|Rajon Rondo takes a poke in the eye and then Celtics turn out the lights on Blazers||03.10.12 at 10:11 am ET|
Maybe it was the effect of getting poked in the eye by Marcus Camby in the opening minutes Friday, leaving him with a nasty blood blister in his right eye, but Rajon Rondo just wasn’t himself after Boston’s 104-86 rout of the Blazers at TD Garden.
Before talking about his own night, which was pretty routine by his standards (eight points, five assists in 26 minutes), Rondo decided to become a character actor.
What could Rondo learn from a veteran like Sasha? ‘You’ll have to ask Rondo,” Rondo said, speaking in a very bizarre third-person manner.
What would Sasha say about the upcoming road trip? ‘He would probably say that we want to win every game possible, we have to have great focus, and get our proper rest, and stay together through adversity.’
“It’s an honor to play in that many games, only three have reached that level,” Rondo said, speaking this time for Pierce. He later added this on a serious tone, “It’s rare. You don’t take it for granted. I don’t think he takes it for granted, playing for one organization for his entire career. He’s one of the guys who’s going to probably retire with the Celtics. It’s an honor to play with him.”
As for his own thoughts from his own mind about where the Celtics are now, standing 21-18 and heading out on an eight-game road trip.
On jumping all over the Blazers and building a 43-point lead: “I just wanted to start with ball movement. I think it was kind of contagious. I was trying to advance the pass up the court a little bit and let guys create their own shots before guys were set [on defense].
On rebounding from a 32-point loss in Philly Wednesday night: “Regardless of the loss or the deficit we lost in Philly, we wanted to come out and get this West Coast swing off to a good start. We didn’t want to go off with two losses. We’ve been playing pretty good at home of late so it just kind of trickled down and we wanted to continue to get off to a good start.
On whether not playing the fourth quarter Wednesday and Friday will help this team as it goes on the road: “It’s our job. I don’t know if it plays a factor but having an older team, I think it’ll help us. But other than that, we’ll be ready to go. We have some big games ahead of us. We’re battling for seeding so we’re trying to capitalize on every game we can.”
On the trade deadline coming up this Wednesday: “I don’t think anyone is really worried about it, honestly. Whatever happens, happens. No one is really focused on all the trade talk. We’ve done a pretty good job through all this trade talk of just getting wins. We’ve done a pretty good job. We’re professionals. Trades happen.”
|NBA Offseason Review: Northwest Division||12.20.11 at 7:43 pm ET|
Given the drama (and comedy) that was the NBA lockout, the ensuing free agency frenzy and the vetoed trade by a commissioner of a group of owners who was acting as the general manager of an individual team that is owned by that same group of owners, it’s easy to get confused about who landed where. This is the second of six daily division-by-division reviews leading up to opening day.
NBA Offseason Review: Pacific Division
2010-11 record: 17-65
2010-11 standing: 5th in Northwest Division
NBA draft picks: 2. Derrick Williams; 43. Malcolm Lee
Key additions: Ricky Rubio (Spain); J.J. Barea (free agent); Brad Miller (trade)
Key substractions: Jonny Flynn (trade); Lazar Hayward (trade)
2011-12 starters: PG Ricky Rubio; SG Wesley Johnson; SF Michael Beasley; PF Kevin Love; C Darko Milicic
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 15.5
2011-12 prediction: 21-45
2010-11 record: 48-34
2010-11 standing: 3rd in Northwest Division; lost Western Conference first round, 4-2
NBA draft picks: 21. Nolan Smith; 51. Jon Diebler; 57. Tanguy Ngombo
Key additions: Jamal Crawford (free agent) Raymond Felton (trade); Kurt Thomas (free agent)
Key substractions: Andre Miller (trade); Brandon Roy (retired); Patrick Mills (free agent)
2011-12 starters: PG Felton; SG Wesley Matthews; SF Gerald Wallace; PF LaMarcus Aldridge; C Marcus Camby
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 41.5
2011-12 prediction: 39-27
|Irish Coffee: Why Celtics should fear Suns||01.28.11 at 12:33 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
I’ve got to hand it to colleague Jerry Spar for this one. It’s not surprising that the Celtics haven’t performed well on back-to-back nights when the second game is on the road, regardless of where the first game is played. What’s surprising is how putrid they’ve been in those situations this season.
