A Pessimist's Guide to the Boston Celtics' 2012-13 Season
It is easy to have a positive outlook for the 2012-13 Boston Celtics. They are a vastly improved team who are a presumed favorite to return to the Eastern Conference finals.
It is quite another to look objectively. Going beyond that is taking a pessimistic view. This is something of value when reviewing a season down the road a ways.
A hint of realism is important in the life of a sports fan. The way to get that realism is to leap over the fence to the other view point and see not only if the grass is greener, but how to prepare for, and overcome, adversity.
That is what a pessimist's guide to the 2012-13 season is good for: Preparation.
There are nine teams along with the Celtics, who have legitimate shots to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. From there, any one of them could be the team to force the Celtics out. So why not explore how it could happen?
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The most likely course for the Celtics' demise prior to a NBA Finals appearance lies in the hands of the Miami Heat.
As it did last season, and the one before that, the Celtics season could again come to a head in Miami.
The Celtics reloaded over the summer with the Heat in mind, but even so, do they have the necessary pieces to topple their biggest nemesis?
The Heat have a very viable argument that they faltered in the 2011-12 Eastern Conference finals due to Chris Bosh's injury. Once active, Bosh did contribute three solid games, and was able to nullify the advantage Boston had with Kevin Garnett. Bosh's 19 points and eight rebounds, on 8-of-10 shooting was a huge difference in the deciding Game 7.
If he is 100 percent, the Garnett advantage is minimized and that frees up pressure from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. As close as the Celtics got to advancing in 2011-12, they visibly had no answer for James once he got rolling in Games 6 and 7.
The Celtics added depth to help counteract James, and can now use Jeff Green in some looks, but Paul Pierce is still drawing the biggest assignment, and that is a fairly large mismatch at this stage of Pierce's career.
With back to back eliminations of Boston in the past two postseasons, Miami still has the upper hand.
This is an intriguing matchup that I would like to see play out over a seven-game series. With Chicago's obvious difficulties this season, it is presumed that Indiana is the next best team in the Eastern Conference.
They finished with the No. 3 seed in 2011-12, just behind Chicago and Miami. They also return virtually the same roster from that run, with a couple new backup pieces.
Indiana is an incredibly balanced team, with quality players at every position and quality role players backing them up. They feature two solid and occasionally dominant bigs in the frontcourt, and All-Star swingman and dynamic youth in the backcourt.
Where Boston would struggle in a matchup with the Pacers is in the frontcourt. Roy Hibbert and David West make up one of the best starting front lines in the league. Both have the potential for All-Star caliber performances, and Hibbert was named to his first team in 2011-12.
These two teams split four games in 2011-12, with the Pacers defeating Boston handily in the first two contests. In both of those games the Celtics' rebounding did them in. What was so often the case for the 2011-12 Celtics, they lost the battle on the boards, allowing the Pacers an average of 13 more shots per game.
On top of that, the Celtics had difficulty defending against Indiana's balanced scoring attack. The Celtics are a very game-plan-specific defensive team. They can target a strength on the opposition and lock it down. However, with a diverse attack like that of the Pacers, Boston can struggle to keep up with all the moving and interchangeable parts.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks have found themselves in very much a do-or-die season. Missing out on the second round of the postseason again will put a big black mark on the players of this team, particularly Carmelo Anthony.
In a playoff series, be it opening round or semifinals pitting Boston against New York, something would have to break.
The benefit I see with New York is that the team will have a full season with the same head coach. After the Mike D'Antoni fiasco of 2011-12, Mike Woodson has had full control of this team throughout the offseason and preseason. If he can find a way to get his talented squad to compliment one another on the court, the Knicks are a tough out.
They have more top-line talent than the Celtics currently, and it starts with their own Big Three. Carmelo Anthony is as talented an offensive player as there is the NBA. If Amar'e Stoudemire can put together a full healthy season, then he is still one of the more dynamic forwards in basketball. Those two group with Tyson Chandler, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-12. All three of these players are elite at their positions.
The Celtics counter with a wider array of talents, but outside of Rajon Rondo, nothing quite at the level of the Knicks.
The potential for New York to surpass the Celtics has been there since Anthony's arrival. Still, the team continues to fail to realize that potential. In 2012-13 they will have their best shot at coming through and unseating the Atlantic Division champions.
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The Brooklyn Nets have got their eyes on legitimately competing for the Eastern Conference championship right out of the gate. Of course, to get there, there is a chance they would have to tackle the Boston Celtics.
Like New York, the Nets franchise has been staring up in the Atlantic Division at the Celtics for years now. Even though the team features a lot of newer faces, that thought of a ceiling is still in their minds. They have set a goal and have the players to accomplish it.
Brooklyn's starting five has scary potential. With good to great players across the board, the team's success will come down to chemistry. Deron Williams has been begging for a second star for some time. Now that he has one in Joe Johnson, the pressure is on to make it work right away.
Defense is going to be an issue for the Nets this season as well. It is very unclear if Brook Lopez has what it takes to stick with a Kevin Garnett. However, outside of that matchup, this might be a wash. Brooklyn has the elite point guard, high volume scoring guard, athletic and scrappy swingman and rebounding power forward that cancel out what the Celtics starters offer.
From the looks of the preseason game Andray Blatche put together against Boston, the Nets also have a deceptively talented bench. Blatche was able to torch Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger. If he develops confidence and trust from his teammates, he will be an important part for Brooklyn when faced with an opponent like the Celtics.
