If the Boston Celtics took anything away from their heartbreaking loss to the Lakers in Game Seven of last season's Finals, it is that every game counts. The Lakers won more games in the regular season and thus had home-court advantage at the Staples Center for the deciding game.
"If Game Seven was in Boston Garden, it would have been very different," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "So that was on us."
Normally, one of the storylines going into the season would be the Celtics trying to achieve the best record in the NBA this season in order to assure home court advantage throughout the playoffs. However, they are almost an afterthought heading into this season.
All the talk in the Eastern Conference is about how the Heat should become dominant team after adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh in free agency to team with Dwyane Wade and unseat the Celtics as conference champions. Then there was also the Nets' pursuit of the Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony in a potential trade, something that might not be dead.
"The East is nice," the Celtics' Kevin Garnett said. "It's stacked, and with all of the talk of 'Melo coming to New Jersey, it's going to make that team nice. But Miami did a good job of getting everything they wanted, and this should be a fun year."
The Celtics' Paul Pierce respects the fact that the Heat is certainly the most-improved team in the league. However, he believes they are getting a little too much hype.
"(People are) talking about them like they're the only team in the league," Pierce said. "I mean, there's other teams, and the Lakers are the defending champs, and nobody has said nothing about the Lakers. It's crazy. We're all talking about Miami."
Yet while the Heat would seem like the conference favorites, Pierce is giving warning to those who might be overlooking the Celtics. He believes the offseason acquisitions of big men Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal are enough to put the Celtics over the top. Shaq had a lackluster 2009-10 season with the Cavaliers, posting a 104 offensive rating and a 102 defensive rating in 53 games, while Jermaine O'Neal had 108 and 103 marks for the Heat in 70 games.
"From top to bottom, this is one of the best teams talent-wise I've played on," he said. "I have total confidence in our bench. We say it every day: if you don't bring your work boots, the second team is going to bust us up. It definitely is a long season, but I think with the presence of Shaq and Jermaine it just gives this team new energy and more focus. Jermaine wants his first title. Shaq wants another one. So the motivation is there. The energy is there. You felt it from Day 1."
Karl's Emotional Return
Denver Nuggets coach George Karl admits he got a little choked up before the first practice of training camp. He thought back to last March when throat cancer forced him to leave the team for the remainder of the season and wonder if he would still be living come fall, let alone coaching.
"There was an emotional moment to say, 'Don't take for granted what you've always loved to do,'" Karl said. "I thought of some of the people who have helped me get back here and who I should probably make a phone call to thank."
Karl carries an electronic whistle in his pocket during practices in case his voice gives out. However, he hasn't had to use it thus far, though his mouth tends to get tired after he talks for three or four minutes. All in all, he couldn't be happier.
"It's fun to be back," Karl said. "It's fun to get the butterflies. It's fun to interact with your basketball family."
And Karl's players are glad to be interacting with him, too.
"Seeing him energetic, positive, you can tell he's excited about it," Anthony said.
Kirilenko Doesn't Worry About Rumors
The rumored Anthony trade would have been a four-team deal that would have included the Jazz and the Bobcats. While the trade would have significantly altered the rosters of the Nuggets and Nets, it would have also given the Jazz major financial relief as they would were scheduled to ship forward Andrei Kirilenko to the Nuggets.
Kirilenko has the second-largest expiring contract in the league at $17.8 million. The move would have dropped the Jazz's projected payroll below the NBA's luxury-tax threshold of $70.3 million and saved them more than $10 million. The Jazz paid the luxury tax for the first time last season then added Al Jefferson and Raja Bell over the summer.
However, Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said he is not shopping Kirilenko, who is the last remaining teammate of Karl Malone and John Stockton. Instead, teams have interest in acquiring the veteran forward and the contract.
"We've never initiated a trade call this whole summer about A.K," O'Connor said. "We think he's going to have a good year for us."
Kirilenko had a 117 offensive rating and a 103 defensive rating last season, though he was limited to 58 games and had his season cut short by a calf injury in March. While Kirilenko has clashed with coach Jerry Sloan in the past, the Russian says he is comfortable in Utah.
"For the last 10 years there are so many rumors around me," Kirilenko said. "So I (could) end up with any team in the NBA. This is the same way."
Tenuous Future in Sacramento
The NBA has given on the idea of the Kings getting a new arena, which brings into question if the franchise will remain in Sacramento after its Arco Arena lease expires in three years. The league had backed a plan in which the California State Fair would be moved to the Arco Arena site in suburban Natomas in order to secure financing for a downtown arena but the proposal was rejected by the Cal Expo Board.
"On the heels of the disappointing--but not surprising-—inaction of the state and Cal Expo, it is fair to say that the NBA has ceased its activities on the Sacramento arena front," NBA representative John Moag told the Sacramento Bee.
Sacramento mayor and former Kings mayor Kevin Johnson has been proposing to refurbish Arco Arena, which opened in 1988 and has become antiquated as it was built on the cheap when the franchise was lured from Kansas City-Omaha. However, the NBA and Kings have both rejected the idea.
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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