October 28, 2010

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LONGSHOTS: Heat on Miami as NBA season kicks off this week
By†Dave Long dlong@hippopress.com

The NBA comes your way this week with all sorts of interesting storylines. Especially locally, which for the Celtics started Tuesday against you know who and the Heat, in what many are saying was the most anticipated opening day in NBA history.

Itís been made interesting by Chris Bosh and you know who taking his image south to hook up with Dwyane Wade. The big question is can they mesh their talents and did Pat Riley put enough pieces around them to get them by the Eastern Conference champs. And for his part, Danny Ainge did a tremendous job retooling the bench with almost no cap room. Yet thanks to guile and circumstances falling their way theyíve added impressive new/old pieces to fortify the big five ó whoíll be missing Kendrick Perkins until at least January. So letís take a look at the big stories around the NBA from the perspective of how they affect the Celtics.

Most Anticipated NBA Opening Day: No sport can match baseball for the magic of opening day, so itís rare anyone even notices an NBA opener. I can only think of a few that really got attention. Lew Alcindorís debut with Milwaukee in 1970 was big. And locally the first game of the Pitino administration created a buzz. Especially after they beat MJís Bulls in a truly exciting game ó which ironically turned out to be the one high point of his Boston reign. KGís Boston debut too. Beyond that, not many got the blood pumping, even for guys like Jordan, Shaq or even LeBron with all his hype. But after the hoo-ha of taking his talents to South Beach, the bitterness that followed in Cleveland and noses being pushed out of joint in Orlando, L.A. and Boston, this opening day may go to #1.

The Returning Cast: The Big Three are in position to play the Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Bailey Howell roles in the back-to-back titles of 1968 and 1969 with Rajon Rondo playing the John Havlicek role of being the only one of the group in the prime-of-life phase. After asking out or being pushed off Team USA this summer, Rondo has a chip on his shoulder, and perhaps ditto for Garnett after getting killed on the board by Pau Gasol in the Finals. I have lower expectations for the Big Three while hoping the rising Rondo, Big Baby and a better bench take up the slack. As for Perk, send him to anyone but Cedric Maxwellís old rehab guy so heís ready at playoff time.

The Big Question: Injuries. With five key guys over 30, the question is when will the injuries hit, not will they. Luck plays a role here, and hopefully itíll be early because it will be an issue.

The 1965 Yankees: You may recall I was for letting Paul Pierce and Ray Allen go to use their money in a restructuring to insure a competitive team for six to eight years and not just the next two. The reason was having seen all the good players on that Yankees team grow old at the same time in going from 1964 pennant winners to a shocking sixth place in 1965 and dead last in 1966. Not saying itíll happen, but itís in the back of my mind. I expect only KG to be better ó thanks to being 18 months removed from knee surgery ó while Pierce and Allen will take a step, maybe two down the back side of their career slope.

The New Guys: I love the addition of Shaq, though with a little í65 Yankees fears. Heís got liabilities for sure, but heíll be their best block scorer and maybe rebounder too, who gives the second unit a scorer. Ditto for Delonte West, off-court issues aside. While not quite the defender Tony Allen was, heís a more consistent, complete player who can shoot threes, pass, rebound, defend and play point in short doses. Nate Robinson canít guard me, but heís instant offense. As for Jermaine OíNeal, after seeing him in the playoffs Iím expecting nothing. Anythingís a bonus.

Mid-Season Maneuvering: Danny will have some cash at the trade deadline. In past years he didnít and thatís why he had to try Miki Moore and wing nut Stephon Marbury. They didnít have contracts to match up in deals for real help. But thanks to Rasheed Wallace and Jermaine OíNeal, if Perk comes back strong, theyíll have $11 million available. And if you throw in the nine more being made by Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson and Big Baby they have real ammo.

The Lakers: With new additions to their bench they look better on paper and with Phil Jackson heading into his next retirement after this year theyíve got motivation too. Plus Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who killed the Celtics on the boards in the finals, and Lamar Odom are at peak or still improving. But I do wonder about Kobeís health, and if itís not good, thatís trouble.