And they’ve found themselves in that situation again Friday night, as the Celtics take on the Suns in Phoenix less than 24 hours and 1,300 miles removed from defeating the Trail Blazers 88-78 in Portland Thursday night.
Here’s how the Celtics have fared on the road during the second leg of back-to-back nights:
- Oct. 27 at Cleveland: 95-87 loss
- Nov. 8 at Dallas: 89-87 loss
- Dec. 9 at Philadelphia: 102-101 win
- Dec. 29 at Detroit: 104-92 loss
- Jan. 8 at Chicago: 90-79 loss
- Jan. 22 at Washington: 85-83 loss
Note: This doesn’t include the Nov. 22 game at Atlanta (a 99-76 win), because the game the day before (at Toronto) was played in the afternoon, not at night — allowing for extra travel/recovery time.
For those of you counting at home, that’s a 1-5 record in such instances, with the lone win a one-point decision over a 20-25 Sixers team that required a Kevin Garnett alley-oop with 1.4 seconds left.
The Celtics have five remaining games in these situations:
- Friday at Phoenix
- March 14 at New Jersey
- March 19 at New Orleans
- March 28 at Indiana
- April 1 at Atlanta
Note: This doesn’t include Feb. 7 at Charlotte or April 11 at Washington because the games the previous days are in the afternoon.
Spar took this breakdown further, noting that the C’s have had four occurrences when they’ve played the second game on back-to-back nights at home (the first game was on the road each time). They’re 4-0 in those instances.
The fact that the Celtics are four-point favorites tonight in Phoenix makes all this even more interesting.
THE CASE FOR KENDRICK PERKINS
I won’t bore you with in-depth statistical analysis like I did the other day, so I’ll let the New York Times do it for me. If you like this stuff, as I do, you’ll love this piece about why Kendrick Perkins makes a huge difference.
While Perkins’ 36-minute averages last season of 13.2 points and 9.8 rebounds are good, they don’t reflect the Celtics center’s impact, particularly defensively. Even the adjusted plus/minus statistics that author Michael Lewis unveiled to portray the relative value of a player like Shane Battier don’t help Perkins’ case.
Over his last two seasons of action, Perkins has posted a -5.76 adjusted plus/minus, one of the worst marks in the league. Adjusted plus/minus is far from infallible, but characteristically it favors guys who fall in line with Perkins’ reputation: tough-defending, solid-rebounding, low-usage role players on winning teams.
Furthermore, when you look at the production of his individual opponents, Perkins’ 2009-10 numbers aren’t so favorable, either, as they were for Battier.
In each of his last two seasons, Perkins has allowed opposing centers to produce at an above average rate, a curiosity for a well-regarded player whose primary contributions come on the defensive end.
Yet, when you examine his per-possession statistics, it sheds some light on Perkins’ value.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Perkins allowed just 0.77 points per possession in the post during the 2009-10 season, a truly impressive mark. Opponents on the low block shot just 38.5 percent despite their proximity to the basket, and Perkins, amazingly, fouled opponents on only 6.3 percent of their post-up possessions. Go back to the 2008-09 season and the numbers get even better: 0.73 points per possession allowed and 35.4 percent shooting.
Following an ugly, ugly game that saw the Celtics tie a season-high for turnovers (21), the Trail Blazers still had high praise for their Eastern Conference foes. Here‘s what they told the Oregonian:
LaMarcus Aldridge: “They showed why they are champions. They played championship basketball. They do a good job of taking away the paint. Every time I wanted to go middle, I never saw anything [open]. I tried to force it a couple times, turned it over, but I think they are one of the best teams at not … letting you get to the basket.”
Nate McMillan: “That’s a great team. That team is prepared and built to win a championship. I thought our guys scrapped. I thought they played hard. They battled tonight. But they have so many options that they can go to. When you have that many options and that team is locked in to playing that way, knowing how to win. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Two other interesting statistics from the Celtics’ victory on Thursday night:
- Portland out-shot the C’s, 90-64, but made only three more field goals (33-30).
- In just 31 minutes, Kevin Garnett nearly recorded his first triple-double of the season (10 points, 9 rebounds and a season-high 9 assists).
|Irish Coffee: Celtics less valuable than Lakers||01.27.11 at 12:10 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
According to Forbes Magazine’s latest valuations of all 30 NBA franchises, 17 teams hemorrhaged money over the last year — the highest number since the 1998-99 lockout — despite the fact that 24 of those 30 clubs generated at least $100 million in revenue.
