It’s only the opening night of the NBA 2010-11 season and one can’t read too much into the results but that’s a headline I hope to see repeated come next June .(LOL). Last night’s games kicked off the most eagerly awaited season in recent years and , while they were predictably sloppy, they provided fans with a taste of things to come . Here are one fan’s thoughts :
The Celtics looked awfully good last night . Garnett was his old intimidating self and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce seemed to have turned back the clock . Shaquille O’Neal clogged the middle and the Celtics , as a whole, played superbly on defense. I don’t recall Shaq playing so well in Cleveland ; it goes to show how important it is to have a good coach and a team concept . The two O’Neal’s ( Jermaine and Shaq) should be able to hold the fort until Kendrick Perkins returns in January . Together with Kevin Garnett and ‘Big Baby ‘ Davis they will be able to match up with the front lines of the Magic and the Lakers.
Danny Ainge has done a super job of re-building the Celtics. It was a master stroke getting Shaq to beef up the front-line at only the veteran’s minimum. The Celtics are going to be loaded when they integrate Delonte West ( now on the suspended list ) and Luke Harangody , the promising second rounder from Notre Dame. This is one of the deepest teams in the league and , if they can keep everybody healthy and motivated , I can see them beating Miami/ Orlando to take the Eastern division.
The Heat had an atrocious start ( to use Coach Spoelstra’s words). It was only to be expected considering that they were playing together for the first time and that Dwayne Wade missed the entire pre-season due to his injuries and court woes. The Heat will get better as Wade plays himself into shape and they learn to play together as a team.There won’t be too many more nights when D. Wade shoots 4 for 16. Last night though , their weakness at the center position was glaringly evident and that’s something that’ not going to change.
What are the odds that Erik Spoelstra is still going to be the Miami Heat coach at the end of the season ? NBA experts are fond of talking about the pressure on the Big Three to deliver a championship but the pressure on Spoelstra is not any the less.All eyes will be on Spoelstra to see if he is able to harness the egos of the Big Three and get them to play as a team . And waiting in the wings is Pat Riley who is ever ready to return to coaching if it means adding to the number of titles he’s won as a coach . I can’t forget how, back in 2005, he waited until almost the end of the season and then shouldered aside then- coach Stan Van Gundy because he saw a chance to win it all . It could happen again if the Heat stumble, or even if they don’t. I thought Spoelstra did well yesterday but already there are murmurs of discontent in Miami with one fan going so far as to suggest that Riley should measure himself for some new suits ( preparatory to a return to behind the bench ).
Two other things that occurred to me last night were : Will Miami’s Big Three learn to share the ball ? And , how long will it be before James outsize persona and dominating ways turn off D.Wade ? Last night , Wade was clearly off his game and James had to take the burden on his shoulders, no question. However , as the season wears on , Wade will want to share the spotlight with James . Bosh is not a problem , since he defers to the other two and has a less assertive personality. Wade however is an alpha male and this has been his team until now . Unless James learns to control his ball hogging instincts , there is going to be trouble.
Just like Danny Ainge, Mitch Kupchak, the Laker GM, has done a terrific job in the off-season. The Lakers biggest weakness last season was their bench . With the exception of Lamar Odom , who was very often a starter rather than a reserve, the rest of the bench was a liability , unable to hold leads and thus causing the starters to play long minutes. This year the bench should be a strength , not a weakness. Last night , the game winner was a three pointer by back-up PG Steve Blake, and Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown made important contributions. I was particularly pleased with Shannon Brown who , last season , was noted for his dunks but little else. In the off-season , he seems to have worked on his outside shot ; last night , he drained four three pointers. A very welcome sight because the Lakers other weakness last year was their outside shooting. Blake and now Brown would seem to have cured that.
I don’t know how much longer the Lakers can afford to play Derek Fisher as the starting PG. I know all about his leadership and motivational skills and his clutch shooting but , much as I love his personality, I think the time has come for him to give way to somebody younger who can actually guard whippet quick opposing PG’ s like Aaron Brooks. I hope that Steve Blake gets an increasing role and that Fisher is relegated to the bench by mid -season .
The one question mark I have about the Lakers is Andrew Bynum’s motivation. His decision to postpone surgery in order to watch the soccer World Cup has already led to him missing one and possibly two months of the season. If only , he had even half of Kobe’s drive and commitment , I’d feel more confident about the Lakers chances of a three-peat.