A Chicago-Boston series should be the one matchup Celtics fans want to see in lieu of a possible Heat rematch.
In 2009, these two teams went at it in one of the lengthiest series in history. It took all seven games, plus seven overtime periods before Boston emerged. The series proved so taxing, the Celtics were eliminated in the semifinals by Orlando.
Chicago has the players to make life difficult for Boston. Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are evenly matched at both ends. Luol Deng has always given Paul Pierce fits, and Joakim Noah's history with Kevin Garnett isn't an amiable one.
If this playoff series comes to fruition, a point of worry for Celtics fans has to be Derrick Rose. If Rose returns sometime in February, he will be playing in midseason form come playoff time. That means he will be stronger and fresher than anyone else on the court, a scary thought for a former NBA MVP.
The Bulls are also an elite defensive team and were the No. 1 rebounding team in the league last season. Lest we forget the Celtics Achilles' heel.
Boston made big strides to improve in the offseason, but if they focused too hard on Miami (No. 21 rebounding team), then they may stumble against an unexpected opponent.
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Boston-Atlanta series are getting to be old news. It seems like every year these two teams wind up facing off in one of the postseason rounds.
However, in 2012-13 there is an added twist. This is a series Atlanta will be playing without Joe Johnson's disappearing act. The Hawks have traded out their star shooting guard for a host of players who can give the team many different looks. In the end, this could be the best thing for Atlanta.
If a team that was fairly evenly matched with the Celtics already, got rid of their maddeningly inconsistent star, they might be better off. In the two teams' 2011-12 opening round series, Johnson posted games of 11 points and nine points, while also scoring 22-plus in two of the games. Overall he shot just 37 percent from the field in the series and was more of a detriment than advantage.
With Johnson leading the team, Atlanta had found themselves in NBA purgatory where they never improved, but were always good for a four or five seed and early exit. Moving on from him opens up their offense. He averaged 17 shots per game int he series, and now those shots can be spread out more.
Like I stated previously, the Celtics' brand of defense is fantastic at shutting down specific options. That is why Johnson had such a hard time against them. On the other hand, a well-balanced scoring attack is more likely to have sustainable success against Boston.
The Toronto Raptors have restocked their roster just as much as the Celtics and would appear to have a decent shot at the postseason. Still, could the Raptors really eliminate Boston?
Toronto upgraded in the one spot that is necessary if one is to battle the Celtics. The addition of Kyle Lowry not only gives the Raptors a talented and athletic young point guard, but also the best backup in the NBA. Lowry's proven body of work will make him the starter, but that means Jose Calderon comes off the bench. That duo is more than capable of hanging with Rajon Rondo during a series.
The Raptors also were essentially granted two lottery picks, because their 2011 pick, Jonas Valanciunas will make his first appearance after remaining in Lithuania. While Valanciunas will earn the starting job at center, their 2012 pick, Terrence Ross provides excellent depth at shooting guard. There he will pair with free-agent acquisition Landry Fields.
Toronto's biggest addition will be Andrea Bargnani, though. After missing most of last season with an injury, Bargnani should return to peak form in 2012-13. He gives the Raptors a legitimate threat to score at the end of games. Before his injury, Bargnani was averaging 20 points per game, and should be able to score at that clip again.
Toronto has reloaded enough to fight their way into the playoffs. From there anything can happen. Lowry has the ability to stick with Rondo, and if Toronto can find enough scoring elsewhere, they could hang with, and upset, the Celtics.
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Yet another team in the Atlantic Division with a vendetta out for the Celtics. Philadelphia was locked in a seven-game series with Boston just a few months ago. A series they lost by virtue of a Rajon Rondo triple-double.
The 76ers were a few plays from toppling the Celtics in 2011-12, and could finish the job this season. They used athleticism and youth to their advantage in the series and were able to get the better of an older and ailing Boston team in three games.
Philadelphia largely returns that relentless style of play, with one major change. They added one of the most dominant big men the league has to offer.
Andrew Bynum's signing marked a noticeable shift in the 76ers' philosophy. Instead of holding pat and being content with a semifinal appearance, they were part of a big trade that shipped out Andre Iguodala and brought in Bynum.
Bynum obviously changes a lot of things with how Philadelphia must be planned for. His presence on the floor alters a lot of things, particularly things the Celtics have difficulties with. Beyond Kevin Garnett, Boston's bench is very thin. A big of Bynum's caliber requires more than one quality body to contain, and Darko Milicic is not a proven quality.
Philadelphia should bring the same rampant intense defense, and while the scoring must come from other places with Iguodala and Lou Williams gone, Bynum and company can provide scary matchup problems for Boston.
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Milwaukee is going to be an incredibly streaky team, both in games and within the confines of the season as a whole. Thus is the nature of their starting backcourt.
Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are going to turn Milwaukee into a competitive team that is sometimes unwelcome to face. On the rare nights in which both players are on, the Bucks will appear true contenders. In a seven-game series, there is the possibility that both players get hot at the same time.
For the Bucks to upset a team like Boston it will take more than outstanding guard play. Milwaukee's other advantage will lay in the ever-popular argument: rebounding.
The Bucks finished No. 12 in the NBA in rebounding in 2011-12. Most of that is thanks to the work of Ersan Ilyasova, who is an elite man on the glass. Milwaukee runs four or five deep in a big frontcourt, stocked with rebounding bruisers. That is the type of deep set of bodies that could cause trouble for Boston's thin frontcourt.
The combination of a blazing combination of guards and numerous large bodies could be enough to cause concern in Boston come playoff time.