looks better than last year.

Pierce entered camp in great shape; Garnett’s healthy; Delonte was a perfect fit; Marquis added confidence and perhaps an outside shot; Nate looks more comfortable after a full training camp; Davis has matured and potentially taken a leap; Rondo remained Rondo, only one year older and more experienced; Shaq has meshed far better than he ever did in Cleveland (I even saw him hedge a pick-and-roll last game); and Jermaine O’Neal’s addicted to the injured list.

Okay, maybe J.O.’s preseason didn’t work out perfectly, but every other player — stunningly — looks to be improved from last season.

A lot of teams claim to be motivated by tough losses, but the Celtics took that motivation to a next level. They used the devastation from the Game That Must Not Be Named and channeled it into returning in great shape, with only one purpose — winning an NBA title.

One through 12, the Celtics are the NBA’s most talented team. If healthy, they’ll win the East and then take down the Lakers in the NBA Finals. If healthy.


BOSTON CELTICS
by Brandon Paul, Gino’s Jungle

ON THE CELTICS: When asked by WEEI for a brief preview of the Boston Celtics 2010-11 season, the first thing I had to do was run to my desk and grab that fashionable pair of green goggles I’ve worn throughout my time as a Celtics fan.

Now that I took care of that, here’s what I think will go down this year for the hometown boys in green:

The Celtics are back and better than ever this season. After watching six preseason games, the amount of depth on this team cannot be compared to that of any other team in recent memory.

Von Wafer, a guy who had a solid tenure in Houston, was being talked about as a guy that could be cut from this team. That right there says something.

Of course, the team is going to undergo injuries and other hiccups throughout the course of the regular season that may draw some criticism, but if this Celtics team remains healthy come playoff time nobody (not even the Miami Heat) can match their depth and playoff experience.

For that reason, I’m predicting a solid regular season record of 52-30, a healthy team going into the playoffs and … wait for it … wait for it … Banner 18.


BOSTON CELTICS
by Brian Robb, Celtics Hub

ON THE CELTICS: Continuity. I’m a big believer in it as far as the NBA goes.

You take a look at the teams that have made the NBA Finals in the last 20 years, and the vast majority have been seasoned squads — units that have played together for years; players who know each other inside and out — their strengths and flaws, where they will be on the floor, where they like to catch the ball and everything in between.

You can’t buy that kind of knowledge in free agency, and it’s the biggest edge the Celtics’ core will have over their competition next year — one that will ultimately lead them to the NBA Finals.

The Miami Heat obviously have more talent, and they will get their championship(s) down the road, but next year will be a learning experience once the playoffs roll around. And they’ll fall short against the Celtics.

An improved offense, more depth and a deep sense of urgency will be enough to get Boston back to the promised land — where they will earn redemption against the Lakers after coming up empty last year.

Thanks to all who participated in this year’s NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast.

Read More: blogs, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat
Irish Coffee: Celtics & Heat get … it … on at 9:39 am ET
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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 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.)

Read More: Celtics, LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (1 of 7) 10.24.10 at 10:18 pm ET
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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 begin in the Western Conference’s Pacifiic Division with the first of a seven-part, two-day series …


GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

by Rasheed Malek, Warriors World

ON THE WARRIORS: The shackles on the Warriors have finally been removed, as dysfunctional owner Chris Cohan sold the team to a group headed by former Celtics minority owner Joe Lacob. Sheer jubilation and excitement has captivated Warriors fans, as they’ve begged Cohan to sell the team for years, and he finally obliged.

Gone are Don Nelson and Corey Maggette, both of whom were jettisoned this offseason — much to the approval of everyone in and around the team. Keith Smart takes over for Nelson and gets an All-Star power forward in David Lee to add to his core of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. Andris Biedrins looks to be healthy for the first time in two years, and the addition of Dorell Wright gives the Warriors a legit NBA frontcourt.

If healthy, the team has an outside shot at making the playoffs as long as they show and execute an actual desire to play defense.

ON THE CELTICS: It seems a foregone conclusion to many that the Miami Heat are going to stroll into the NBA Finals, and the rest of the Eastern Conference has no say in the matter. This is where I disagree. The Celtics quietly had a great offseason, as they accumulated additional front-court depth in Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal, brought back Nate Robinson and added Delonte West to replace Tony Allen.

