Nuggets at Lakers, Game 7
The Lakers need to get a grip. Now.
On one hand, I’m not worried because I’ve seen this sad act before. The last time the Lakers won an NBA title, the Houston Rockets took them to seven games in the first-round series, which was in no way indicative of what was to come in the rest of the playoffs.
We all know the Lakers are superior to the Nuggets, it’s just a matter of which team decides to show up Saturday for Game 7.
Will it be the Lakers team that had six players score in double figures? Or will it be the team in which a sickly Kobe Bryant carried nearly the whole load while two 7-footers were practically invisible?
Will LA continue to be stifled by a blistering Nuggets defense that left Pau Gasol with an empty stat sheet after going a pathetic 1-10 from the field in Game 6? Will Andrew Bynum continue to regress to middle school behavior by bragging without pause and sitting alone at the end of the bench like a boy whose lunch money got stolen?
If each team plays to its potential, there is no doubt that the Lakers will easily beat the Nuggets in Game 7. Denver is too inconsistent and too weak from long range to beat a team with players in the post such as Gasol and Bynum with Kobe waiting in the wings.
We will see what Gasol and Bynum are really made of Saturday as a Game 7 is the perfect opportunity to expose a player’s mental fortitude.
Look for an extra boost of energy from Metta World Peace who will return from a seven game suspension to emotionally inspire the Lakers to reach their physical potential on Saturday. As lovely a Cinderella story as Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Corey Brewer have written, I think Denver’s glass slipper finally breaks come Saturday.
Clippers at Grizzlies, Game 7
This could very well be the end of the road for the Clippers. Sure, the 27-point comeback was incredible, as was jumping out to a 3-1 series lead, but L.A.’s injuries will likely do them in against the Grizzlies in Memphis on Sunday.
The last thing on the Grizzlie’s minds is the Game 1 loss to the Clippers after Memphis has not only beat L.A. twice in Staples Center, but has watched L.A’s two stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, break down over the course of the series and the Grizz smell blood in the water.
Without Paul and Griffin at a good 70% in terms of health, it will be awfully hard for the Clippers to beat this Grizzlies team - which many thought would be a wild card winner to come out of the West - in Memphis in a decisive Game 7.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph finally figured out how to work the Clippers in Game 6 and with help from Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, the Grizzlies had just enough to get the win in L.A.
The edge in Game 7 has to go to the Grizzlies because of the team’s playoff experience last year, the injuries ailing the Clippers two star players and of course, home court advantage.
Sleepy Spurs & Thunder?
The long layoff between the first round of the playoffs and the conference semi-finals can’t be long enough for the San Antonio Spurs, who are “old,” but perhaps not as old as you might think. The average age of a Spurs player is 27.29 years old, compared to the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose average age is 25.8.
Greg Popovich’s decision to rest some of the team’s older players like Tim Duncan is in part, what earned him NBA Coach of the Year honors as sitting the more “mature” men on the team for a game here and there certainly paid off in the long run.
The younger Thunder, whose stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 23 years old, might have a slightly tougher time adjusting to the long lay off, but I’m sure will be right back up to speed after one game, maximum.
In the short term, the long break between OKC’s first and second round series could cause some rust, but it will definitely be helpful in the long run as whichever team comes out of the West will have taken the much tougher road to the Finals.
Celtics & Heat In The East
Barring catastrophic injury (a la the Chicago Bulls) the Celtics and Heat should meet up for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown in a few weeks from now.
I give Paul Pierce one obligatory wheelchair ride and Ray Allen six missed periods with a bum ankle and still have the Celtics beating the 76ers for an eventual date with the Heat.
As much as I love the young-buck Pacers, they have no shot against Miami unless two of the Big Three go down with major injuries.
That said, does the old Big Three actually stand a chance against the young Big Three?
Ehhh…no. I could see the Celtics taking Miami to six games, but that’s probably as far as it goes. By the time the Conference Finals roll around, the Heat should be drooling for the sweet taste of revenge after last year’s embarrassing Finals loss and willing to pounce on whomever stands in their way of getting there.
With a weak Eastern Conference and a tough, tough road for whomever comes out of the West, this truly is the Heat’s year to win an NBA Championship. Again, barring injury, the Celtics CANNOT beat the Heat in a 7-game series. All that the team coming out of the West can hope for is that the guys in green put up one hell of a fight.
