NBA finals: How do the Celtics match up?

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piercegm6.jpgAnd lo, I saw green horse, and on them green riders, and their names were the Celtics. And hell followed with them.

The Boston Celtics are returning to the NBA finals with a defense of the fiercest machinations, led by veteran stars who are still quite capable of eviscerating a defense. After dispatching the Magic in Game 6, ending any discussion of a chokejob in Beantown (well, another one, eh Bruins?), the Celtics can turn their attention towards their final opponent, whoever that may be.

So how do the Celtics match up with the two Western contenders? Let’s begin with the less likely of the two options.

Phoenix Suns: I’d bother with telling you the Suns won both regular season matchups, but the Celtics have already shown that the regular season doesn’t mean anything to them and the results are meaningless. The Suns do represent the classic foil to the Celtics. Even with a tougher, more defensive approach, they’re still the unstoppable force to the Celtics’ immovable object.

The Phoenix offense isn’t exactly a cake walk for the Celtics. The same spread perimeter attack that enabled the Magic to crawl back into that series is there for the Suns. Steve Nash is one of the few point guards with the confidence and versatility to counter Rondo’s brilliance on the offensive end. The Suns rebound well and have considerable length. They have experience in Grant Hill and versatile wings in Jason Richardson and Goran Dragic. And they possess a bench unit with considerable advantages over Boston.

The run and gun style of the Suns would give the Celtics problems, as injuries and fatigue have become more and more  of a factor for the Celtics, though it’s a factor they’ve admirably overcome. Slowing down that transition attack by stopping the ball in Nash’s hands would fall to Rondo, whose length would likely give the Celtics a chance to do so. Coverage of the perimeter shooters in transition would be more difficult, but it’s also a shot the Celtics are willing to take.

All in all, you have to give the Celtics the advantage based on two factors. One, the Celtics’ toughness and physical nature would likely knock the Suns back on their heels. Amar’e Stoudemire would be pounded by tough, long defenders, and the Suns’ mob bench would be overwhelmed on the glass from Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis. Jason Richardson wouldn’t be able to counter Pierce, nor Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo would make Nash look like Derek Fisher on the defensive end. This has to be the result the Celtics are looking for if they want an easy route to the ring.

Los Angeles Lakers: Hello, darkness my old friend, I’ve come to welcome you again. The Lakers and Celtics know each other and an epic ratings-soaring finals matchup would satisfy both clubs’ requirement for destroying the other on their way to the championship. Any championship without beating the other would seem empty for these two.

There are plenty of reasons to suspect this matchup to follow the blueprint of two years ago.Paul Pierce is controlling the force of the game with his offense, as he did in 2008. Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins create a tough bullying counter to Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom is always likely to vanish for a game or three.

So what’s different? Ron Artest gives the Lakers a defensive attack dog to unleash on Paul Pierce, which they didn’t have in 08. Shannon Brown can at least deflect some of the damage from Nate Robinson, and Andrew Bynum’s appearance is significant in a possible series. It would open Pau Gasol in space. The Lakers can’t just depend on Kobe Bryant, but this time they have enough weapons to offset the Celtics’ defense.

The one huge red flag for the Lakers has to be the play of Rajon Rondo. Derek Fisher has done a phenomenal job in managing Steve Nash, but Rondo’s a whole other set of problems. With length, speed, and a sick amount of athleticism, Fisher would need considerable weakside help to slow down Rondo. At some point in that series, Kobe Bryant may be switched on to Rondo much like he was to Russell Westbrook in round one.

The Lakers overall talent probably puts them in a favorable position. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned this postseason, the Celtics don’t care how big of an underdog they are, how much more talented the other team is. They focus, execute, and deliver. If these two meet in the finals as it seems destined they will, it will be fire on the mountain.

Report: Warriors plan to sign Jose Calderon

Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson (11) is defended by Los Angeles Lakers' Jose Calderon (5) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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The Warriors let Briante Weber go (to the Hornets). Golden State wouldn’t do that without another third point guard lined up.

The likely replacement: Jose Calderon, who’s being bought out by the Lakers.

Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

Calderon is in the process to be bought out by the Lakers, after which he will become a free agent. Once he clears waivers, the Warriors, according to multiple sources, will be waiting to offer a physical examination and a contract.