Add a fully healthy Kevin Garnett, a slimmer Paul Pierce and quite possibly the best point guard in the NBA in Rajon Rondo, and the Celtics are poised to make another Finals run. Kendrick Perkins should return around the All-Star break to provide depth up front, which will keep the front line fresh and ready to go during the playoffs.

I see the Celtics making a return trip to the Finals, as their chemistry, experience and toughness will prove to be too much for Miami and the rest of the Eastern Conference.


LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
by Steve Perrin, Clips Nation

ON THE CLIPPERS: The Clippers have long been one of the most unpredictable teams in the NBA (unless you just take the easy route and predict bad things). Every year, they look pretty good on paper, yet every year they seem to underachieve. I call them the anti-synergy team — the whole is always less than the sum of the parts.

Was the recent lack of synergy a function of the seven-year regime of coach Mike Dunleavy, and might new coach Vinny Del Negro be the answer? Unclear. What is clear is that, perhaps more than ever (and forgive me if you’ve heard this before), the Clippers are loaded (on paper). At four positions, the Clippers start a player with an impressive prefix for his name: two-time All-Star Baron Davis, Team USA gold medalist Eric Gordon, 2010 All-Star Chris Kaman and 2009 first overall pick Blake Griffin. Of course, three of those guys were there last season when the Clippers won only 29 games.

Griffin is the key, only partly for his basketball ability (which is almost unlimited). Just as important is the attitude he brings, and the Clippers are hoping it will infect the entire team. While the Clippers have visibly given up on their last three seasons, Griffin has never in his life given up on a single possession. If his presence serves to keep the Clippers playing hard all season, then perhaps the prospect and the reality will finally align for the Clippers.

I expect them to finish near the .500 mark this season, a definite step forward but probably not enough to qualify for the playoffs.

ON THE CELTICS: Five players on the Celtics have combined for a staggering 51 All-Star Game selections in their careers. When the Celtics decided to corner the market on former All-Pros named O’Neal who were willing to take $18M pay cuts, Jermaine (6 All-Star selections) and Shaq (15) joined Pierce (8), Ray Allen (9) and Garnett (13) on what must surely be the most decorated team of all-time.

Yet it may be two other Celtics with just a single All-Star selection between them who hold the key to Boston’s season. For all the accolades of the ‘drafted in the 90s’ crew, Rondo is the engine that makes Boston go, while Perkins is a lynchpin in their stifling defense. How well Rondo plays and how quickly (and how well) Perkins returns from ACL surgery will be major factors in Boston’s fortunes. Rondo is the one guy on the team who is entering elite status as opposed to exiting it, and elite teams always have elite players.

Meanwhile, it’s far from clear that either of the O’Neals has anywhere near enough gas in the tank to do what Perkins does in Boston’s vaunted defense. With so many 30-somethings, health will of course be a factor as well, but if Rondo takes the next step and the team enters the playoffs healthy (including a full-strength Perkins), then I expect the Celtics to give Orlando and Miami a run for the Eastern Conference championship and possibly even bring another banner back to Boston.


LOS ANGELES LAKERS
by Jason Riley, The Lakers Nation

ON THE LAKERS: The Champs had a surprisingly busy offseason — picking up a veteran point guard (Steve Blake), another solid, defensive-minded role player (Matt Barnes) and an insurance policy for Andrew Bynum (Theo Ratliff). The Lakers have two simple goals during the regular season:

  1. Get healthy for the playoffs.
  2. Win the West.

If I know Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, they’ll take a clean bill of health in April over the No. 1 seed every single time. The regular season will be a grind, but I expect L.A. to find a way to emerge as the top seed in the West. If Kobe is healthy and Bynum can find a way to stay off the operating table, I like the Lakers’ chances to have another ring ceremony this time next year.

ON THE CELTICS: If the NBA were a horror franchise, the C’s would undoubtedly be Jason Voorhes — the aging, veteran killer who isn’t exactly chasing people down anymore, but continues to get the job done, sequel after sequel. With the offseason additions of the Big Minimum (Shaq), Delonte and the cadaver formerly known as Jermaine O’Neal, the C’s are actually more talented (and deeper) than they were last season. If everyone stays healthy (their biggest concern), I expect Boston to give Miami all they can handle in the Eastern Conference Finals.