Based on the numbers, the Celtics are the fourth most valuable franchise in the NBA. They generated $151 million in revenue while the franchise’s value rose 5 percent over the past year, yet they made just $4.2 million.
When the magazine released the same figures just over a year ago, the Celtics ranked as the eighth-most valuable franchise, generating less revenue but taking home almost $9 million more in income.
Despite the state of the U.S. economy, the average value of all 30 NBA franchises rose 1 percent since the magazine’s last valuations. However, the average team’s operating income fell 22 percent — to $6.1 million — “the lowest figure since the 2002-03 season.”
In the offseason, Amar’e Stoudemire and LeBron James altered the balance of NBA financial power. The Knicks’ worth increased 12 percent, dethroning the Lakers as the league’s most valuable franchise. Meanwhile, the Heat’s worth rose 17 percent, while the Cavaliers‘ value fell 26 percent.
Here are the top five most valuable NBA franchises:
- 1. New York Knicks ($655 million)
- 2. Los Angeles Lakers ($643 million)
- 3. Chicago Bulls ($511 million)
- 4. Boston Celtics ($452 million)
- 5. Houston Rockets ($443 million)
After noting the surprising fact that the Pistons, who haven’t been able to find a proper suitor, are valued 13th, here are the five least valuable NBA franchises:
|Fast Break: Celtics hold off Blazers||12.01.10 at 10:15 pm ET|
The Celtics led 96-80 with 5:09 left in the game, but the Blazers went on a 15-point run that closed the gap to one point in the final minute — until Paul Pierce found Allen in the corner.
Pierce netted a game-high 28 points to go along with seven rebounds, as the Celtics improved 14-4 on the season. Kevin Garnett (17), Glen Davis (16), Shaquille O’Neal (14) and Rajon Rondo (10) also reached double digits in scoring.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Pierce asserted himself: With the Celtics trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, Pierce took action — creating offense for himself. A nifty driving layup as he faked two defenders got him going, jumpstarting a 10-point second quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers that got the C’s back into the game.
Pierce didn’t miss his first shot until five minutes remained in the third quarter. In all, he finished with 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 from 3-point range).
Big Baby buries jumpers: In a span of 2:49, Davis scored eight straight third-quarter points — including three 20-foot jump shots — to help the Celtics stay within striking distance of the Blazers. He scored 16 points on the night on 7-of-9 shooting.
Combined, Pierce and Davis scored 20 of the Celtics’ 31 third-quarter points, leading an otherwise stagnant offensive effort and giving the C’s a seven-point cushion entering the fourth quarter.
Shaq showing hustle: O’Neal turned in another solid performance. Running the floor throughout his 26 minutes, he totaled 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and he even made four of his six foul shots. His rebounding could’ve used some work, though, as he finished with just four boards on the night.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Too many turnovers: How could the Celtics shoot 61 percent from the field while holding the Blazers to 45 percent shooting and still trail by one at the half? One word: Turnovers.
In the first quarter alone, the Celtics committed seven turnovers, including careless traveling violations on consecutive possessions by Garnett and Pierce. Meanwhile, the Blazers turned the ball over just twice in the first 12 minutes, taking a 26-20 lead into the second quarter.
In all, the Celtics committed 17 turnovers, resulting in 19 Trail Blazers points.
Wesley Matthews happened: Shooting from pretty much everywhere on the court, Matthews shot a blistering 5-of-7 from beyond the arc (8-of-13 altogether), dropping 23 points on Allen and the Celtics.
On the other end, the stronger Matthews chased Allen around screen after screen, holding the Celtics shooting guard to just 2-of-11 shooting and six points — until Allen’s last-second 3-pointer that clinched the game.
Defensive rebounding: As if the Celtics’ 17 turnovers didn’t give the Trail Blazers enough extra possessions, Portland also collected seven offensive boards — including a putback dunk by LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points) that gave the Blazers an eight-point cushion in the third quarter. As a result, the Blazers outscored the Celtics 42-38 in the paint.
|Irish Coffee: Is Greg Oden pick Sam Bowie 2.0 or worse?||at 11:18 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
Amid countless comparisons of Greg Oden to Sam Bowie that surfaced after another season-ending Oden injury, I got to thinking: Is Oden’s draft selection over Kevin Durant worse than the biggest “what if” in NBA history — picking Bowie over Michael Jordan?
