HANG TIME TEXAS – Seasons change and teams change. It’s part of the circle of life in sports.
An interesting angle to watch tonight when Boston plays at Miami is whether the Celtics have changed too much to contend with the new-look LeBron James.
A year ago, whenever James tried to take the ball inside against the Celtics, he was confronted by the hulking and sometimes snarling likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis.
Now the Boston front line consists of the aging Jermaine O’Neal along with Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox.
“Kid can play,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s tough. He can finish. He can offensive rebound. He can do a lot of things. He’s doing it right now, but he’s second guessing half of the things he’s doing because of the execution part of it.
“He’s late on a lot of stuff because he’s just not sure yet. He’s just going to keep getting better and better as the year goes on.”
Kevin Garnett was equally impressed, though when asked about Bass he preferred to refer to the bench as a whole.
“Brandon is going to give us a more mature, consistent scorer off the bench,” Garnett said. “I actually like our bench — not just on paper, but in practice and in games. Not just Brandon, but Chris Wilcox and Keyon (Dooling), too.”
The question can the Celts’ new threesome derail James’ plan to use the post-up drills he did with Hakeem Olajuwon during the summer to do most of his work closer to the basket this season? While the powerful slam dunks and the pretty tip-pass to Dwayne Wade was nice, maybe the most impressive part of James season-opening effort in Dallas was that he did not attempt a single 3-point shot. Neither did Wade.
As Joseph Goodman points out in the Miami Herald, that’s all part of the 2011-12 for the Heat:
“The biggest thing for us is not rely on jump shots when we need a bucket — be aggressive, put pressure on the rim,” Wade said. “Obviously, me and LeBron have worked at that aspect of our game — of getting in the post and being comfortable down there.
“It makes us more of a dynamic team, and it makes teams have to make a decision whether they double [or] whether they don’t.”
Heat reserve James Jones was the beneficiary of James’ and Wade’s work inside. Forgotten in The Finals, Jones played nearly 19 minutes Sunday and was 3 of 5 from three-point range. His barrage of three-pointers broke the game open in the third quarter.
Even on a day when Chris Bosh found himself in foul trouble and was mostly ineffective, the Heat still dominated inside. The effort of James and Wade near the basket, coupled with the Heat’s fast-paced transition game, was too much for Dallas, which sorely missed departed center Tyson Chandler as a defensive enforcer and is still adjusting to its group of hastily assembled talent.
“That’s one of the elements we’re trying to develop,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James’ low-post presence. “If you’ve seen us in the preseason, it helps.
It has always helped the Celtics in the past to have the likes of Perkins, Shaq and Davis down in the low post, guys whose personalities and styles were often confrontational and successful against James.
Now that Perk is snarling in Oklahoma City, Big Baby is playing in Orlando and Shaq is cracking jokes with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith on the TNT set, the look has been altered drastically in the paint for Boston.
Will the Celtics still thrive with the change?