PHOENIX SUNS
by Seth Pollack, Bright Side of the Sun

ON THE SUNS: The range of goals for the Suns this season goes anywhere from not losing 40 games to a return trip to the Western Conference Finals. It’s almost impossible to predict what the Suns will do this year, given the question marks and variables.

If all goes well (really well), and the team catches breaks along the way, they could certainly be right back at the top of the non-Laker heap. That would require other teams suffering big-time injuries — which played a huge factor last season — along with everything going right in Phoenix.

On the flip side, it’s not inconceivable that the Suns are back in the lottery if a couple of teams improve (and stay healthy). There are just too many unanswered questions going into the season to predict with any degree of confidence that the Suns will win 45 games. At the same time, I can easily make the case that they’ll win 55. That puts the goal somewhere between 40 and 55 wins. That’s the best I can do with this team right now.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics are old. Really, really old. And got older by adding Shaq. But we saw last season that Doc Rivers understands how to limp through the regular season and position his guys to be fresh for the playoffs. It’s a risky plan that worked once and may work again.

Or maybe it won’t. It’s so hard to predict when you’re talking about the health of older players. Of course, it’s one of the younger guys, Perkins, who’s the biggest question mark. Even if he returns midseason, it’s going to take months to get him back to where he was.

Fortunately for Celtics fans, the East isn’t that deep past the top three (I’m including the Bulls). Overall, it’s hard to see Boston finishing lower than a sixth seed, and then all bets are off. We know Boston can beat Orlando, and I’m not convinced the Heat will be a great playoff team. This all assumes, of course, that KG doesn’t get fined into the poor house with the new “Respect for the Game” rules.


SACRAMENTO KINGS
by Bryan, Editor, A Royal Pain

ON THE KINGS: They’re certainly improved but already dealing with some concerning injuries. Newly acquired center Samuel Dalembert is going to miss a few weeks to start the season, and while I love the potential of DeMarcus Cousins, defensively he’s not there yet. That’s not to say he can’t get there quickly, but as of right now he’s struggling (as to be expected) on that side of the ball.

Assuming Dalembert returns healthy, the Kings’ defense will be far better than it was last season (how could it not be?). They’ve added a great deal of size with rookies Cousins and Hassan Whiteside, along with other big men Dalembert,  Jason Thompson and Carl Landry. They’ll be able to pack the lane much more effectively, and their size should be a unique advantage, especially with 6-foot-11 Donte Greene being named the starting small forward.

Tyreke Evans has spent the entire offseason working on his jumper (when he wasn’t speeding down the freeway), and the hard work has clearly paid off. Make no mistake, you won’t ever confuse him with Ray Allen, but Evans adding a reliable jumper and 3-point shot to his arsenal is a scary sight for other Western Conference teams.

The Kings still aren’t there, yet. The West has a lot of really good (but not elite) teams that will clog the bottom rung of the playoff seedings, but a season with 32-35 wins would be a fantastic growing point for the Kings.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics are going to continue to face the “age” question throughout the season. When are they going to show how old they are? A lot of people thought you’d begin to see the cracks last year, and it was completely the opposite, as they ran through the Eastern Conference. And I’d be hard-pressed to say they can’t do it again.

I love the additions of both O’Neal’s, and I don’t think we’ve seen the impact Nate Robinson can have yet. I do think the loss of Perkins is a big blow, but one they can manage through. Perk certainly doesn’t get the recognition he deserves around the league, as he’s one of the best defensive big men in the NBA and a cog in what the Celtics do. With that said, the Celtics clearly have the talent to maintain until he’s able to return later in the season.

The East did steal some power from the West with the additions of Carlos Boozer in Chicago and Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, but with the Knicks limited in other areas and Boozer’s injury the Celtics shouldn’t have much issue hanging onto the second seed (not that the Knicks are or were a threat).

They’ll give the Heat a run for their money if they meet in the playoffs. Can they beat them in a seven-game series? That’s a tough call. Injuries will always play a huge factor, but I’m not one of the many ready to just hand over the trophy to South Beach yet. Assuming the Celtics hang on to the No. 2 seed, they wouldn’t meet until the Heat ran through a gauntlet of tough lower seeds. As Garnett so famously said, “Anything is possible,” and I’d be far from shocked to see the Celtics come out of the season hanging yet another Eastern Conference championship banner.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this seven-part series: the Western Conference’s Northwest Division.

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