As the Celtics welcome the Trail Blazers to Boston on Wednesday night, it’s as good a time as any to determine — through three seasons — which Portland pick was more unfortunate.
First, let’s take a look at Oden and Bowie’s averages through their first three seasons:
Greg Oden vs. Sam Bowie
82 ….. GAMES ….. 119
9.4 ….. POINTS ….. 10.8
7.3 … REBOUNDS … 8.5
1.4 ….. BLOCKS ….. 2.6
0.6 …. ASSISTS …. 2.7
0.4 ….. STEALS ….. 0.7
Bowie played one more partial season (20 games) for the Blazers before playing at least 60 games per season in six of the next seven year for the Nets and Lakers. He actually averaged a double-double (14.7 points, 10.1 boards) during his first season in New Jersey.
There’s serious doubt whether Oden will ever suit up for the Blazers again, as he hasn’t played since December 2009 and becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
And now let’s examine Durant and Jordan’s averages through their first three seasons:
Kevin Durant vs. Michael Jordan
236 ….. GAMES ….. 182
25.3 ….. POINTS ….. 31.7
6.2 … REBOUNDS … 5.7
2.7 …. ASSISTS …. 5.0
1.2 ….. STEALS ….. 2.6
09 ….. BLOCKS ….. 1.2
The only solace Portland fans can take from all of this is that, while Oden may be a bigger bust (medically) than Bowie, Durant also isn’t as good as Jordan. Have you looked back lately at Jordan’s statistics in just his third season? He averaged a ridiculous 37.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.
On one hand, there’s no doubt the Blazers would’ve won the NBA title in 1992 had they drafted Jordan, since they lost to his Bulls in the Finals, 4-2. And they might’ve hung a couple more banners around that one. On the other hand, the present-day Blazers would be championship contenders for the next 10 years with Durant.
Either way you slice it, the knife still cuts deep through the heart of Portland.
CELTICS ROCK CLEVELAND
Well, for one final week for what will likely be a fairly long time, Cleveland is the center of the NBA universe. The discussion ranged from the Cavaliers‘ rematch against the Celtics on Tuesday night to the return of LeBron James on Thursday night.
Let’s start with the rematch, which turned into a 106-87 Celtics vengeance victory against the Cavaliers (after we explained why the C’s would cover the seven-point spread, please send 25 percent of your winnings to the WEEI offices in Brighton).
”No matter what team I’m coaching, we match up against Boston and there’s a little extra incentive for me,” Scott told the Akron Beacon Journal. ”All of that is because of the ’80s. It was fun, but it’s a little different now because Doc is over there. You have a good friend on the other side, it kind of waters it down a little bit. But anytime I see that green and white, I want to beat them.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston compared the Heat’s Three Amigos to the Celtics’ Big Three, and the contrast was none too kind:
For his part, James could have stayed here and been beloved, or he could have gone to New York, the nation’s media capital, or Chicago, the best basketball fit. Instead, he went to Miami, where he would not have to be a leader anymore.
The Boston Big Three, however, stood squarely in the shadows of the Larry Bird–Kevin McHale–Robert Parish triumvirate of the 1980s. They played beneath 16 championship banners hanging from the rafters. And they promptly won a 17th.
They were old and tired of losing. The Heat’s newcomers are young and used to babying.
”You don’t want to see anything stupid happen,” Gilbert told the Akron Beacon Journal. ”I’m sure a lot of them will make their feelings known, but as long as everybody plays by the rules and doesn’t go over the top, I think everything will be fine. I really believe that Cleveland people will do the right thing.”
Meanwhile, even while LeBron is trying to say all the right things, he still manages to sound pretty disingenuous (note the “showcase my talent” line):
“I think it’s going to be very emotional for myself,” James said. “I’ve got a lot of great memories in that city. So many times, from ups and downs, and a lot of things that I’ve done in my life, I give a lot of thanks to that city, lot of thanks to those fans for giving me the opportunity to not only showcase my talent but grow from a young boy to a man.”
Considering Shaquille O’Neal played with LeBron in Cleveland and has had plenty of homecomings himself — in Orlando, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Cleveland — reporters asked him if he’d be watching on Thursday night:
”My situation in Orlando was a six, my situation in LA was a seven,” O’Neal told the Akron Beacon Journal. ”This is like a 12.”
“I’m a silly fan,” O’Neal told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I’m anxious to see if he’s going to do that powder thing,” referring to when James fills his hands with powdered white rosin and tosses it in the air before the game.
