HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — All this chatter about the new world order and the youth movement that was going to take over the league has been squelched by the NBA’s elder statesmen.
Miami and Oklahoma City are still working out the details while seasoned crews in other places seize the opportunity to set the pace for the rest of the league.
In the Eastern Conference, it’s the Boston Celtics ruling the roost so far, their mix of veteran savvy and leadership paired beautifully with the a virtuoso start to the season by Rajon Rondo.
In the Western Conference, the supposedly over-the-hill San Antonio Spurs continue to defy father time, refusing to age gracefully (or at all it seems) despite a Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker that has seen its best days come and go.
With plenty of thirty-somethings littering both rosters, some people have a hard time seeing these two teams keeping up this pace over the course of an 82-game regular season. Since most of us here at the hideout are “Thirty-somethings” as well, we’re rooting for the old folks to show these young whippersnappers how it’s done.
In addition to superior talent, coaching and staying on the right side of the injury bug karma, most elite teams need at least a couple of guys on the roster that understand the nuances of a winning operation. Both the Celtics and Spurs (not to mention the Dallas Mavericks, winners of nine straight games themselves) have handfuls of guys like that to call on when they need them.
It’s one of the beauties of how they’ve been constructed and managed, courtesy of Celtics GM Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers and Spurs GM R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich, respectively.
So deep are the Celtics, they have a bench that can defeat most teams on a good night, as they did the Nets Sunday. Rivers explains the decision to let his subs cut down the Nets, via Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe:
“I told our coaches, ‘Put your seatbelt on, because we’re resting guys,’ ’’ Rivers said. “Really, no matter what the score was, we had to give our guys a blow.’’
He left the game — and the Celtics’ six-game winning streak — in the hands of his bench. Not the normal cast of reserves, though. He grouped regulars Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis, and Shaquille O’Neal with little-used Avery Bradley and Von Wafer, and let the chips fall where they may.
“We didn’t have a lot of scoring on the floor,’’ Rivers said. “And I was just going to look at the scoreboard as far as substitutions.’’
The offense was irrelevant, because the defense was impossible to crack. Bradley set the tone, hounding Devin Harris into two offensive fouls.
“That was the main thing for the second unit,’’ Bradley said. “Just to come in and pick up the defensive intensity.’’
And even though they didn’t muster many points (just 6 in 4 minutes 27 seconds), they pulled the plug on New Jersey’s offense. And when the Celtics’ starters returned, they had a field day, pounding the Nets, 100-75, for the Celtics’ seventh straight win.
The leaders of the pack were on display on a busy Sunday around the league, each team showing off why they sit atop their respective conferences right now. Check it out in the Daily Zap:
While not necessarily as deep as the Celtics, the Spurs have plenty of firepower of their own, as the Hornets found out. Led by Parker in this game, the Spurs pounded the Hornets into submission with their defense.
Tony Parker scored 19 points to head a list of seven in double figures, and the Spurs – obviously over the thrill of always having to battle back from double-digit deficits — ripped to a 30-point first-half lead that would get as high 38 before the night ended.
With the victory, the Spurs improved to 17-3, matching the 2007-08 squad for the best 20-game start in club history.
“We have to keep it going,” Parker said. “We can’t be satisfied. The West is tough. Every night is tough.”
It certainly didn’t seem that way Sunday, when Spurs’ 17th win also was their most lopsided.
On a night the Spurs shot better than 70 percent for much of the first two quarters, playing so well that they went the final 5:25 of the second without a field goal and still set a season high with 68 first-half points, coach Gregg Popovich opened his pregame remarks talking about defense.
“It’s one of the few games we’ve had really consistent defense for the whole 48 minutes,” Popovich said. “That was the best part of the game.”
Granted, we’re only a little over a month into the season. But how crazy would it be to see the Celtics and Spurs battle it out for the Larry O’Brien trophy in June instead of the Lakers and Heat?