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: Nets’ Kenneth Faried charged with marijuana possession

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The Nuggets traded Kenneth Faried to the Nets this summer.

Now, Faried is feeling the consequences of moving from Colorado – where recreational marijuana is legal – to New York.

Valerie Gordon of 27East:

Southampton Town Police said Kenneth Bernard Faried Lewis, 29, known as Kenneth Faried, of Denver, Colorado, was arrested on Montauk Highway at 1:30 a.m. and charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor.

Police said that Mr. Faried was the rear passenger of a vehicle that was stopped during a sobriety checkpoint and was found to be in possession of more than two ounces of marijuana.

According to the police report, Mr. Faried’s money was seized and he was released on $500 bail.

We shouldn’t outlaw marijuana. That is getting fixed incrementally, but not quickly enough for Faried and many others who just happen to be in the wrong jurisdiction in the wrong year.

The forfeiture of Faried’s money is another evil that must be curbed. Why should he lose his money just because he possessed a small amount of marijuana? I doubt Faried – who will earn $13,764,045 next season – was carrying more cash than he can afford to lose. But police often seize money from people who can’t afford to lose it and who then face insurmountable legal hurdles to getting it returned – even if they’re never convicted of a crime. That is the egregious behavior that should be outlawed.

Speaking of fixes: Why does the NBA still punish players for marijuana? The first violation comes with a warning, the second with a $25,000 fine unannounced publicly and the third with a five-game suspension. If Faried is convicted of possession, that counts as a violation.

Faried is now caught in multiple backward systems.

With Dennis Schroder trade, Trae Young knows Hawks have bet big on him

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The Atlanta Hawks bet big on Trae Young — they traded away the rights to EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic to land Young on draft night.

But that’s not the time it really sunk in on Young how much the club was banking on him. Instead, it came a month later, when the Hawks traded former starting point guard Dennis Schroder to Oklahoma City. Here is what Young told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Obviously when they move the point guard they’ve had for a while, their starting point guard, it definitely opened my eyes,” Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from New Jersey, where he was taking part in the Rookie Transition Program. “It shows how much they are committed to me. Bringing Jeremy (Lin) in as well is a good fit for us. I know there is a lot on my plate. I’m looking forward to it.”

Young showed some of the potential Atlanta is betting on at Summer League. Certainly not in his first couple of games in Salt Lake City, where he struggled, but in how he grew and adapted. By the time the Hawks were playing in Las Vegas Young was putting up numbers, looking more comfortable with the athleticism and what he needed to do at the Summer League level.

For new Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, those summer games were just a benchmark, and the fact Young improved fast was promising, but only a start.

“The conversation is, ‘There’s a lot of work to be done.’ For all of us, myself included,” Pierce told NBC Sports. “And then you got to perform 82 nights, so how do we help you get better? How do we help you understand what you’re going to need at this level? That’s the starting point that we have.

“The conversation is for (the rookies) to understand, and to hear it from me. I know what we’re trying to get across, I know it’s going to take a while, but we’ve got to start somewhere and that’s what I’m doing with this summer.”

It’s also what he’ll do this fall and winter. The Hawks are rebuilding, it’s not going to be about wins this season as much as steps forward. Particularly for Young, who will face a lot of scrutiny and comparisons because of the draft-night trade.

Young at least understands everything expected of him.

Kawhi Leonard’s “preference” reportedly still to sign in Los Angeles

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The Raptors are going to make a season-long pitch to Kawhi Leonard — they have already brought in a friend of his to the coaching staff, they have a passionate fan base, and they should win a lot and be a serious threat to make the Finals out of the East.

Right now, however, Leonard is still leaning toward Los Angeles, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski in an Ian Begley story at ESPN.

The Raptors would be able to offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million contract next summer. If Leonard leaves the Raptors, he could sign a four-year, $141 million deal with a team with the available salary-cap space.

So far, Leonard’s preference is to sign in Los Angeles with either the Lakers or Clippers next season, sources told Wojnarowski.

This is not new news or a surprise, but here are few thoughts anyway:

• I know Lakers’ fans are convinced he is coming to join LeBron James at Staples Center, but there are legitimate reasons I’ve heard from sources as to why the Clippers must be included in that mix. The Lakers are still the favorite according to most, but the Clippers cannot be left off the list, it is possible he lands there.

• If the Raptors are going to win Leonard over, it won’t happen this quickly. It’s going to be a process.

• How much might the money factor into Leonard’s decision, if at all? What about winning?

• The biggest difference between Leonard and the Paul George situation in Oklahoma City — where his people let it be known before the trade he wanted to go to Los Angeles, but after a season in OKC he decided to stay — is George came in with an open mind. Convincing Leonard to stay is going to be more difficult.

Raptors hire Spurs video coordinator, who just happens to be Kawhi Leonard friend

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Jeremy Castleberry played his high school ball in Riverside, California, on the same team as Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard went on to San Diego State for college, Castleberry went too and was a walk-on for that team.

When the Spurs drafted Leonard, it was not long before Castleberry was a video coordinator and on the staff in San Antonio. Now Leonard is a Raptor so… you know what’s coming. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN explained it well.

The Toronto Raptors are hiring San Antonio Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry — a close friend of Kawhi Leonard — to a position on their coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Castleberry has worked with Leonard as a Spurs staffer and played with Leonard in high school and at San Diego State, where he was a walk-on.

Is this alone going to keep Leonard a Raptor next summer when he’s a free agent? No. But this is how the game is played — make the star player you’re recruiting feel comfortable, wanted, a key part of everything. Bringing in a friend to a new city for him fits right into that plan.

The smart money is still on Leonard bolting next summer to go to Los Angeles, but if the Raptors are able to change his mind — ala Paul George — it will not be one big thing but a thousand little ones. And a lot of wins. But hiring Castleberry is a start.