The days leading up to the NBA Trade deadline are always fun, regardless of anything big actually going down on the final day, but because of the truncated season, this year’s deadline had a definite sense of urgency and it did not disappoint. Let’s take a look at the most important moves that were made on March 15.
Not moving Dwight Howard was likely a bad move on the Magic’s behalf. Orlando locked up the All-Star center for another year and as a result holding court, have some money to bring in a good player in the offseason. The problem is that Orlando now finds themselves in a “catch-22” situation. A top-notch free agent won’t want to commit to the Magic long-term if they think Howard will only be around for their first year with the team. On the other hand, Howard sure as hell won’t sign a long term extension if he’s set to be the only marquee player on the roster for the next few years. Even if the Magic put up the money to bring in another big name guy while simultaneously paying Howard, who knows if he would even want to stay in Orlando. It seems like he is “over it.”
Bill Russell ain’t walkin through that door this season, therefor the Celtics stayed put, making no moves at the deadline. Trading All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo would’ve been pointless even if Boston would’ve landed a big man like Dwight Howard in return because who would get him the ball with Rondo gone?
Sure, the Celtics could’ve moved any one of the Big 3, but at this point, they can’t get an All-Star player in return for any part of their aging former-championship nucleus.
The good news is that the Big 3 will stay together for the rest of the season and make a run for it in the playoffs. The bad news is that I just don’t think they are strong enough to survive based on their lack of depth down low. The Celtics will likely buy out the injured Jermaine O’Neal’s contract and fellow big Chris Wilcox is out for the remainder of the season with a heart ailment. That leaves my main man Greg Stiemsma all alone down low, battling the bigs of the Eastern Conference, night in and night out. YIKES.
Head coach Doc Rivers said he still hopes to sign a big man but he knows that is a tall order at this point in the season (no pun intended). Perhaps Rasheed Wallace really will walk through that door this year. We’ll see.
The Timberwolves went nowhere fast on Thursday. Apparently, they were a few minutes away from moving Michael Beasley to the Lakers, but that fell through and now they are stuck with an inconsistent forward and no replacement for the injured Ricky Rubio. I’ve been on the TWolves bandwagon from the second Rubio agreed to cross the Atlantic and the team drafted the fantastic Derrick Williams out of Arizona. That said, unless J.J. Barrea morphs back into the feisty, clutch guard we watched win a title with the Mavericks last year, I’m afraid this season will finish in disappointing fashion for Minnesota.
The Nuggets shipped center Nene to the Wizards for fellow-bigs JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf (who will likely be bought out). This one is puzzling for a few reasons. The Nuggets re-upped Nene’s contract not that long ago, paying him a boatload of money and he has responded by having a career year, averaging 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. While he has struggled with injury and illness in the past, he seems to be healthy now so this move is a tad confusing.
McGee is UBER talented, frequently making ESPN’s Top 10 Plays highlight reel. Problem is, he nearly stars in the Not Top 10 reel just as often! McGee has a ton of talent and a LOT of growing up to do. I could be judging him a bit harshly, but I feel like McGee is that guy who will just never “get it.” I hope I’m wrong because if his maturity could match his physical talent, this guy would be unstoppable and could easily take the Nuggets to an elite level. Unfortunately, McGee has yet to prove that capability.
Meanwhile the wompwomp Wizards are getting a solid player who won’t cause controversy the way McGee did which should be beneficial for this team that has some young talent but needs leadership and stability.
Lakers, Cavs & Rockets…oh my!:
This one is interesting, and I think I like it. I didn’t want so see the Lakers part with Pau Gasol unless they were getting an All-Star caliber player in return. The Lakers were in fairly desperate need of a point guard (see: Hornets & Chris Paul… or lack thereof) so getting Ramon Sessions, who averaged 10.5 points and 5.2 assists as Kyrie Irving’s BACKUP in Cleveland seems like a happy medium.
The Lakers also acquired shooting guard Christian Eyenga (who has spent most of the season in the D League) from the Cavs and power forward Jordan Hill from the Rockets, who is averaging 5 points and nearly 5 rebounds per game, which makes him a nice supplement/backup to Gasol on the wing and down low. In giving up Fisher, Luke Walton and Jason Kapono, it’s not like the Lakers lost a lot of offensive firepower, making Sessions and Hill reasonable additions to the team.
