|The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (5 of 7)||10.26.10 at 12:13 pm ET|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics & Heat get … it … on||at 9:39 am ET|
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.
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.
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’||10.25.10 at 8:43 pm ET|
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.’
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.’ Read the rest of this entry »
|Doc: Shaq attack starting Tuesday||at 2:59 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Barring any unforeseen changes, Shaquille O’Neal will make his Celtics debut as the starting center on opening night against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
“Most likely Shaq, to be honest,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said following Monday’s practice. “We haven’t officially announced it but most likely.”
Rivers added that back-up centers Jermaine O’Neal and Semih Erden will both suit up and be ready to play. O’Neal has been playing with torn cartilage in his left wrist while Erden has a sore shoulder that Rivers indicated will take some “managing” to keep him healthy enough to play.
|Irish Coffee: NBA Fun & Games||at 10:53 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Over the weekend, NBA.com released a series of videos — entitled “NBA Unscripted” — leading up to tomorrow’s opening-night tipoff between the Celtics and Heat.
The footage includes some pretty cool interactions between the C’s Big Three. Here are some nuggets:
Kevin Garnett: “This training camp has some of the same energy that ’07 did. We stepped in the gym, and everybody was there early. I just feel like we’re reliving that. It feels like deja vu a little bit. In ’07, when we were alone, we came in the gym, and there was an energy. You could feel it. There were certain things you didn’t have to say.”
Ray Allen: “After Game 7, we were on the bus, and we started talking about the summer and the future, and we all hurt inside. We all had pain, and to this moment it bothered me to think where we were, what we did and what we could’ve gotten accomplished. We can say that we don’t have regrets, but there are things that we wish we could’ve done better.”
“The more years I play and each year I get more experience, the more of a leadership role I have to take on as the point guard of this team. It’s as simple as that. Whether I play as great as I did the last couple years or not, I’m still the leader. I’m here for a reason.”
Of course, no NBA preview would be complete without plenty of Heat discussion. Unscripted is no different. Here’s a couple tidbits from Miami:
Chris Bosh: “To get to where we want to go, it has to be intense. We know that other teams like the Celtics are out there working very, very hard, so we probably have to go even harder.”
Shaquille O’Neal generates more gems than Tiffany & Co. After posing as a statue (sorry, “Shaqtue”) for an hour in Harvard Square last week, The Big Shamrock is already planning his next stunt, according to USA Today.
Always wondered what Shaq might look like as a woman? Well, on the subway this Halloween, you just might meet Shaquita, a 7-foot-1, 345-pound woman. Ever want to hurl a snowball at Shaq? This winter, he may don a snowsuit and stand in a field somewhere as a human target.
“This is the funnest team I’ve been on in my life,” Shaq told the paper. “Seriously. These guys are great. Usually, I’m the ringleader of bringing fun to a team, but I haven’t even done anything yet. These guys crack me up. Big Baby (Glen Davis) and Nate Robinson, they need their own TV show.”
Still, in the same article, Doc Rivers stressed that Shaq’s maintaining a balance between off-the-court fun and on-the-court production.
“This city wants a winner,” added Shaq. “I want a winner. Everybody on this team wants to win. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”
PAUL PIERCE FEELING FIT
KG isn’t the only Celtics veteran feeling fully healthy after a summer filled with thoughts of vengeance. According to Jackie MacMullan on ESPN.com, Pierce is, too.
“I feel great for the first time in a long time,” Pierce told MacMullan.
After suffering knee, foot and thumb injuries during the 2009-10 regular season, Pierce reportedly had to wear a brace and some serious padding in his shoe just to make it through the NBA Finals.
The most disturbing revelation from MacMullan’s fantastic piece (per usual): After Pierce’s minor surgery midway through last season, his knee would actually pop open and gush liquid (I hope you’re not eating your breakfast with this Irish Coffee).
“I was probably a little stubborn about not letting it heal right,” Pierce admitted to ESPN.com. “I told them I was fine, but I had this fluid leaking out all over the place. It wasn’t so much the pain. I just lost all my strength. I played a lot of last season on basically one leg.”
