The final preseason game televised by “ESPN” before the 2007-2008 campaign, was a contest between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. Cleveland had represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals the previous June, while the Celtics had undergone a major makeover during the off-season; trading for veterans Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, to win their first NBA Championship since 1986.
The reason that an exhibition game has remained embedded in my brain; when hundreds of regular season and Playoff games played since that time have slipped away, was the way that Celtics squad performed in that contest. Boston, yet to play a regular season contest with a revamped team; looked like a group that had been together for years. Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce, were a well-tuned machine and point guard Rajon Rondo; thought of as the weak link in the starting rotation, due to his lack of experience; turned out to be a big asset. He ran the offense, like a seasoned pro, having no problems telling the three future Hall Of Fame members, where he wanted them.
I was so impressed with the squad’s performance, that I did something I had never done before or since; predicting the winner of the NBA Finals, before the regular season began. If the Celtics could be such a cohesive unit; that early on, then barring a major injury to a key player, they were going far that season and they would go on to win the Association’s Championship that June.
That edition of the Celtics, was an anomaly; the exception to the rule. The struggles that the Miami Heat experienced, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh came on board, are far more indicative of the norm; than the Celtics were. No matter how talented the players a team brings in; there almost always is a period of adjustment. The Heat, would eventually all be on the same page and played against the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals that season, then won the Larry O’Brien award this past June.
The Los Angeles Lakers went through their own makeover this off-season, adding center Dwight Howard and veteran point guard Steve Nash, which caused many NBA Observers to label the Lakers as the team to beat in the West this season. The higher the expectations, the longer the fall is, if you fail to fulfill them. Lakers fans and Association pundits, have criticized Los Angeles big time, after losing the first two games of the regular season. The club dropped their home opener to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, then traveled to Portland as they lost to the Trail Blazers the following evening. The Lakers, are a far better team on paper, than either of their opponents; bringing the boo-birds and the critics to the forefront, after the back-to-back losses.
What the folks who have ripped the Lakers seem to forget, is that this team is still getting to know each other. By the end of November, the players will be comfortable on the court together; with players knowing the sweet spot for all of his teammates. There is far too much talent on the roster; once again barring a major injury; for them not to be a big factor in the Association this season.