Great point by Shaq. There’s no way he does “that powder thing” before the game, right?
DELONTE WEST’S TIMETABLE
I read about 87 stories about Delonte West‘s successful wrist surgery yesterday, and all of them said the team had no timetable for his return, which is why I was surprised to read this in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday morning:
“We don’t know his timetable [to return] yet,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ve heard anywhere from two to three months or longer.
“That’s a tough one for us. That hurt us. My plan going into the year was to literally have two units — a starting unit and a second unit — because of the age of our team. But now we have to scrap those plans and some of our starters are going to have to play different minutes.
“It’s not what we wanted, but the season takes its own turns and you just have to adjust to them.”
Two months? That would mean a Feb. 1 return date — leaving plenty of time for West to rehab his way to health heading into the playoffs. That’s not nearly as bad as I thought.
Count Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler among the NBA players on Kevin Garnett‘s side in the whole Charlie Villanueva “cancer patient” saga. He explained how easy it is to get caught up in trash talking to Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thompsen:
“I love [Garnett], I love what he does. I look at it this way: He gives you his heart and soul every single night out there, and if it takes him to pump himself up and do whatever he has to do, I’ll take that rather than him collecting a check and not giving you a great effort. That’s the other side of it — the guys you feel like are not giving you as much as they can. So I’ll take him screaming and talking and pumping his chest and doing whatever it takes you to do to give what you got. I’ve admired him and looked up to him before my career started.”
You wonder how many NBA players feel the way Chandler does about Kevin Garnett and how many players feel the way Joakim Noah does about him.
WILL BRANDON ROY PLAY?
Celtics fans have already missed Durant and John Wall at the Garden this season. Will they also miss another NBA star when Brandon Roy‘s Blazers come to town Wednesday night?
According to the Oregonian, even after playing 33 minutes in a loss to the 76ers on Tuesday night, Roy expects to suit up for the Trail Blazers agains the Celtics:
Roy said he expects to play Wednesday against Boston. It would be his first back-to-back games since returning to play with a sore left knee.
However, Celtics fans might be robbed of the only opportunity to see Joel Przybilla. A tragedy, I know.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)
|The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (2 of 7)||10.25.10 at 12:52 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.
We’ll move to the Western Conference’s Northwest Division with the second of a seven-part, two-day series (you can read Part 1 here) …
ON THE NUGGETS: Everything with the Nuggets this season is based on Carmelo Anthony. It feels like the organization is holding out some type of hope that by keeping ‘Melo around at the start of the season and winning some games early, it will convince him to stay. But all signs point to an eventual trade.
In the meantime, Denver fans will hold out hope that this team will get healthy, prove the doubters wrong and make one more run with ‘Melo at the Western Conference title.
ON THE CELTICS: Age is going to be the main focus in Boston this year. Every time you tune in to a game, we’ll be hearing one of two things: 1) If Boston is winning, how they’re turning back the clock; and 2) If Boston is losing, how father time caught up with the Celtics.
I think the key to the C’s run is Rajon Rondo. Can he hit the outside shots that teams will be giving him? With all their depth, I see the Celtics challenging for the title again this season, as they’ll make it back to the NBA Finals.
ON THE TIMBERWOLVES: The Wolves will … I have no idea what Our Beloved Puppies will do this season. In theory, they should be much better than last year’s squad. In practice, it remains to be seen whether or not a roster upgraded with several legitimate mid-level rotation players will have any effect on the bottom line.
At the end of the day, Kevin Love is the team’s best player, scorer and rebounder, and he’ll be surrounded by a bunch of guys that won’t be able to create their own shot. This is a team without an A1 talent, and unlike the Blazers (Brandon Roy) or Thunder (Kevin Durant), the Wolves appear to be headed down the Hawks’ path to “success.”
The Wolves also are on the verge of sending the Los Angeles Clippers their first-round pick thanks to the long-since-passed Marko Jaric wunder-trade (top-10 protected until 2011; unprotected thereafter). The doomsday scenario for the Wolves is that they find a way to finish with the 11th-worst record in the league, Jonny Flynn proves himself to be nothing more than a backup and Ricky Rubio decides to wait another year in Europe in order to take advantage of a rule that strips the rookie scale restriction from his first-year NBA paycheck.
