In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
By the time the Jazz actually play the Celtics (in the cold of winter), we’ll have a much better idea of the cohesion and potential of the Utah Jazz roster. Looking ahead, though, there are a couple of interesting match-ups to pay attention to when the Jazz finally do square off against Boston.
D-Will vs. Rondo
Elite Point Guard vs. Elite Point Guard. D-Will has the size. Rondo has the ring. Last season, Rajon’s numbers were respectable [13.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game]. He faltered from the free throw line [only 62.1%], though, clearing way for the “hack-a-shaq” option, and keeping him off the court when it really mattered. In recent years, Deron has had his way with smaller point guards – and Rondo gives up two inches and nearly 40 pounds to him. Look for Deron to take this guy deep into the post and show-off his skills. Rondo requires help down low with Williams, who has a knack for finding the open guy. [Authors note: I've always been a little peeved that Rondo wears his headband upside down to disrespect the league...where else could this guy earn $9 mil a year?] Advantage? Utah.
“Big Al” v. The Two Headed O’Neal Monster
At one point both Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal could strike fear into their opponents. Now, they will try to team up (with Kendrick Perkins, on occasion) to collectively attempt what they could formerly do alone. Come January & February, Big Al will have acclimated to Jerry Sloan’s system and be used to winning basketball. Big Al will score, as usual – look for him to play pretty decent defense on the older O’Neals. The Boston big-bodies (KG, Big Baby and the O’Neals) will likely grab more than their share of rebounds. Against Boston’s Bigs, Jefferson will likely tire unless he can get some quality assistance from Fes or Elson. Advantage? Neutral (slight favor to Boston)
Boston is deep. The starters are stars and their back ups have great potential. Once Coach Sloan settles into a 7-8 man rotation, it’s likely that Boston can throw fresh legs at the Jazz (my prediction for Boston is a 9-11 man rotation). Plus, Boston knows what it takes to win it all. People often forget to mention Boston as a recent champion, assuming that the Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo ‘chip was simply a flash in the pan. In fact, were it not for the juggernaut LA Lakers, they could’ve added another banner to the already loaded rafters (17 titles). There is a fine line between experience and age, and Boston is dangerously close to the latter. Injuries, fatigue, and regular-season motivation could combine to favor a younger Jazz squad.
Boston leads the series: 45-36 all time, 1-1 last season.
On his last visit to Utah, Coach Doc Rivers got two quick technical fouls and had to watch the rest of the game from the locker room for mouthing off to the officials (allegedly).
Al Jefferson was the centerpiece of the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Garnett to Bean-town and his championship ring, and banished Big Al to the frozen wastelands of Minnesota (the basketball equivalent to a Toyota, in his words).
Doc Rivers spent 13 years as a player in the league. This will be his 11th as a Head Coach. Still, Doc Rivers was lacing up his hightops as a player in Atlanta while Coach Sloan was leading the Jazz and learning the ropes. By Sloan standards, Doc is just a kid. He has a high basketball IQ and has had success getting his players to buy into his system.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Shaq, & Jermaine O’Neal have combined for 73 years of experience.
While the Celtics earned a reputation for taking the regular season less than seriously last year, a lot would have to go bad for them to lose the Atlantic Division Championship this year. Utah travels to Boston on January 21, 2011 and the Celtics make their trek to Utah on February 28, 2011. If I were a betting man, my guess is the season series splits again going to the home team.
Contact Jefferson W. Boswell at jeffersonboz [at] gmail [dot] com