LONGSHOTS: Heat on Miami as NBA season kicks off this week
By†Dave Long firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.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.