Around the League

Don’t Count Out the Celts

The Celtics had a tough week. But I don’t think it’s the end of the road for Boston. This is a veteran team with resilient players who are only two years removed from winning a championship. KG is still hurt. Pierce has a nagging foot injury. Ray Allen is underperforming if we look at his career stats. Sounds like a recipe for disaster? But let’s not be so quick to jump to conclusions and write these guys off.

Doc’s players have nothing to prove. They have their rings. KG, Pierce and Allen are three of the toughest veterans in the league. Perkins and Rondo are two of the brightest young players in the Eastern Conference. They’re tough and have proven they’ll step up and play at a high level in the playoffs.

Much has been made of the Hawks beating Boston again this week to sweep the season series, but it’s not a nail in the Celtics’ coffin. Yes they’ve dropped from second to the fourth in the East after sitting in the top spot for most of November and December. But among the big minute players of the Cavs, Hawks, Magic and Celtics, outside of Shaq, only KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins have rings.

Doc is a master of keeping his team together and I think we’ll see him navigate his guys through this rough stretch. And Ainge is one of the best GMs in the league. Let’s see if he makes a move to tweak his team going into the All-Star break. Celts will fill three spots on the All-Star roster – the most from any team in the East or West. Pierce, Rondo and Garnett will team up with Conference leaders LeBron, Joe Johnson and Dwight Howard to rep the East under Van Gundy.

Star Power

When a superstar player like Carmelo goes down it can be a backbreaker. As a coach you can scheme and preach, but if your players don’t believe they can win without their star you’re headed for trouble.

In Denver we’re seeing the value of Chauncey Billups. He’s a true leader at the point guard position. There’s no time for excuses or to give away games in the tough West – especially at the top of the Conference. And Chauncey is keeping the team together on the floor and putting his teammates in a position to succeed, even without Melo. He’s also picking up his production averaging 24 ppg in January and his attitude will define the makeup of the team.

With an improved jump shot and growing confidence forward Kenyon Martin is another longtime vet who’s embracing a bigger role. He had 27 points to complete a sweep of the Spurs on Sunday. The Nuggets are also getting great production from JR Smith off the bench. These guys will hold the fort until Melo returns to full force. And with him, the Nuggets will be a mighty force to reckon with come playoff time.

On the other hand Chis Paul is the latest top-ten player to get hit by an injury. His is more serious as he heads to the operating table to scope his knee. It’s also more serious for the team. Though Collison stepped in to lead Charlotte to an impressive 3-1 week without Paul, the Hornets will not fare as well as the Nuggets without their star player over the long haul.

With two rookies in the starting lineup, the Hornets lack the depth and experience to make up for Paul’s absence. He’s the engine that makes the team go. And in the West where multiple teams are battling for the last playoff spot having your engine shut down, even for a few weeks, can kill the whole season.

Road Test

Through the first part of the season the Lakers played a very unbalanced schedule. They had many more home games than road games. And they took care of business running out to the leagues best record. But over the last couple weeks they’ve been on an extended road trip.

A lot of coach’s feel you don’t know what kind of team you have until you go out on the road. When you’re traveling you face adversity on the court and off the court. You could be flying on back-to-back nights – arriving at the hotel at 4am. Players are together a lot and sometimes the little annoyances can add up and magnify fractures in the team. Or you may discover you have a tight-knit group of guys who get along well and ban together to overcome hostile crowds and tighter whistles on the court.

Even though the Lakers won the championship I’m sure Phil didn’t mind going out on the road to see how is team would take on the challenge. And I think the jury’s still out. The Lakers went 5-3 beating the weaker teams (NY, Washington, Philly, Indiana) and nabbing a last-second win over Boston.

But they lost to the Cavs and came out on the losing side of a one-point game in Toronto. The last game of a road trip is a notorious trap game and the Lakers fell into it dropping another close one 95-93 to the Grizzlies.  You like to come back home with a winning record but I expect Phil would like to see his team play with a little more urgency and make sure they have home court through the playoffs. And I’m certain he’s hoping on the other side of the All-Star break he’ll have a healthy Kobe and Artest.

For teams that are already struggling, an extended road trip can be a one-way ticket to the point of no return. Like the Lakers the injury-ridden Clippers were kicked out of the Staples Center to make way for the Oscars and they aren’t faring well in their eight-game test. They lost all four games on the road last week while the Kings went 0-6. But the Bulls are back – maybe not on Wall Street, but in Chicago. They capitalized on their seven game stint to gain momentum and the last playoff position in the East after capturing their last five in a row. Let’s give Vinny del Negro some credit for persevering through the rumors of his imminent firing and turning the season around.


  1. superb post. Ne’er knew this, thanks for letting me know.

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