If all of this happens, David Kahn will have found a way to have selected four top-six picks in the past two seasons with only one starter. … Well, this also assumes that Wes Johnson can crack the starting lineup by the end of the season. He’ll also have used the team’s much-vaunted cap space on Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, Nikola Pekovic and (hopefully) Rubio’s rookie deal.
Kahn may have been volun-told into radio silence following his comments about Michael Beasley‘s pot smoking, but don’t let the silence fool you into thinking that he doesn’t have an amazing amount of pressure riding on him this season. The Wolves are walking a thin line right now, and they could end up with a nice lotto pick (Harrison Barnes!), Rubio and a nice starting wing (Johnson); they also could find themselves even worse off than before.
We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.
ON THE CELTICS: Our prediction for the Celtics is that they will lead the league in sleeping with LeBron’s mom, Kevin Garnett will be one of the league leaders in the era of Technicals for Everyone!, Glen “Big Baby” Davis will finally take a swing at The Big Ticket in practice and in the conference finals they’ll find a way to beat up on an already-beat-up Miami Heat squad — who, interestingly enough, will be led by a strangely detached LBJ, whose performance will inspire a brand new Tweet tag: #nqgoat (“not quite” … well, you know the rest).
ON THE THUNDER: Common sense says the only option is up from 50. No key losses, the existing youngsters should have improved and there have been some nice additions that should help. But the fact some key Western teams dealt with injuries last season and that everything seemed to break right is a bit disconcerting. Last season could have just been a flash-in-the-pan, but I say it was the first step towards something bigger.
The Thunder might not be completely ready to finish second in the West and compete for the conference crown. Keep in mind, last year this was the league’s youngest roster, and they’re only a year older. They will be good, and they will win a lot of games. The Northwest Division title is the first goal, but I don’t think OKC is ready for that. I’ve got them finishing second in the Northwest and fourth in the West.
ON THE CELTICS: Yeah they’re old. Yeah, they get hurt a lot. Yeah, the Heat did something with some players this offseason. But never write off the Celtics. Not yet.
The C’s are your classic closing-window team where time is running out on them. Their core is aging and — for the most part — aren’t what they used to be. Rondo has evolved into the team’s best player, something nobody really saw coming three years ago. Despite Miami having Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James, and the Magic always good with Dwight Howard, it’s tough not to put the Celtics right at the top of the East.
I don’t typically like the, “They’re the champs until someone beat them,” but in Boston’s sense, it applies. They won the East last year, and they will fight tooth and nail to defend it. Of coursem, here’s the “if they stay healthy” disclaimer, because that applies to teams that have guys collecting social security still playing, but I think the Celtics finish first in the East this year.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
by Dave Deckard, Blazersedge
ON THE TRAIL BLAZERS: The Portland Trail Blazers continue their attempt to morph from caterpillar to beautiful butterfly. Six years worth of injuries in six months destroyed their 2009-10 season, holding them to 50 wins and a second straight first-round playoff exit. Conventional wisdom says that once all the pieces are in place the half-team that won 54 two years ago plus the half team that won 50 last year makes a whole team — and a whole lot of wins. But Conventional wisdom doesn’t watch much basketball.
Even when healthy, the pieces on this team don’t mesh well yet. The core of the team is young, coming up without strong veteran leadership. They haven’t learned how to involve each other, let alone sacrifice for each other. They don’t have the drive to defend consistently. They don’t have the courage to force turnovers and run. They don’t have a post presence or enough motion in the offense.
Portland’s key veteran, point guard Andre Miller, needs the ball too much to fit with Brandon Roy, and Miller likes his offense too much to free the other youngsters whose offensive games need to develop. Backup point guard is in flux, and reserve wing Wesley Matthews, though a preseason bright spot, was the Blazers’ major acquisition over the summer — not exactly a revolutionary move in itself.
Center Marcus Camby has been a Godsend, though, and the presumed return of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla should give the Blazers a three-headed defensive center platoon to be reckoned with. Oden remains the great hope, as he dominates the defensive paint and the glass when he plays. He could be a one-man revolution. But he’s hurt, and his game is raw, and that’s not a good equation for immediate success.
The Blazers have talent. They will be good this year. But they haven’t had enough time or experience together to be great. They’ll get to the postseason, and they’re aiming at the second round of the playoffs, but they’ll need a high seed to accomplish that goal. Anything more is pie in the sky at this point.
ON THE CELTICS: For everyone running against the Miami Hype Machine who also can’t bear to hop on board with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics represent the last, best hope for a happy end to the 2010-11 season. Last year’s Eastern Conference champs have plenty to recommend them.