The Lakers did give up two draft picks, which is basically the only thing making these trades beneficial to both the Rockets and Cavaliers. Walton and Kapono should add some veteran juice to the Cavs who will look to use the draft pick to keep building around the young Irving. The Rockets also got rid of big money by dumping the contract of Hasheem Thabeet (sending him to Portland) which will help them in the long run.
San Antonio, Milwaukee and Golden State:
The Spurs added shooting guard Stephen Jackson in exchange for Richard Jefferson and a draft pick. I don’t get this one at all for the Spurs. Word on the street though is that the Rockets will likely buy out Derek Fisher’s contract, thus making him available as a free agent and supposedly, San Antonio would be interested. I could see Fish fitting in well in San Antonio, although I doubt he’s enough to take this team deep into the playoffs.
The Warriors unloaded their roster, losing the aforementioned Jackson, star shooting guard Monta Ellis, and centers Kwame Brown and Ekpe Udoh. Obviously, Ellis jumps off the page as you have to wonder where the Warriors are going to get nearly 22 points and six assists per game from now that he’s gone. Richard Jefferson and center Andrew Bogut combine for an average of about 21 points and six assists per game, so in theory, that’s where the production will come from, but perhaps the real steal for the Warriors is the first and second-round draft picks they acquired in these trades with the Spurs and Bucks. It looks like many of the trades at this season’s deadline were more about looking toward to future than being practical here in the present.
Portland & New Jersey:
The Trailblazers canned head coach Nate McMillan in addition to trading big man Marcus Camby and star forward Gerald Wallce. In return, Portland picked up centers Mehmet Okur (often-injured) and Hasheem Thabeet along with point guard Johnny Flynn and small forward Shawne Williams. The Blazers also got a first and second-round draft pick along with unloading Greg Oden (which sadly, is of no real consequence to anyone but him, personally).
The only reason I see this trade making any sense whatsoever is because the Blazers wanted the draft picks, surely using the first-rounder to waste on yet another unhealthy big man.
This one looks decent for the Nets though who now have a respectable starting lineup consisting of Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. I think Wallace is a nice building block for the Nets as they get ready for the big move to Brooklyn.
With the NBA Trade deadline rapidly approaching (March 15), the rumor mill is working spinning into overdrive. Writers are providing daily updates consisting of “inside information,” while players continue to claim they are ignoring the “reports,” and bloggers are making up fun, fantasy-like scenarios, Monopoly money-style.
For the guys who are affected by trades in real life (aka the players), this deadline looms over everyone from the franchise players to the last man on the bench. For the rest of us (whose living arrangements and careers aren’t affected), the trade deadline is a time to play G.M. and ponder all sorts of possibilities, rooted in either fact or fable. Whether your trade ideas have any truth or validity behind them doesn’t much matter as everyone and their Mamas have the right to take a guess and hope for the best come March 15.
Listed below is a compilation of “actual” rumors (which is kind of an oxymoron, but you get the point) as well as random ideas floating through the interwebs and sports bar conversation pieces. Without further ado, lets indulge in a few trade delights de jour:
Trades That Could Happen:
• Dwight Howard to any team that is willing to give away more than they should to rent the All-Star center for the rest of the season only.
• Pau Gasol to Houston for Kyle Lowrie and Luis Scola
• Baron Davis to LA Lakers for Devin Ebanks
• Elton Brand do anyone who will take his salary off the 76ers hands
Trades That Should Happen, But Won’t:
• Pau Gasol & Andrew Goudelock to Orlando for Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis
• Jamal Crawford and Kurt Thomas to Chicago for Kyle Korver Omer Asik
• Gilbert Arenas (Free Agent) to Oklahoma City as Russell Westbrook’s backup
• Metta World Peace and Devin Ebanks to Toronto for Jerryd Bayless
• Zaza Pachulia to the Celtics…somehow, some way, they could use him
Rumors & Random Trade/Free Agent Ideas:
• Ray Allen to Chicago for Ronnie Brewer and Richard Hamilton
• Ray Allen to LA Clippers for Eric Bledsoe, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes and a second-round draft pick
• Steve Nash and Josh Childress to LA Lakers for Pau Gasol and a first-round draft pick
Tonight’s Lakers vs. Celtics game reminded me of college when I used to go watch a group of my guy friends play intramural flag football. My girlfriends and I would cheer them on and sometimes go as far as making corny little signs, just to be supportive and make them feel good. Most of these guys were athletes whose careers ended with a high school diploma while their competitive spirit long outlasted their physical ability. I would always chuckle as the guys took flag football SO seriously, celebrating a good play like they won the Super Bowl and becoming furious with the smallest of failures. Although way past their athletic prime, my buddies loved to compete and played every game like it meant the world to them.
