|Can the Celtics be caught, can the Lakers hang on?|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 17 October 2008 10:22|
And he can't believe that people would think otherwise.
So when Garnett heard the theory that he, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen couldn't possibly be as driven now as they were before finally winning their first NBA title, he wondered if the skeptics had been paying attention all along.
``Hmm, they don't know us that well then, huh?'' Garnett said recently.
With that, Garnett made it clear: Boston's Big Three, and the rest of their teammates, aren't satisfied with one championship. Anybody who wants to take the title from the Celtics won't get it without a fight.
Plenty of teams are ready to start one.
MVP Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers have center Andrew Bynum back to join Pau Gasol in their frontcourt, hoping that will make the difference if they get another shot at the Celtics.
It might not even be good enough to survive the wild, wild West.
tics. San Antonio, Utah, Dallas and Phoenix are all still right there in the power conference, where a team going 15 games above .500 in 2007-08 couldn't even get a seat at the postseason table.
Even Tracy McGrady, who has never won a playoff series, is thinking big now that Ron Artest has joined he and Yao Ming in Houston.
``This is the first time I've felt good about going into the season that something really special is going to come out of this season, if we all just put it together and just understand our roles,'' McGrady said.
Artest's trade from Sacramento could be the most significant change of address among players. Elton Brand (Philadelphia) and Baron Davis (Clippers) are among the other big names who switched cities, as did Kevin Durant - though he did it without changing franchises. His former Seattle SuperSonics are now the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the coaching ranks, Mike D'Antoni brings offensive flair to New York, Scott Skiles tries to instill defensive discipline in Milwaukee, and Larry Brown seeks to lift a struggling franchise in Charlotte and his own reputation, which took a hit in his last stop with the Knicks.
Terry Porter (Phoenix), Rick Carlisle (Dallas) and Michael Curry (Detroit) inherit teams near the top, while Erik Spoelstra (Miami) and Vinny Del Negro (Chicago) hope to pick up clubs that fell toward the bottom.
eltics will raise banner No. 17 before playing the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Lakers also are in action that night, hosting the Portland Trail Blazers in what should be Greg Oden's long-awaited NBA debut.
The opening game is a rematch of a thrilling Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Celtics won a Game 7 that featured a memorable duel between Pierce and LeBron James, then beat Detroit to reach the NBA finals, where they knocked off the Lakers in six games.
That capped a record-setting, one-year turnaround for the Celtics, who won only 24 games in 2006-07. They then traded for Allen on draft night, acquired Garnett later in the summer, and rode the three ringless All-Stars to a 66-16 mark.
None of the three had previously reached the finals. Garnett was rarely even close in Minnesota, advancing past the first round only once after entering the NBA as the No. 5 pick in the 1995 draft. Even after he collects his jewelry on opening night, he'll be thinking about those disappointments, guaranteeing his trademark intensity won't drop.
nd getting kicked out.''
The Cavaliers hope they gave James the help he needs to get past the Celtics with the acquisition of point guard Mo Williams from Milwaukee. The team on the rise in the East could be Philadelphia, which addressed the biggest hole on last season's athletic playoff squad by signing power forward Brand away from the Clippers.
``In playoff basketball you can't just run and gun and get it up and down the court,'' Brand said. ``So you're going to have to slow it down and have some interior presence, and that's what I provide.''
Still, the Celtics figure to have an easier path back to the finals than the Lakers, who have to endure a conference where Denver went 50-32 last season and managed only the No. 8 seed. The West could be even tougher this time, with Portland adding a potential dominant center in 2007 No. 1 pick Oden, who had to sit out last season after knee surgery.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson and the Hornets' Byron Scott both said the Blazers could be 10 wins better this season, which would put them into the 50-win category. Golden State finished ninth last season at 48-34, the best record ever of a non-playoff team under the current format.
t every team out there, I don't really see any team that has dropped that much and you never know, one or two players that haven't gotten a chance to play might get a chance and turn a team around.''
That balance puts San Antonio's odd-year win streak in jeopardy. The Spurs won titles in 2003, '05 and '07, but could be staring at a damaging slow start with leading scorer Manu Ginobili out for the first quarter of the season after he re-injured his ankle playing for Argentina in the Olympics.
And when the West is finally settled, the Lakers still may be on top. Bynum was on the verge of becoming a dominant center before a season-ending knee injury in January, and Los Angeles made up for his loss by acquiring Gasol from Memphis. Now with the two paired together, joining Bryant and a deep bench, the Lakers could have their best team since winning three straight from 2000-02.
``We've got the most potential here that we've had in a long time,'' Bryant said. ``Obviously the teams we had in the past with myself and Shaquille (O'Neal), but this team right here has a lot of depth.''
Perhaps enough to set up another Celtics-Lakers finals matchup. The renewal of the league's greatest rivalry in June was a ratings winner, and plenty of people around the NBA wouldn't mind seeing them meet again, as they did three times in four years in the mid-1980s.
be the same two teams in the finals, but we hope we're the ones that are there,'' Jackson said. ``That's for sure.''
AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.