The 35-year-old Calderon hasn’t been good in a few years. He’s a major defensive liability, and his lack of burst makes it more difficult for him to capitalize on his remaining offensive skills: a smooth standstill jumper and acute passing.

But the Warriors won’t ask much of him, sticking him behind Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston. Draymond Green can also be a de facto point guard, and so can Andre Iguodala.

Contending teams too often fill their deep bench with over-the-hill veterans whose experience make them seem reliable but are actually overwhelmed in the moment due to a lack of athleticism. Golden State made that mistake last year with Anderson Varajeao, who didn’t make a shot in 41 Finals minutes and was -9 in Game 7.

Calderon offers a much better chance of succeeding if pressed into a limited role. If he plays important minutes, he’ll bring a steady style, best he can still execute it.

But the Warriors better hope Calderon remains glued to the bench during the playoffs. That presents a far more dependable path to victory.

Joel Embiid out indefinitely

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The 76ers could finish the season with the last No. 1 pick and the best rookie in years sidelined.

One one hand, Philadelphia should be thrilled that describes two players.

On the other hand, it’s not ideal to have so much talent injured.

No. 1 pick Ben Simmons is definitely out for the rest of the year. And it doesn’t sound encouraging for Joel Embiid, who has been hampered by a knee injury.

CSN Philly:

Joel Embiid on Monday will have an MRI on his injured left knee and is now listed as out indefinitely.

Embiid has been experiencing swelling and soreness in the left knee injury that has caused him to miss 16 out of the last 17 games. Bryan Colangelo announced back on Feb. 11 that Embiid has a minor meniscal tear. In his most recent press conference last Friday, Colangelo had targeted this Friday’s home game against the Knicks as a possibility for Embiid’s return. Now, that isn’t the case.

Embiid had been the biggest ray of hope for Philadelphia, but the 76ers shouldn’t chase watchability down the stretch. Sit Embiid until he’s fully healthy and secure the best draft position possible.

Maybe Embiid’s body just can’t handle the rigors of NBA basketball, but Philadelphia has no choice but to hope for the best with him and Simmons. And hope the nail the their first-round pick this year and get the Lakers’ first-rounder.

This could still be a dangerously good team in coming years. The Process created that potential.

But the threat of injury always looms around the corner, maybe especially so for Embiid.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah likely to miss rest of season after knee surgery

New York Knicks' Joakim Noah (13) walks to the bench during a time out in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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And then there was Derrick Rose.

The Knicks’ big-name offseason acquisitions* are falling one by one.

New York is releasing Brandon Jennings. Now Joakim Noah is out.

*I’m not counting Courtney Lee, who is unknown to far too many casual fans.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Prepare for the talk next fall about Noah feeling refreshed and ready to help the Knicks.

But this surgery won’t reverse the underlying problem: Noah is a 31-year-old big man with heavy mileage. He can manage his knees, but it’s probably too late for him to regain enough athleticism to reliably contribute.

Just three years and $55 million+ remaining on his contract, which already looked like the NBA’s worst deal and is now even more unfavorable.

Buddy Hield: Vivek Ranadive told me at Kings-Pelicans games, ‘We’re still going to get you’

Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield, right, talks with teammate Ben McLemore as they work out before their NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Hield, along with New Orleans Pelicans teammates Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway, was sent to the Kings in exchange for center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Omri Casspi, Sunday. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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The Kings reportedly coveted Buddy Hield in last year’s draft. Once the Pelicans picked him No. 6, Sacramento traded down from No. 8.

Several months later, the Kings traded for him in the DeMarcus Cousins deal.

Between?

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive apparently communicated his intentions at the Pelicans’ two games in Sacramento this season.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Hield:

Vivek always, every time — even the past two times — he always talk about, “We’re always pushing hard for you.” He said, “We’re still going to get you.” He kept saying that.

I was surprised with him saying that, but now, when I saw I was going to Sacramento, I said, “Oh, these guys are really serious about me.” I just kind of know they were determined about getting me.

This is wild!

Hield obviously doesn’t outright say the Kings’ front office rushed this trade through before the Cousins-loving owner, awestruck by the prospect of having the next Stephen Curry, changed his mind. But Hield’s statement runs right in line with all those rumors.

Even at face value, Ranadive’s words, assuming Hield is accurately conveying them, are something — especially for an owner who has denied much basketball involvement.

Sacramento is some kind of place.