That’s how tonight’s Lakers vs. Celtics game felt to me. It was such a fun game and between the playoff-like atmosphere in the TD Garden and the close finish, the contest provided more than sufficient entertainment. At the same time, it made me sad to see two teams, once powerhouses, just shells of their former selves.
In 53 minutes of play, neither team made it to 90 points, both shooting around 39 percent from the field. 39 percent. Yikes. When the Lakers and Celtics were playing for titles in the latter part of the decade, each team had a strong presence down low (Perkins, Gasol and Bynum) and solid bench players; role players who were reliable and knew how to help their team.
If the Celtics can make it to the NBA Finals with Jermaine O’Neal starting at center without a legitimate backup, I’d be speechless…for once. Ever. Greg Stiemsa has potential, but he isn’t good enough right now and I don’t see Leon Powe walking through that door anytime soon. The Lakers outscored the Celtics in the paint 46-38 which isn’t that impressive considering LA has such a huge size advantage over Boston.
Three of the five bench players who played for the Celtics contributed 19 of Boston’s 87 total points, a near mirror-image of the Lakers bench which was responsible for 18 points between three of the four guys who played. Most of LA’s bench points came late as the non-starters were practically invisible through the majority of the game.
There were some positives though. Just like the good old days, it came down to Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce laying it all out on the line; no guts, no glory. The Celtics captain played 48 minutes in which he scored 18 points, grabbed nine boards and logged seven assists, not to mention sinking a gorgeous jumper to give Boston a 1-point lead with under two minutes to play in overtime. But it wasn’t enough.
Ray Allen, dropping 22 points and giving us a classic old school 1-on-1 defensive battle with Kobe - holding him to 27 points, well under his 30 points per game average - wasn’t enough either. Kevin Garnett, once the heart and soul of the Celtics (and perhaps he still is in certain ways) had a miserable shooting night, going 6-23 and missing his last nine consecutive shots.
The Lakers and Celtics are two of the oldest teams in the NBA so 17 fast break points for Boston (LA scored only six) is one positive to take away from a loss like this. On the other hand, the free throw opportunities were heavily skewed in LA’s favor, as the Celtics were called for 21 personal fouls to the Lakers’ 12.
Kobe, a master of drawing fouls, among other things, was superb in the second half, demoralizing Boston with plays like the one in the third quarter when he patiently waited down low, eventually spinning around three defenders for the bucket, followed by a shot right over Allen, who did as much as he could to prevent it.
Pau Gasol, who has been in a funk since last season finally played the way he has for so many years, picking the right spots, rebounding, tipping and shooting his way to 25 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks, all on the same day as he was left off of the NBA All-Star roster.
Also with something to prove (and hoping to avoid being traded) is Andrew Bynum who scored 16 points, blocked three shots and more importantly, hauled in 17 boards as he and Gasol combined for 31 rebounds. Gasol and Bynum were responsible for critical blocks and deflections, Gasol winning the game for the Lakers as he blocked Ray Allen’s layup attempt as time expired in the extra period.
Interestingly, the Lakers are unmatched down low with Bynum and Gasol yet have been unable to find a way to get them the ball which has been a source of the team’s struggles. It wasn’t pretty, but tonight, they figured it out.
I’m convinced Steve Blake is the key to the Lakers success. Before he injured his ribs a few weeks ago, the Lakers point guard was playing the best basketball of his professional career. Blake and Bryant seemed to be the only two Lakers who truly understood Mike Brown’s system (and Blake was actually hitting shots too) so when he went down, it looked like the glue holding the Lakers together had evaporated. With Blake (not including tonight), the Lakers were 8-4. Without him, the team found itself in deep trouble going 6-7. While Blake was beyond rusty tonight, he helped his team get the job done down the stretch.
