There’s a sleeping giant in the Eastern Conference who is receiving little attention due to the circus down in South Florida known as the Miami Heat. Even the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers are guilty of diverted attention on what seems to be their true rival, the team that appears to mount the greatest challenge to LA’s attempt at a three-peat.
As the 2010-2011 NBA season begins, the Boston Celtics sit on the outside looking in. They are the forgotten team right now. The newly assembled Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are hard not to watch. They are a sparkling new diamond or a brand new sports car. You want to soak up everything.
But the Celtics are the real deal. And, it would serve the Lakers (and the Heat, plus the rest of the league) quite well to remember this. Just like the rest of the NBA universe, it doesn’t appear the Lakers even have an eye on Boston.
They should. There are four key reasons why the Celtics will be better than last year. Yes, better. And, if that is the case, then that should shake Lakers fans to the bone.
Remember, last year, Boston got to a 13-point lead in Game 7. If not for a run for the ages that started in the third quarter by the Lakers, it would be the Celts having a ring ceremony when LBJ and the Heat come into Boston.
Here’s why Boston should scare Lakers fans to the core.
Why are the Lakers still the team to beat this season? Simple. They possess the league’s top length and height. No team can boast the level of skill at the center and power forward position.
With a healthy Andrew Bynum to go with all-world Pau Gasol and "Mr. Versatile," Lamar Odom, the Lakers have the key advantage over the rest of the league. Throw in the best perimeter player and closer, Kobe Bryant, and you can see why LA is looking at a three-peat.
But Boston is the only team who can truly match the Lakers in height. And, they just added two new tall pieces to that puzzle. We’ll cover that in the next category. So, hold that thought.
The Celtics took the Lakers to the brink and their center, Kendrick Perkins, was out in Game 7. Sure, the Lakers didn’t have Bynum and that easily, I mean easily, would change everything.
That is why Doc Rivers’ little dig at LA this summer about the Lakers never beating the Celtics starting five is ridiculous. Bynum wasn’t even in the 2008 NBA Finals and was hurt for this past year’s. Give LA a full-strength Bynum, and then see what happens. Doc wouldn’t be saying that.
But, with that being said, the Celts have what it takes in the matchup department with LA. No other team can boast this. And, don’t forget. Length still matters. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. That’s like a woman saying size doesn’t matter. It does. She just doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.
Forget the Heat. Unless they run the living hell out of teams, the Celtics, possibly even the Magic, will pound them in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And, if for some lucky reason, they get to the Finals, the Lakers will do the same.
While all eyes were on South Florida (and, Cleveland) this summer, the Celts may have added the most important pieces of a team not called the Miami Heat.
And, the additions were key additions or re-signings. Starting with Paul Pierce, the Celts have gone all in on one last run. But then they add Jermaine O’Neal and top that off with a double order of O’Neal.
Boston brings in Shaquille O’Neal. He was quoted as saying he told Doc Rivers, “Would you want to go into Miami with me or without me?”
Well, we have that answer. Shaq will give the Celts a real backup center. And, one who can match up with the Lakers. He will be good for 10 to 20 minutes come playoffs, and if he is reasonably in shape (always a question, ask Laker fans) and healthy, he is a very, very dangerous addition.
Jermaine O’Neal is no pushover either and a skilled player down low. Plus, the Celts add LeBron James’ mom’s best friend, Delonte West. He is a solid perimeter player, scorer and good defender.
This is the bench of a team that led in Game 7 by 13 points. Scary.
There isn’t much to point out here, but this subject is key. The Celtics have been there before. They won in 2008. They make it to the conference finals without their best player, Kevin Garnett, in 2009. And, they go to Game 7 in 2010.
They are primed for another run. And, once they get there, they know what to do.
The Celtics have a fantastic coach who will pace his players through the regular season. Come playoffs, watch out. The team knows how to get it done and close out games. They also know what the playoffs are about. Slow pace, defense and rebounds. Tough things for Miami to swallow.
Really, there is nothing else that matters between the Celtics making another NBA Finals or not than health. We’ve seen what a fully loaded team can do in 2008. And, we see what happens when injuries hit them.
Make no mistake. Boston is old. We’re talking Moses old. Really. That is why it is still a big “if” on them making it to the Finals.
They have to have all their top players healthy going into the playoffs. Sure, they can be nicked up but no major injury or player missing. If they do this, watch out.
So, seriously, the Lakers need to worry about Boston. I feel this is one of the key reasons LA didn’t sit pat this summer and went full throttle on improving their bench. The role players let LA down last season, and the Lakers knew that couldn't happen again.
And, LA has its own issues with health. If the Lakers can get to the start of the playoffs completely healthy with no player limited (i.e.. Kobe with knee, finger, ankle or Bynum a shell of himself) then the Lakers are still the team to beat.
If everything works out as I see it, then next year’s NBA Finals will be a rematch of 2010. And, the Lakers will again prevail because of Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol. But, the series will be tight and the series will be a war and the series will go to seven.
For this upcoming season, LA must keep their full attention on Boston. It’s hard not to watch that circus in South Beach.
But it is not the Heat that are truly dangerous but the Celtics. You’ll see what I mean come tomorrow night (Oct. 26) when the Heat go into the Boston Garden. Watch out.
And, listen up LA? You watch out, too.
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