Gameday Dish: Celtics at Blazers

The Boston Celtics, owners of the NBA’s second best record at 34-10, come to The Rose Garden in Portland tonight to take on coach Nate McMillan’s banged-up Blazers. With starters Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby out of the lineup already with serious knee troubles, Portland is hoping that fifth-year PF LaMarcus Aldridge, their active leading scorer and rebounder, will be ready come tip-off against Doc Rivers’ formidable front line.

Aldridge had an MRI on his right hip two days ago after hurting himself in the Blazers’ home loss to Sacramento on Monday night, 96-81. The rare home loss ended Portland’s season-high five-game win streak. Even with the defeat, Portland is an impressive 16-6 on their home floor. At 25-21, the Blazers currently sit 8th in the Western Conference.

A win tonight would carry added importance because six of their next eight contests are on the road and the two home games in this stretch are against the NBA elite – San Antonio Spurs (best record in the league) and Chicago Bulls (fifth-best record in NBA).

The Celtics have had their share of injury woes as well in the 2010-11 campaign. The veteran bigs O’Neal, Jermaine and Shaquille are currently sidelined with an
assortment of aches and dings that come with a
combined 34 years of NBA low-post, trench work
experience. However, in the C’s last game, a Tuesday night home win over the spiraling Cavaliers, starting center Kendrick Perkins made his season debut.

Perk last wore the green and white in game 6 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles, when he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament. In his first game back, Perkins came off the bench to spell current starting 5-man, Turkish rookie Semih Erden. KP played 18 minutes and had seven points, six boards and three dimes after receiving a lengthy standing ovation from the Garden gathered grateful.

A great matchup to focus on tonight is the point guard duel featuring Portland’s 12th year, wily vet Andre Miller and the dynamic Celtic lead guard Rajon Rondo. Former Kentucky Wildcat Rondo leads the NBA in assists at 12.9 and is second in steals at 2.45. In the Blazers’ loss on December 1st in Beantown, Miller had 20 and 6, while the Celtic QB had 10 and 10.  Also in that game, the longest-tenured Celtic and 2010 3-point Champion Paul Pierce scored a game-high 28 points.

Portland is known as the ‘greenest’ major city in the country. Maybe that’s why the Celtics have been so successful there recently. Boston has won their single regular season visit to Rip City in 7 of the last 10 years, including last year’s 96-76 blowout. Tune in tonight at 10:30 PM ET on TNT as the eastern-most franchise in the NBA visits the league’s western-most franchise.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Nate Robinson

The Boston Celtics lead the Eastern Conference despite a slew of injuries that have threatened to derail them since the start of the season. Six Celts have missed over six-dozen games, with All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo being the latest casualty. It looks like Rondo will be sidelined for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, and backup guard Delonte West is out with a broken right wrist. So Nate Robinson has moved into the Celtics’ starting lineup and will get major minutes because they need him out on the floor to facilitate the offense.

A dynamic athlete, Nate Robinson not only led the Huskies to two straight NCAA basketball tournament appearances during his collegiate career, but he also played football at the University of Washington. Among the shortest players in the NBA, the three-time Slam Dunk Contest champ is a high flyer who can ignite his team’s offense off the bench and set the scoreboard on fire.

Boston acquired Robinson in a five-player trade with the Knicks last season. Though Nate logged a lot of time on the bench, he stayed positive and patiently waited for his opportunity to shine, which eventually arrived during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Robinson put up 13 second-quarter points against the Magic while subbing for Rondo, giving Boston a boost that ultimately helped cement their victory and clinch the series. Robinson followed up with 12 points in 17 minutes to help the Celtics win Game 4 of the Finals at home.

Armed with a football player’s mentality, Robinson is confident, tough and fearless. The 5’9″ dynamo brings energy to the court and intensity on defense. Robinson is one of those guys who is capable of putting 30 points on the board on a given night because he’s an explosive scorer who can penetrate the defense and hit 3-point shots.

