It has been fun watching the Celtics dismantle the Nets, Raptors and Suns, but the real test lies ahead. With the game against the Heat tonight, the Celtics will start on a tough stretch of games that will see them playing 11 of the next 16 games on the road and 12 of those are against teams with winning records.
The Celtics are capable of winning every one of those games if they maintain their focus and play defense. But, too often on the road, they leave their defense at the Garden. This next stretch of 16 games will tell us more about this team than the past 43. The first games of the season, the team is all rested and ready for the season and able to sneak up on a lot of teams. During the win streak, they were on a high and teams were slightly intimidated by them. Then, during the losing streak, they were tired. The win streak took a lot out of them and they weren't playing well. Now, there are no excused. They are apparently back on track. They have supposedly learned from the losing streak. The schedule isn't quite as grueling as it was at first. Now, we will see what this team is really made of.
The biggest test will be tomorrow night against the Magic. Orlando sits on top of just about every power ranking now and they also have the best record in the NBA. They have handled all the competition including a romp over the Lakers in LA. How the Celtics play against the Magic in Orlando is going to be a measuring stick for the Celtics.
I am glad to see Miles playing well in Memphis. They offered him a second 10 day contract. His reaction to all of the Blazers' efforts to keep him from playing was simply that he just wants to play. When a player works that hard to come back from injury, he deserves a chance to play.
Speaking of players coming back from injury. Tony Allen is taking a very long time to recover from an ankle sprain. He isn't on the trip with the team to Florida and Doc said he isn't near ready to play yet. It seems as though it has to be more than just a sprain. But then again, Tony has always taken a long time to recover from injuries. With Walker in town and picking up Tony's minutes, I have been impressed with his play. I really, really like this kid. I love his energy, his hustle, and his toughness. He has been playing good defense and has also been very aggressive going to the hoop. I think Danny needs to give this kid a chance to play and he very well could be the answer to the need for a defensive 3. This kid can play. Doc needs to give him a chance.
Patrick O'Bryant is a puzzle. The Celtics need length off the bench and they have this 7 footer with all the tools necessary sitting on the bench. Doc keeps saying he isn't ready and he has gotten 5 minutes playing time in blowouts, but it has me wondering what the problem with him is. Any player who doesn't improve when mentored by both Clifford Ray and Kevin Garnett has to be pretty bad. It may be his work ethic, in which case, I don't see him lasting on this team with players like Perk, Powe, Garnett, Allen, Pierce, etc. who work harder than just about anyone in the league to improve their games. Even with superstar status, Pierce, KG and Ray all still work as hard as anyone. Perk and Powe have always had superior work ethics and should set an example. It will be interesting to see if O'Bryant is the one to go if they do bring in a veteran.
Sam's position is still puzzling. He has been on the active roster, but still hasn't played a minute. Doc insists that Sam is part of the plan for the team and that he is saving him because he has just so much basketball left in him. I'm not really buying that. At 39, he is quite capable of playing 10 minutes a game for a season. I see it more as a way to get Gabe minutes and see what he can do. If Gabe can handle the back up point guard duties, thus allowing them to move Eddie to the 2, where he is more effective, I can see Sam moving to the coaching staff instead of on the roster. But, they are keeping Sam on the roster until they know whether or not Gabe can handle the job. I thought it was hilarious after the Suns game that it was reported that Reggie Miller and Sam were talking before the game as Doc walked by and Sam yelled to Doc to put him in the game. Doc replied that he would put Reggie in before Sam. If they can joke about it like that with no hard feelings, there has to be an understanding in place as to what Sam's role is on this team.
The Celtics do have needs. They need a defensive 3 who can back up Pierce and cover the other team's better players. They need length off the bench. And, according to Ainge, they need a shooter. All these needs can be addressed from within but it involves a lot of "ifs." If Bill Walker can get playing time and develop into the player I think he can, he would fill the need for a back up defensive 3. He has shown a lot of promise so far and I think he can do it. We have a 7 footer on the bench but so far he hasn't been what the Celtics had hoped he would be. If O'Bryant can reach his potential, he could be that big center off the bench to back up Perk. That seems the biggest longshot. The Celtics need a shooter off the bench. We have that in Eddie House. If Gabe (or Sam) can effectively run the point, that frees Eddie to be the spot up scorer that he has been his entire career. But he isn't near as effective when he has to run the point as well as being a scorer.
Marbury is said to be close to a buyout and he has reported that he has a firm offer from a team to join them if he can get out of his contract. There has been a lot of talk about the Celtics being that team, but I am thinking that it may be the Lakers. Marbury has been out in LA watching their games. They could use a back up point guard. And Marbury seems to be a fit for the Lakers. A selfish player who is looking for his own glory rather than the team's. I don't think the Celtics are offering him a big enough role on the team for him to want to come to Boston.
Tonight it's the Heat. Tomorrow the Magic. Two tough games. I hope Perk is ready to go. We can use him especially against Dwight Howard and if he can get a game under his belt in Miami to shake the rust off, that will be that much better.
Regardless of whether Perk is back or not, I think Scal has earned the right to play. He has been nothing short of amazing playing center in Perk's absence. You have to respect the effort he has put out over these past 5 games. I used to think we should get rid of Scal but he has won me over. How valuable is a player who never complains, even when being benched for the entire playoffs? He is a glue guy and a great locker room guy. He is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team whether it is playing small forward, power forward, or center. He has made a believer out of me.
I have to admit, I like the Magic. Being a Floridian, when the league expanded into Florida, I kind of adopted the Magic as my home team. I love Pat Williams. The guy is as classy as they come and having met him at a couple of teachers' conferences, I can tell you the guy is genuine and a really good person. Back when the Heat and the Magic came into the league, one of the teachers I worked with was a big Heat fan and we always had a wager when it came to the Heat playing the Magic. I had a lifesize poster of Larry Bird in my room at school and it was very clear where my loyalties were, but I also cheered for the Magic, especially against the Heat. I hadn't heard from that teacher in years but when the Heat won the championship, I got an email from him to gloat. Last year, he got an email back from me. But, when it comes to playing my Celtics, there is no competition. Go Celtics!