Why did the Orlando Magic dramatically reshuffle their roster last weekend?
Orlando’s brain trust realized their current roster was not going to beat Boston come May. The Celtics knocked the Magic out of the playoffs last season and this season that gap widened. Orlando had to do something — and in doing so made themselves smaller along the front line, which will hurt them against the Celtics if they meet in the playoffs.
Elsewhere in Florida, Miami is playing well, but fans of that team are looking at moves to fill in some gaps. As we saw Monday against Dallas, Miami lost to a good defensive team that can contest the midrange, and Miami struggles against teams with big front lines.
That describes Boston. And why any Heat moves will also be about countering the Celtics.
For all the hype in other cities, right now the East is all about Boston.
Usually a traditional power overpowering everyone brings plenty of haters to the table (and there are still plenty of Boston haters in Los Angeles), that’s not happening this time. These Celtics are fun. For the first time in years there is a real joy to go with their passion. Blame Shaquille O’Neal if you want. The fact is casual fans — who start paying attention around Christmas — will be drawn to them as an antidote to the Heat and Lakers (who are not perceived as nearly as likeable).
A powerful antidote because the Celtics are good. Boston is off to a fast 22-4 start, led by the best defense in the game and a solid offense. But this is not new. Last season Boston got off to an identical 22-4 start and were turning heads. They looked like the team to beat with a powerful starting five — Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
But this year’s version of the Celtics are better. This season the Celtics are scoring two points more per 100 possessions and giving up almost four fewer. That works out to more than 5 points a game improved over last season’s numbers (based on the pace the Celtics play at right now). A key part of it is that it has been a long time since Garnett moved this well — 2008 at least. His energy changes their defense.
Last year’s numbers are a big skewed because Boston finished the season 11-11 in its last 22. That finish had a lot of teams and pundits overlooking them. We all thought age had caught up with them and Cleveland would overwhelm them. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Finals…
This season nobody is going to look past the Celtics.
That weak end-of-season performance last year was because Doc Rivers was resting key guys, letting bodies heal and trying to get everything right for a playoff run. This season Rajon Rondo has missed six games with more to come, Shaquille O’Neal has missed nine and Kendrick Perkins has yet to even put on a uniform. Still they are 22-4. This is a team that resting guys, staying healthy during the long grind, and still winning at a crazy pace.
What’s more, they seem to be having fun this year. Shaq — Maestro Shaq to you — brings that. Nate Robinson brings some of that. The passing of Rondo spreads that around. Garnett plays the game angry at the world, Shaq has to enjoy it and be larger than life to be at his best. He can be serious about his craft, but the game is about the joy of playing.
So go ahead and watch all the moves in the east in the next couple of months. There will be plenty. But remember that a lot of those moves are really going to be about the Celtics.
Because right now the East belongs to Boston.