A supportive teammate, Robinson knows his role with the C’s and enjoys being part of a championship-caliber squad that wins. Usually his job is to spark the offense off the bench and score points, but now he must help run the offense so Allen, Pierce and Garnett can do their jobs. So far Robinson has been effective in his starting role: He delivered 14 points in Boston’s Rondo-less win over Atlanta and followed up with 18 points against the Pacers on Sunday to help stretch Boston’s win streak to 13. Though inconsistent, Robinson should boost your PPG if he earns a spot on your roster while Rondo recovers. Robinson is available in 70% of fantasy leagues and the Celtics play six games over the next two weeks.

Ask the Czar

Jimmy B from Boston asked:

Which former NBA point guard does Celtic Rajon Rondo remind you of?

I think Rajon Rondo is unique because of his ability to get on the boards and be such a huge contributor with rebounds for his team. Rondo has an incredible ability to find the open man with his pass. And defensively he can terrorize the opposing point guard with his quick hands, steals and deflections.

Early on there were a number of skeptics who said that Boston would never win a championship with Rondo starting at the point guard position because he doesn’t have an outside shot. But with Rondo at the helm, the Celtics clinched the NBA Title in 2008 and nearly nabbed another last season. So he’s proved his critics wrong in that regard.

Gameday Dish: Heat at Celtics Season Opener

The Heat and the Celtics have their eyes on the same prize: getting to and winning the NBA Finals in June. The Lakers will be showing off their newly acquired championship rings in a pregame ceremony at the Staples Center tonight and appear ready to threepeat for another title and more bling.

Rings, this game is all about championship rings: LeBron on the beach looking for that first ring; Shaq in Boston determined to get championship number five to keep up with his former teammate and now trophy rival Kobe Bryant.

The finals are a very long, arduous regular season away. But there’s the type of buzz surrounding the start of this season that we usually don’t encounter until playoff time. And tonight’s opener between the Celtics and Heat features two teams at the center of the drama as the Celtics’ Big Three Pierce, Garnett and Allen prepare to do battle with Miami’s newly formed triumvirate of James, Wade and Bosh for Eastern Conference supremacy

Tonight’s matchup will put into motion the many exciting subplots set to play out this season. Will D-Wade occupy seat 1 or seat 2? Will Rajon Rondo make the proverbial jump to superstar? How will Kendrick Perkins’ injured knee and his mid-season return to the starting lineup affect the Celts? Will Miami’s supporting cast surrounding the stars step up and deliver? Will Coach Doc Rivers be happy with his big decision to come back to the Boston bench after the heartbreaking Game 7 loss in last year’s Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. And how will second-year head coach Erik Spoelstra lead his new awesome threesome?

Did I mention LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade and the Heat?

The biggest star in professional basketball (professional sports?) leaves his almost-hometown team (the Akron Cavs?) via a prime-time television special and relocates to flashy, splashy Miami to join forces with D-Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Boss, aka team president Pat Riley.

Some prognosticators have been throwing around the Michael Jordan-led 1995-96 Champion Chicago Bulls and their 72-10 all-time best regular season mark as a measuring stick for this Miami team. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman … James, Wade and Bosh – different eras, different players for sure, but similar expectations in many fans’ and even experts’ minds.

Anything less than a dominating start of the season in the wins column will be viewed as a letdown for this newer than new Miami Heat squad.  Expectations of success are higher than maybe any team has shouldered since those mid-to-late 90’s Bulls teams that won three titles back-to-back-to-back.

The Celtics on the other hand, having won the crown in 2008 with what was then considered a veteran team, are statistically the oldest team in the NBA and may be forgiven for some regular season stretches of sub-par play due to wear and tear.

However, Boston fans could taste franchise-record title 18 until the final, final moments of Finals’ Game 7 last year and are hungry for another championship banner to add to the Celtics’ collection in the rafters of the TD Garden.

The quest for the coveted 2011 NBA Championship ring starts tonight. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and I have Miami Heat at Boston Celtics at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.