As badly as we want this rivalry to be what it once was a few years ago, or what it has been at different points over the past several decades, it just doesn’t feel the same. The competition is still there, but the level of play is not.
Remember when Rondo and Bynum represented the future? Now they are the present, which means some of the best players in hoops history will soon be a thing of the past.
The fact that these two teams were so cordial to each other on the court, conversing, helping each other up when someone hit the deck… perhaps that is their way of acknowledging that they aren’t what, or who they once were; That they appreciated all of those ugly hard-fought battles and wish so badly to go back to that place in time.
Whether it’s in the regular season or the playoffs, an all-star game or a charity game, or even a flag football game, we can always count on the fiercest form of competition between these two teams; the kind that will forever be worth cheering for.
After the lockout ended, remember how exciting basketball was in the first few days of the NBA season? Christmas day felt like the playoffs between the Knicks two-point win over the Celtics and the Bulls’ come-from-behind victory over the Lakers by a single point in L.A. as both games were intense and entertaining. Heading into the season without a lengthy training camp, I anticipated ugly, discombobulated basketball but instead was pleasantly surprised as we were treated to some fantastic games.
Four weeks into the condensed 66-game NBA season, the enthusiasm seems to have worn off a bit and the rust is showing as many of the league’s teams are struggling to find consistency. Teams are having issues with chemistry, several key players have sustained injuries and every team is playing at least one stretch of three games in three nights as well as four games in five, and even five games in six nights. That’s a lot of games, and not a lot of quality practice time.
Logically, we want to attribute things like injury, sloppy play, lack of understanding of a coach’s scheme, etc. to the fact that teams are playing much more often than during a full, 82-game regular season therefor they must be tired, hurt and practice-deprived.
I crunched some numbers and noticed that our conspiracy theories surrounding the shortened season could be off the mark. Lets take the Lakers, for example. Last season, the Lakers played 82 regular season games in 170 days over approximately 24.3 weeks. If you break those numbers down, the Lakers played 3.37 games per week last season. This year, the Lakers will play 66 games in 124 days over 17.7 weeks, thus playing 3.72 games per week. That’s only about one third of a game more per week than last season. I’m no statistician (although I took social statistics in college… it was dreadful) but I don’t think that figure is of any true significance.
Basically, the number of games being played in this shortened time frame is proportional to the number of games played over a full-length season last year.
There is a learning curve every season, especially through the first 20-30 games. It usually takes teams a while to get their ducks in a row even when they have a full-length training camp and preseason.
Here’s where it gets tricky. What about all of the back-to-back games? Many have suggested that the back-to-back sets, and especially the back-to-back-to-back games would give younger teams an advantage because their youthful bodies can bounce back quicker than the veteran players.
Guess what? Age doesn’t seem to be a big factor when it comes to back-to-back games, at least not yet.
Take a look at the five oldest teams in the league (Dallas being the eldest) and their records when it comes to wins and losses on zero days rest:
Now lets look at how the five youngest teams in the league (Minnesota being the youngest) fared on zero days rest:
Again, I’m no math major but it doesn’t appear as though we can draw any correlation between age and wins/losses of games played on consecutive days. Because it’s still early in this season, this could change down the road, but as of now, those young, fresh legs aren’t making much of a difference as wisdom and experience has proved tough as well.
What role could back-to-back games play over the duration of the season? I’ll let you be the judge.
I looked at the schedules of four teams and compared them to last year in terms of how many times they played on consecutive nights (back-to-backs). Below are the number of times the Clippers, Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks played on consecutive days/nights.
Clippers 23 20
Celtics 19 19
Lakers 15 19
Mavericks 17 20
While the Celtics are playing exactly the same number of back-to-backs as last season, the other three teams are in a different boat. The Lakers and Mavs will both play more back-to-backs this season with LA playing 26 percent more back-to-backs than last year and 18 percent more for Dallas. Meanwhile the Clippers are playing 13 percent fewer back-to-back games than they played last season. Lucky them!
This tidbit does seem significant. It looks like the Lakers got lucky last season, as 15 back-to-backs is quite different from the Clippers down the hall who played 23 such sets. Playing 26 percent more back-to-backs than in the previous year has to hurt, especially as the Lakers are the second oldest team in the NBA. I would think it will catch up to them eventually, well, everyone but Kobe that is (unless his wrist actually falls off at some point), and I guess time will tell.
