NBA Playoffs: Celtics and Heat will bring the pain

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Thumbnail image for Garnette_Game.jpgIt’s hard to argue with this series having the most star power. Rajon Rondo. Ray Allen. Paul Pierce. Kevin Garnett. Jermaine O’Neal. Dwyane Wade. It’s chock full of bonafide superstars. But I wouldn’t expect a high flying series of highlight reels and spectacular shots.

We’re talking about the third best team in defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions), versus the fifth. The surprise? It’s Miami with the better statistical defense. This is going to be an absolute slugfest the likes of which we haven’t seen since the late ’90’s. You’re going to see a lot of pick and rolls devolve into contested pick and pop shots, lots of rolling on the floor, and probably some injuries.

You’ve got Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Dwyane Wade who have all suffered through multiple injuries this season. With as physical as this series is likely to be, you can bet someone is going to get knicked up.

The Heat? 12-1 in their last 13. Outscoring opponents by 9.2 points. Everything’s been working for them, and against the Celtics, Wade has been unstoppable. 33.7 points, 8.7, 5.0 rebounds. That’s the Wade that’s been in fine form as the season has wound down, waiting until it was vital to really step up.

We’ve told you time and time again about the Celtics’ struggles. But they’re still crafty, still tough, and still have guys that will defend like the Samurai. They’re proven leaders that have been telling everyone not to worry, that they’ll turn it on. Well, it’s time to flip that switch. There’s no more games to drift through.

Important things to watch today:

  • Jermaine O’Neal has length to combat Kendrick Perkins and the meat in the middle not to have his legs taken out like Perkins has done to Dwight Howard. O’Neal has to neutralize Perkins’ rebounding and put back potential, while also being a matchup advantage.
  • Udonis Haslem shoots 45% from 16-23 feet. The pick and pop from the power forwards at that range will be a huge factor. The way these teams play defense, those are the only shots you can depend on to be there. Kevin Garnett shoots 46% from that same range this year. 
  • The Celtics will run their usual pick and roll defense on Wade, showing with the big, then letting their deep defender rotate. The problem lies with Wade’s ability to drive and dish to the man of the rotator. Spacing is going to be absolutely vital in this regard for the C’s.
  • The Celtics’ bench has to step up. If Marquis Daniels can get get some points, if Glen Davis can create some rebounds and hit a few of those jumpers he made last year, if Tony Allen can continue his surprising play, that might be enough to win in a series with scoring that should be as low as can be.
  • You have to wonder if the Celtics will have Rondo guarding Wade while Allen takes Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo. Asking Allen to guard Wade is too tough a task and would require way too much help defense. The Heat offense is bad, but they can still hit open shots. Sometimes.

And of course, health. We’ll have an update on that, including some news on Rondo, within the hour.

Doc Rivers: Clippers might blow up roster if they fall short this season

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers
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The Clippers have gone 56-26, 57-25 and 56-26 the last three years – clearing the commonly accepted 55-win bar for championship contention.

But they’ve also won only zero, one and one playoff series in that span.

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

The Clippers have had three cracks at it with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all in their primes, and they’re not afraid to admit the fourth could be their last — that another flameout will force them to ask whether the core has grown stale.

“We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers tells Grantland during a long sit-down at his office. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it.”

I disagree with Rivers.

It’s so hard to assemble a roster that can win a title, and the Clippers absolutely have one. If they fall short this season, they’ll probably still have a title-contending roster the following year. They shouldn’t throw that away just for the sake of change.

Paul (30), Jordan (27) and Griffin (26) are young enough for the Clippers to remain patient.

Rivers makes a good point later in Lowe’s article:

“You need luck in the West,” he says. “Look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs. But that’s also a lesson for us: When you have a chance to close, you have to do it.”

The Warriors were the NBA’s best team last season, but they also got plenty of breaks. That’s why they won the title.

The Clippers might need more luck to win a championship, but it wouldn’t be an overwhelming amount. The better a team is, the less luck it needs. The Grizzlies can probably win a title with all the right breaks, but they need more than the Clippers.

It’s about being good enough to win with the right breaks.

The Clippers are that. They’ll probably be that unless they do something drastic.

Unless a lopsided trade comes around, I’d stick with Paul, Griffin and Jordan until they really prove they can’t win together. That would take years. A team not winning a title is not proof it can’t win a title. Every year, multiple teams can win a championship. Obviously, only one does.

Rivers has it good with his big three. This shouldn’t be a make-or-break year for them.

51 Q: Which coaches start the year on the hot seat?

Lionel Hollins
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Going into every season, there are a few coaches under pressure to perform or risk losing their jobs. This season, the operative word there is “few.” Looking around the NBA, most coaches are either new on the job or aren’t in any real danger of losing theirs. There are five brand-new coaches: Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City), Fred Hoiberg (Chicago), Alvin Gentry (New Orleans), Michael Malone (Denver) and Scott Skiles (Orlando). The coaches they replaced were mostly the ones whose names often came up in these discussions. Practically everywhere else, there is either a long track record of success or clear signs that ownership is happy with the job the coach is doing. Coaches who are actually on the hot seat are few and far between. But here are a few who might find themselves in trouble if their teams underperform:

Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns): Two years ago, Hornacek was a Coach of the Year candidate for taking a team that was supposed to be one of the league’s very works and making them into almost a playoff team. Last season was another near-miss. This season, the Suns are once again on the bubble of being a playoff team — there’s a chance they could grab the eighth seed in the Western Conference, if a lot goes right. Hornacek deserves a lot of credit for their sooner-than-expected success. The only reason he’s on this list is the potential for a chemistry disaster on this roster. Between Markieff Morris‘ situation and another attempt at a two-point guard lineup (this time with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight), there’s a lot that could go wrong, and if the Suns fall out of playoff contention. Hornacek could find himself in a little hot water. But that’s unlikely.

Lionel Hollins (Brooklyn Nets): Hollins has always felt like something of a short-term solution in Brooklyn. The Nets tried going young at the head coaching spot with Jason Kidd, who clashed with management over control before leaving for Milwaukee. This Nets roster is middling at best — some solid veterans, not a lot of young talent, no future hope to speak of unless they land a marquee free agent next summer. Their ceiling is the eighth seed and a first-round exit; their floor is a lot worse than that. It would take a catastrophic start to the year for Hollins to lose his job during the season, but there isn’t exactly a lot of long-term security in his position.

Derek Fisher (New York Knicks): It’s hard to see Phil Jackson firing his protege less than two years in, but the Knicks enter the season with the goal of competing for a playoff spot and a lot of potential to be worse than that. Don’t rule out James Dolan stepping in.

Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets): Clifford’s chances of losing his job during the season basically disappeared when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down with a shoulder injury that will likely keep him out the entire season. Without their best perimeter defender, the Hornets’ expectations are a lot lower than they would have been. Now, it’s hard to see them competing seriously for a playoff spot unless Jeremy Lamb makes a huge leap and proves himself capable of being an NBA-caliber starter. If they’re even competitive, it will be an enormous credit to Clifford, who is well-regarded around the league. The story would have been different if they had entered the season with a healthy roster and underperformed, but the MKG injury likely buys Clifford a year before this conversation starts up again.