STEPHANE LASME PHOENIX-BOUND?
Lasme was a stand-up guy in Celtics training camp, and even carried himself with dignity following the news that the C’s cut him from the roster — wishing each of his teammates good luck this season.
The C’s have a deep roster this year, so failing to make the cut shouldn’t deflate a guy like Lasme, who could still contribute to an NBA team.
IT’S PREVIEW TIME
Green Street has you covered for any and all information you could possibly want leading up to tomorrow night’s opener. Paul Flannery has already churned out a ton of impressive stuff, including a great piece on Jermaine O’Neal, a breakdown of the secret to the Big Three’s success, this season’s top five NBA storylines and his Talking Hoops podcast.
Meanwhile, I contacted 30 blogs from around the league to give you a prediction for the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics. I’ll say this: You’ll be surprised by the range of projections. Part 1 is already up on the blog. Stay tuned for the remainder of the Western Conference today and the Eastern Conference tomorrow.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)
|Sunday is no day of rest for Celtics||10.24.10 at 4:51 pm ET|
WALTHAM — You could tell immediately after practice on Sunday that this was no ordinary weekend practice. It’s not often the Celtics practice both days on the weekend but Doc Rivers is giving his team every chance to get prepared for the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
“We didn’t do much today,” Rivers said. “I really went back and forth with giving them the day off or getting them to run through some stuff. A lot of skeleton today and very little contact and going over our defensive schemes.”
Then, on their own, new players like Von Wafer, Luke Harangody and Semih Erden worked on the offensive sets. The intensity was certainly there.
Tempers flared between Delonte West and Wafer during a post-practice drill, the Celtics continued preparations for the Miami Heat on Sunday at their practice facility.
Wafer, who won the last 15th and final roster spot after the final preseason game last Wednesday, played with Harangody against West and Erden in a 2-on-2 drill as extra time is being spent at the end of practice for new players trying to learn the Celtics offensive sets before they open the season Tuesday night at home. Wafer and West exchanged words after West drove to the basket and beat Wafer for a couple of buckets.
“Listen it’s game one, even if it wasn’t Miami, everybody is going to be excited,” Rivers said. “This is a special situation. Let’s just be honest. Everybody is excited about it. Our guys try to downplay it until you walk through the locker room and hear them talking about it. The film is on all day, watching Miami. Let’s just go out and have fun and see what we have the next night. We’d like to win them both.
The Celtics play in Cleveland on Wednesday, the night after their season opener against the Heat at TD Garden.
|Pierce: No window watching needed||10.20.10 at 11:51 pm ET|
Boston got off to a sluggish start, and while New Jersey figures to be much-improved this year with new head coach Avery Johnson, the Celtics had no business being down 14 points early in the second quarter, on their home court, in their final tuneup before the most important (or, at least, most hyped?) regular season game in NBA history on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
And their captain knew it. Paul Pierce, who finished with a game-high 17 points in a 107-92 win over the Nets, said the Celtics wanted a good feeling heading into the season.
‘We knew that was not our brand of basketball how we came out to start the game,” Pierce said of allowing the Nets to shoot 50 percent and score 55 points in the first half. “We wanted to try to establish the tone in the third quarter and we just have to do a better job on starting games off and understanding on what we need to do. But I think for the most part we are ready.
‘You want to sort of build something going into the season individually and as a team. It’s about getting the confidence going. You want to be playing well not just as a team. Trying to figure out some things I am trying to do offensively just to get some confidence to know I can get the job done during the regular season.’
But that wasn’t the only message Pierce sent after the game. He was asked if he views this season, starting with Tuesday’s showdown with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as a final shot at an NBA title with the current group of Celtics.
“I don’t look at it that way,” Pierce said. “I’ve got four years left, shoot. The window’s open as long as I’m here. Definitely, the sense of urgency is there every year we have our team [together]. We don’t look ahead at a window. The object is to have a sense of urgency now and then next year, worry about that.”
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