I wonder if travel might be more of an issue than playing on consecutive nights, especially because plenty of the back-to-back scenarios involve travel. Only eight teams have road records of .500 or better. That’s pretty pathetic.
At the end of the day, I think true talent will win out despite age, long flights, late nights and little rest between games. As mentioned above, the condensed schedule isn’t really much tighter than a normal schedule. Look at the league’s top two teams. The Bulls are the 19th oldest team in the league, they are 12-3 overall (7-3 on the road) Derrick Rose is injured and they are 6-2 on zero days rest. Conversely we have one of the league’s youngest teams in the Thunder who are also riding high at 12-3 overall (6-2 on the road) and 5-1 on zero days rest. Both teams follow the trend that at this point in the season, age isn’t much of a factor and that back-to-back games haven’t proved detrimental just yet. With more than two thirds of the season left to play, we have plenty of time to dissect and diagnose the failures of struggling teams.
Before the Celtics’ first victory of the season on Friday night, there was plenty of panic running up and down Causeway Street as Boston began the season with an 0-3 slump. Meanwhile a familiar foe was going through a similar situation out west as the Lakers lost their first two games of the season causing folks to practically crown the Clippers as the new kings of Los Angeles hoops.
Both Celtics and Lakers were missing a star player, not to mention a number of other factors contributing to their slow starts, so working with a sample size of less than five games, is it really fair to freak out just yet?
Yes and no.
No, because when you are missing a team captain in one case, and a starting center in another, the expectations should be lowered substantially. Yes, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said there would be no excuses for his team to start slow; losing Jeff Green to heart surgery right before the season, team captain Paul Pierce out with a bruised right heel… neither was an acceptable excuse for failure according to Rivers. Obviously, a coach can’t tell his or her team, “hey listen, we’re missing some key parts, so if we suck, well, no big deal. Nobody expects us to win anyway,” but losing to the Knicks, Heat and Hornets all within four days on the road shouldn’t really come as a shock.
The Knicks looked good in the opener, the Heat were forced to fend off a furious Celtics comeback and the Hornets have some great young talent thanks to the Chris Paul trade so I don’t think there is much shame in this particular 0-3 start.
Here’s where Celtics fans have the right to worry. Jermaine O’Neal is your starting center. Yikes. The big man finally got his act together dropping 19 points on the winless Pistons in Boston’s 96-85 victory over Detroit on Friday, but one good game doesn’t give me much confidence. In his 15th NBA season, O’Neal (who missed much of last season with injuries) only scored eight points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in the Celtics’ first three games combined. The guy is 6’11, c’mon! O’Neal’s backups are Chris Wilcox (who has missed two games with a bruised shoulder) and rookie Greg Stiemsma.
The good news is that Stiemsma, last year’s D-League Defensive Player Of The Year has a lot of potential. The 26-year-old was a standout in an otherwise awful game against the Hornets, with 6 blocks in about 20 minutes in his NBA debut. I heard good ol’ Tommy Heinsohn compliment Stiemsma a few times during the Celtics broadcast of the Pistons game during the rookie’s 16 minutes which comprised of 2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, one block, one steal and four fouls. While the stats seem small, Stiemsma’s presence was felt in a big way, which will only improve with time.
More good news/bad news …. Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett might be on the verge of dinosaur age by NBA standards, they all still have “it.” They are still fierce competitors with the physical abilities to win on a nightly basis. The shortened season is a double-edged sword for an older team as they benefit from playing fewer games overall, yet suffer a disadvantage of little rest between games. As a true master of this team, Rivers knows these cats well enough to pick the right games to rest each guy when they need it.
Then there’s Rajon Rondo getting ready to hit his prime, not to mention that trade rumor chip on his shoulder that will keep him intent on his proving his worth to Danny Ainge and anyone else who dares to doubt him.
Guards Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling will be nice role players for Boston as will forwards Brandon Bass and Sasha Pavlovic. But as with most things in life, it all comes back to the middle, or the center. Will the trio of O’Neal, Wilcox and Stiemsma be strong enough to fend off the likes of Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, Al Horford, and the entire Miami Heat throughout the whole, albeit shortened regular season? Can the Celtics rotation of Bigs truly compete with the size, strength, skill and experience of the top teams in the East at the 5 position? Time will tell, but I won’t get my hopes up.