A starting lineup of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal need not blush before the league’s super-teams. Even better, the second unit of Delonte West, Nate Robinson, Davis, Jermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins ensures that the galloping geriatrics won’t have to spend 40 minutes per night on the floor in the regular season.
Last year, the Celtics ranked in the upper third of the league in several traditional barometer categories: point differential, points allowed, field goal percentage and field goal percentage allowed. Their comparatively anemic rebounding production should be bolstered by the influx of O’Neals. They may not generate the same headlines they did in 2008, but they’re going to win professionally and consistently.
Unfortunately, it isn’t going to work.
The only way the Celtics can go upwards is to reclaim the championship. Every team in history that has come in second has looked back on a game or a moment that, if tweaked, seemingly could have tipped the scales in the other direction. With all of those banners in tow, Celtics fans already know that winners were meant to win. The distance between second and first is greater than it seems. Unless the surrounding tide recedes, you have to revolutionize, not just bolster, in order to bridge the gulf between the trophy and “almost.” The tide has swept in farther around the Celtics, and they haven’t revolutionized.
Needing to drink from the fountain of youth, Boston drank from the fountain of slow instead. J.O. is hanging on despite the decreased mobility, but he’s not the complementary player that Perkins is. He needs to be featured in order to shine. Shaq comes equipped with his own leather jacket and water skis nowadays. Every team that’s had him since Miami has figured out he’s an extremely expensive billboard reading, “You just jumped the shark.”
Those aren’t “We got KG in 2007” acquisitions. They’re “We got KG right now” signings at best. They’ll help out in the regular season, if healthy. They’ll keep the Celtics from sinking, probably propelling them to a higher seed. But they’re not going to lead them to the Promised Land. No matter how many wins lie in between, seven-game series with the Heat and the Lakers still wait at the end of the road. That’s bad news for Celtics fans.
ON THE JAZZ: Jazz fans (and coaches) are starting a new “Carlos Boozer free” era of basketball. He was a good finisher, but his defense became such a weakness that other teams went right at him in the playoffs — and faced little resistance. The Jazz were never going to win with him, especially when he’d disappear for entire playoff series’ at a time. We’re all happy to see him go. So far, he’s already gotten injured, and the Jazz have beaten the Lakers twice on the road. Yes, it’s only preseason, but optimism is high in Jazz land again this season.
Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the game, and establishing him as the primary scoring option will only make him more dangerous in the playoffs, where superstars get favorable calls. Also, all the new parts seem to be picking up the flex offense as best as they can. Furthermore, the new additions seem to be more defensive-minded than the people they replaced. For example, Raja Bell for Kyle Korver is a step in the right direction for playoff-minded basketball.
More than anything else, Jazz fans are most enamored with former Celtic Al Jefferson. His tutelage under Kevin McHale really shows, and he has an almost limitless array of post moves that allow him to score up or around Pau Gasol in ways that Boozer couldn’t even imagine without getting injured. Jefferson and Gasol played a lot of minutes against one another in the two preseason games, and if this is anything to look forward to the Jazz will not roll over so easily in the playoffs this year.
If the Jazz are healthy and reintegrate recovering Mehmet Okur well into the system when he returns, then I fully expect them to finally have homecourt in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs — something that they were never able to do when Boozer was around.
ON THE CELTICS: First of all, Jazz fans love the Celtics. We can only admire and applaud the successes of your franchise and the depth of your collective disdain for the Lakers (a squad we’re not very fond of either). It may sound hyperbolic, but this season the Boston Celtics have one of their deepest rosters in decades.
The depth is no greater than in the paint. It’s a shame for them that there are only 96 total minutes to play at power forward and center during a regular length game — a fact that could become one of the greatest challenges this season. But it’s a challenge that 29 other teams in the league wouldn’t mind having. When it comes to shooting, Rondo isn’t Mark Price, but by the same token Price never got a triple double in the playoffs. Rondo has five so far (and he’s still so young), including one in an NBA Finals game. He’s only going to get better in the next few seasons.
When everyone is healthy, and the games count the most, I fully expect the Celtics to grind the other East squads into the hardwood with a structured and deliberate defense that funnels other teams into their own dooms. You win in the playoffs with defense and rebounding. I expect another 50-plus win season, complete with at least 10 playoff wins — if not more.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this seven-part series: the Western Conference’s Southwest Division.
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