If you're the Miami Heat and you need to choose the toughest opening game for the 2010-2011 NBA season, you can't do better than Boston. Why? Because although the Celtics may not be the best unit in the league, they certainly are (with a healthy Garnett) one of the top defensive teams. Furthermore, with their ability to help each other out and collapse their defense down on one man they've caused sides with single superstars (Miami and Cleveland) enough trouble in the past.
Here's the three point run down of the NBA's opening day:
1) The Heat looked terribly out of sync. They missed Miller's perimeter shooting and the Wade-Bosh duo were badly out of rhythm. The offense relied too heavily on James just as the Cavalier offense has for the past seven years. Furthermore, Bosh looked too soft in the interior while matching up with Garnett and Shaq.
This was the first game of the season, Wade was completely off color and yet the Heat trailed by only three minutes towards the end of the game! It took seventeen assists by a mercurial Rondo, two dagger threes earlier by Pierce and an under pressure catch-and-shoot trey by the reliable Ray Allen to shut Miami up. It sounds almost cocky stating this but as the season goes on and the Heat get used to each other, there will be blowouts.
And I'll start with putting money on Doug Collin's 76'ers tonight. This is going to be one of the more exciting seasons in recent memory. The Heat, Durant and Wall/Griffin and Co. will make sure of that.
2) My beloved Suns rode the Nash engine once again and led the Trailblazers 81-75 going into the fourth quarter before Batum sank three threes to effectively seal the deal in Portland. Here's my two cents on both teams:
Phoenix lost a lot when Stoudemire jumped to the Knicks. They added Hedo, Hakim and Childress but none of that will make up for the devastating synergy of the Nash-Amare pick and roll that fueled the lethal Suns offense over the past few seasons. This time, Nash has lost his favorite weapon and on his aging legs, might not be able to do enough to carry the Suns into the playoffs. It's way too early to tell, but with the perennial depth in the West, I'm just not sure.
Portland on the other hand, is the quintessential enigmatic team. With a healthy Camby, a consistent Aldridge and the veteran leadership of Andre Miller, they'll be a bundle of problems for any team. Add what Brandon Roy brings to the table along with the possible recovery of Greg Oden and this is a side that could end up as high as third or fourth in the West! Contrary to popular opinion, Oden is not a bust. He's a big man and when he's healthy his PER is off the charts. Watch out for this space.
3) And it's only fitting that the Lakers end what the Heat started. In an elaborate ring ceremony featuring a satisfied yet focused Bryant and teammates, the Lakers overcame a cohesive Rockets unit at Staples Centre with the game too close to call until Brooks had his buzz-beater attempt blocked.
The Lakers are favorites to repeat with a strengthened bench and the size/versatility combination that their bigs possess. With a hungry Bryant, it's hard to see anyone else coming out of the West. Houston, with a healthy but limited Yao definitely look playoff bound. With Battier's persistent defense, the ever-improving Aaron Brooks and scoring machine Kevin Martin to aid Yao, the Rockets will find themselves in the middle (possibly upper middle) half of a packed Western Conference.
Oh! And Pau Gasol is the best '4' in the league. Better than Bosh. Better than Duncan and yes, better than Garnett.
I can't keep saying this to myself enough. What a season!
What a damn season!