Then there’s the defense. Losing a defensive mind Tom Thibodeau is a big deal and it showed last season. The defense is what made this team dangerous over the last few years. It is one thing to ask older players to produce offensively but it’s another to expect them to play as tenaciously on the other end of the floor. I think the younger players should do whatever they can defensively to compensate for what the Big 3 might lack at that end.
If the Celtics can find a way to stay rested and maximize the play of their big men, I think they’ll get back on track and be a legitimate factor in the East.
As for the Celtics loathed rival, I would start with expressing concern over Kobe Bryant’s health, but after doing so over the last few years of bad knees, jacked up pinkies and whatever else, I have finally learned to accept the fact that injuries rarely hamper Bryant. He says his surgically repaired right knee is “as close to 100% as it’s going to get” after an offseason procedure in Germany, and despite a torn ligament in his right wrist, Bryant is shooting a career-best 48.1% from the field. True, the Lakers have only played four games this season, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Barring catastrophic injury, I expect Bryant to kick it up a notch on the heels of what many perceived was a “down year” for him on the court. Kobe has been less concerned with offense though as he says defense will be the bread and butter for this Lakers team. Even in L.A.’s losses to the Bulls and Kings, the team played stifling defense in stretches, but not consistently. That changed in the Lakers last two games against the Jazz and Knicks as the team really picked up its pick and roll defense and held both teams to under 33% shooting. If the Lakers can play the defense that Mike Brown and his staff have implemented on a consistent basis, their offense will come easily via the fastbreak, turnovers, and defensive rebounds.
Defensive rebounding shouldn’t be an issue for the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hanging out under the hoop. If Bynum can keep his head screwed on straight, the Lakers won’t need Dwight Howard this season. Every year, Bynum is proclaimed as the “key” to the season by coaches, teammates and the media. While he has showed flashes of brilliance, a combination of injuries and mental/emotional weakness has derailed what should be an all-star career going into his sixth NBA season.
I ran into Bynum at one of L.A.’s toughest workout spots over the summer and he looked fantastic, perhaps in the best physical shape of his NBA career. If he can stay disciplined and even-tempered, playing alongside Gasol will give the Lakers a lot to work with. As for Pau, remember how he got hammered after the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the finals back in 2008? “He’s soft,” “he sucks,” etc.? How did Gasol rebound from that criticism? He kicked ass and led the Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles. Gasol is now facing the same situation, and thus far, has responded accordingly. He has to prove himself once again and Gasol is already playing with a fire he lacked last season.
Now to Lamar Odom. Without bringing in an all-star player, Odom can only be replaced by committee which is what the Lakers are looking to do. Josh McRoberts and Devin Ebanks have both played surprisingly well thus far at the 3 and 4 and will do so with less pressure once Bynum returns from a four-game suspension today against the Nuggets. New addition Jason Kapono has made the most of his little playing time behind Kobe, and Steve Blake is not only facilitating but actually hitting his shots this season! Who knew?
The X-factor here is none other than Metta World Peace. Fitting, right? The artist formally known as Ron looked HORRENDOUS in the Lakers preseason games and regular season opener, in fact, I half-joked that he might get cut before the season started. He was slow, couldn’t run, certainly couldn’t jump and was unable to make a basket if you stood on the baseline waving cash in front of his face.
But with a new name (‘Metta,’ a Buddhist term meaning loving kindness) and a new outlook on life also comes a new job on the court. World Peace is filling Odom’s old shoes as the anchor of the Lakers second unit and is actually scoring points in doing so, 12.4ppg to be exact. While the 2004 Defensive Player Of The Year is known for what he does without the ball, the Lakers need him to produce offensively as well. Like Odom in years past, I think putting World Peace in the “bench leader” niche will give him just enough responsibility to feel accountable and important without the pressure and lofty expectations that come with being a starter.
With so many new and inexperienced players on the roster, not to mention a new head coach as well as overhauled systems both offensively and defensively, there will definitely be a learning curve for this Lakers team. Having said that, this specific group of guys (a few stars and several role players) reminds me of the kind of roster the Lakers had back in the Phil Jackson 3-peat days. The real concerns for the Lakers are heath (as it is with every team), consistency and just how big the learning curve might be in this truncated season.