Obviously the highlight game, the one everyone was looking forward to (my wife watched it…she’s a Celtics fan, though is torn because she despises Shaq), was the Heat vs. the Celtics. And, while it got off to a rocky start for the Heat, all it took was for Lebron to grab control of the game and almost single-handedly pull the Heat to within one triple of tying the game with a minute to go in the fourth quarter.
The fact the Celtics have been playing together for a couple of seasons was enough to push them ahead. While I think the Heat will eventually be a formidable team (as long as the big three stay healthy) I can’t help but point out that the Cs were integrating new, large pieces into their style of play as well. Love Rajon Rondo's 17 assists and 3 turnovers, but he still can't shoot 2-9, which has got to be somewhat disappointing for Celtics' fans hoping to see Rondo take his game to superstar levels. If he continues with that busted jumper, his ceiling is all-star occasional game-changer. If he could hit threes? Top three point guard easily.
On a side note, watch out for Jermaine O’Neal who is really in an ideal situation to have a helluva year—efficiency-wise at the very least. He’ll get to split time with Shaq, Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett, so he won’t be exposed to 30-plus minutes of banging down low every night. The dude is only 32 and had an underrated season last year with Miami (though all anybody remembers is his horrific playoffs). While he can’t dominate with size like Shaq, and he’s not the beast of a defender that Kendrick Perkins is, overall, JO is definitely the Cs best all-around center.
As for the Heat, they’ll be fine, though 72 wins never seemed so far away. And they are going to struggle mightily against teams with big centers.
Tuesday, the Heat tallied 17 turnovers to only 15 assists. Bosh had 8 points and 8 boards on 3-11 shooting, while Wade shot 4-16 with 6 assists and 6 turnovers. Lebron had 31 points and 3 assists, but turned the ball over 8 times. Cleaning up the turnovers will come with familiarity.
Another side note: while it's been said that the Heat will struggle to guard big centers, most notably Shaq and Dwight Howard, is it completely insane of me to think that Lebron should get some time covering Howard? Just a thought. Both are freak athletes, and while Bron gives up a couple of inches, he might actually weigh more than Howard. Of course, you don't want your best player getting in foul trouble, but he's never had that problem before. Besides, it wouldn't be for the whole game, but, I'm thinking they might have to go with that...unless Jamaal Magloire, Big Z and Joel Anthony are going to unload all 18 of their fouls on Howard.
That Houston tandem of Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks is going to be a nightmare matchup. Both have slight frames, and therefore struggle defensively. But with Yao an intimidating presence in the key, one that can foul with abandon thanks to his strict 24-minute time limit, Martin and Brooks’ defensive liabilities will be masked to a great extent. That is the Yao effect.
For the Lakers, Pau Gasol has suddenly become the man on the team with Kobe working back from injury though, it’s hard to say ‘working back’, then read Kobe’s 27, 5, and 7 statline. Matter of fact, it’s hard to say Pau is the man when it was obvious he struggled a bit taking so many shots. Yao’s size had a lot to do with that, but Pau also settled for 8 jumpers outside the key. He hit one. It’s the first game and the first time Pau has been the go-to option on the Lakers, so he’ll improve. In fact, the broken play where he picked up Kobe’s fumbled drive and scored was the second biggest play of the game.
If Shannon Brown can continue to shoot like that? Sasha Vujacic won’t see the floor, which means his stock will continue to plummet, meaning when he becomes a free agent at the end of next June, the offers will be minimal. All that to say that the soon-to-be Mr. Sharapova might need to borrow from his wife-to-be in order to pay for that $250,000 rock he bought her. By the way, Shannon is leading the league in PER at this moment in time.
Bryant played extremely well on the offensive end, especially in light of the fact he’s in the latter stages of his rehab on his surgically repaired knee. But, his defense was atrocious. Martin and Lee both blew right by him like he was a traffic cone on several plays. One wonders if his lateral quickness will come back this season.
If it doesn’t, Kobe’ll be better at covering small forwards. And if Brown continues his stellar play and becomes the designated 2-stopper, than we might begin seeing that Brown, Blake, Kobe wing combo that finished Tuesday’s game a lot more often. Which means that Ron Artest is going to lose minutes. Wonder how that’s going to sit with him?
One last point and why I love Kobe so much. Coming out of a Lakers timeout at the 2:48 mark, the Lakers are up 103-97. Kobe has a chat with Steve Blake, moving his arm in a circle like he's diagramming a play. He’s teaching, or at least relaying to Blake the holes in the Houston defense that he sees.
Fast-forward to the end of the game, Lakers down by one point with 20 seconds left on the game clock, Kobe drives to the hoop, stutters, sucks the defense in, and then kicks it out. While it almost looks like a pass to Gasol, who pulls his hands away at the last second, the ball sails perfectly into Blake's hands as he is circling back up to the top of the key, finding him in rhythm.
The newbie, who along with Theo Ratliff and Matt Barnes had to watch the rest of his teammates collect some gaudy jewelry before the game, knocks down the game-winning 3 pointer.
Now, tell me how that’s not making your teammates better…