Orlando Magic: Itís Dwight Howard or Kevin Durant for MVP in my book. Plus they feel dissed in Florida by whatís happening in Miami and thatís a motivator.

Theyíre good and younger than the Cís. I wouldnít sell them short.

The Miami Heat Factor: For the first time since the Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer Pistons the league finally has a team to hate. While the ďDecisionĒ goes up there with ďread my lips, no new taxesĒ as things people would like a do-over on, its monstrous ratings say theyíll have some in their corner. But with LeBron getting booed wherever heís gone since, there is only one way they can silence the critics and thatís to win it all. Anything else makes it worse.

The Miami Heat: Iím not one who gives them the title automatically for a number of reasons ó like whoís gonna cover Dwight Howard? Or Jamir Nelson for that matter. Plus, Iím old enough to have seen a much better threesome in terms of history and place in the game in Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain go to the finals and lose twice. So Iíll wait to hand out the trophy for a while. But that doesnít mean I donít think they can win it. I think Wade is almost the player Kobe is, as is LeBron, whoíll be extra motivated by the booing. Iím just not sold on Chris Bosh, who I think is soft, or their interior defense ó which brings me back to who guards Howard.

Who Wins the Title: Most donít think Oklahoma City is ready to win the title, but I do after seeing Durant put Team USA on his back this summer in a way LeBron never has done in international play. By yearís end heíll be THE best player in the NBA. They need to improve their defense, but they can rebound (third last year) and played the Lakers tougher than anyone but Boston when two of their losses were by 3. They remind me of the 1981 Celtics ó young, talented and ready for the next step.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Saturday Morning Sports with Dave Long from 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays on WGAM Ė The Game 1250-AM in Manchester and 900-AM in Nashua.


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8/27/2009 Random thoughts and big refrigerator magnets
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4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
3/26/2009 Mount Rushmore offerings and other spring thoughts
3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
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3/5/2009 In Bill we still trust?
2/26/2009 A mountain over this molehill
2/19/2009 Steroids muscle in on game's strength
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2/5/2009 Nation's angst ends as V-Tek says what the heck and rejoins flock
1/29/2009 Super Bowl Sunday brings to mind past and present
1/22/2009 The elusive quality of greatness is the topic of the day
1/15/2009 Spring cleaning of the sports mind a little early
1/8/2009 Will hall have Rice on the menu come July
1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
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11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
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6/19/2008 Letters from the NBA finals
6/12/2008 A Father's Day letter to dad
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5/22/2008 Some questions for folks right up there in the front row
5/15/2008 Numbers don't add up to supposed Fenway
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4/3/2008 Bill James and the stats for 2008 ó Take Two
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3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
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2/28/2008 Celtics issues far from black and white in the early days
2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
2/14/2008 Basketball rounds into form under the cover of Pats football
2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
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7/26/2007 Getting out of a slump; an ameteur golfer can feel Sox' pain
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5/31/2007 Lutz of things to think about
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5/17/2007 Baseballs' conventional wisdom is for the birds
5/10/2007 The Rocket lands in Gotham during Monarchs' playoff break
5/3/2007 Raiders say "No Moss" in fight with talented wideout
4/26/2007 A little history on the ancient Sox and Yanks rivalry
4/19/2007 Lessons to be learned from Robinson, Monarchs and I-Man
4/12/2007 A few questions for the sports gods
4/5/2007 Stanton his case on a variety of current topics
3/29/2007 Sox spring back into action on Monday
3/22/2007 A guide for having fun on NCAA hockey weekend
3/15/2007 The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
3/8/2007 Jumping through hoops after an odd season
3/1/2007 A trip to the mail bag for Hippo Sports
2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
1/25/2007 Winning and what else matters in college coaching
1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
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08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
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06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
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05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
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02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
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01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat