The C's and Heat tip things off Sunday afternoon in South Florida. Until then, we've got three days of anticipation and a chance to take a nice long look at your hopes and dreams for the green team in round two.
There are plenty of questions surrounding the Celtics and their bid to eliminate the South Beach All-Stars. Thanks to everyone for the submissions. Let's delve into this week's mailbag.
1. Finding the proper balance between rest and rust is key this week. How does Doc Rivers plan to do it?
–LaughAtLebron, via Twitter
Agreed. Getting rest is especially important for a veteran team like this one, of course, but too much rest can be a hazard.
Generally, though, Doc likes to reward the Celtics with light practices when they play well. After a few wins, he'll stick to film sessions, walkthroughs and perhaps short workouts. So far, that's been the case this postseason. They took Monday and Tuesday off then had a light practice Wednesday.
That leaves two days of hard practice Thursday and Friday before the flight down south Saturday afternoon. The C's plan to make the most of them.
No one on the team worked too hard earlier this week — Ray Allen cracked a joke about watching SpongeBob Square Pants and Glen Davis said he went to the aquarium and "met a couple penguins, fed a seal." But they'll get down to business soon enough.
2. What impact can Shaquille O'Neal make if — and it's a big if — he's able to make an appearance in the playoffs?
I really don't think it's that big of an if.
I do think Shaq will play soon enough. I don't know about Sunday in Game 1, but I do think he'll be back in the Heat series. There's nothing seriously wrong with his calf — it's reportedly just sore, and this is all just a matter of Shaq waiting for the right time when the soreness settles down enough that he can run. He's not there yet, but he really truly is getting closer.
When he's back, Shaq will probably start, and he'll probably give the Celtics a few six-minute bursts of offense per game. Doesn't sound like much, but he did put up a few 12-point first quarters in the regular season, and those add up. Now's the right time to bring Shaq back — the Heat don't have a big man that can match up with him. This series is a chance for the big fella to shine.
3. When Shaq comes back, will he aid or disrupt the Celtics' amazing form so far?
Understandable question, TJ. Jermaine O'Neal has been pretty darn good in the starting center role so far in the playoffs, and he gives the Celtics something they haven't had since Kendrick Perkins left — a big, tough, defense-first guy in the low post. Sticking Shaq into the starting five is a risky ploy at this point when the C's already have a rock-solid center.
But Shaq's presence will definitely help. As good as J.O. has been, he hasn't been a serious threat offensively. Most of his scoring has been junk baskets — easy cutbacks of offensive rebounds, open layups and the like. Shaq gives them another element offensively. When he commands a double-team, it enables the Celtics to free up a shooter on the perimeter. His presence sends a positive ripple effect through the Celtics' offense.
Besides, you'll only see him for 15 or 20 minutes a night. There will be plenty of minutes at the center position to go around. J.O. will be just fine.
4. Who do you think will be the Celtics' biggest X factor against the Heat? Ray Allen because Dwyane Wade has trouble with him, Rajon Rondo because he can school Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers, or Shaq because the Heat don't have a center worth mentioning?
Good question, Glenn. All solid options, but I'll go with Rondo.
The Celtics' veteran Big Three are all playing top-notch basketball right now, but none of them can be an X factor in this series. They'll all be too busy with daunting matchups on the other end of the floor.
Here's how I see this series playing out — Big Three can neutralize Big Three in the Boston-Miami matchup. Ray can hold his own against D-Wade, the same with Pierce against LeBron James and with Kevin Garnett against Chris Bosh. All of those individual matchups will be close and competitive. But the Heat don't have anyone to match up with Rondo. They can stick Wade or James with that task if they want, but that would only free up a Celtic shooter.
If Rondo is able to run wild in this series, scoring easy points in transition and attacking the basket in the halfcourt, he can make the difference.
5. I'm really tired of watching defenses simply leave Rondo open to shoot jumpers. Nobody is guarding him because everybody knows his inconsistency hitting those shots. Don't you think Delonte West could run the offense for the first unit in some stretches when Rondo's shot is off?
I understand your frustration, Marcel. But Rondo is still the best point guard on the Celtics' roster by far. Let's not get carried away.
Rondo's shooting numbers are baffling. He's a 31.3 percent shooter from 10 to 15 feet, which is absolutely terrible, and he's 41.0 percent from 16 to 23, which is surprisingly better. That's probably because, as you said, defenses are simply leaving him open.
This season has been a feeling-out process for Rondo. He's getting a lot of freedom to take his own shot, but he's only taking advantage of that in moderation. His basketball IQ is off-the-charts good, so Doc Rivers has trusted him to learn for himself when to shoot and when to defer.
His poor shooting is a liability. But his speed and decision-making ability are a big reason the Celtics have one of the best offenses in the NBA. They can't afford to lose that.
6. Do you think Jeff Green is playing like the Celtics imagined?
No, Wesley, not really. Although it's possible that Danny Ainge sees Green as more of a long-term project than a huge impact player right away.
It's difficult to find your role midseason on a team with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce already in place at your position. Green doesn't exactly know yet what he should be doing. He's only scored 24 total points so far in the playoffs, and most of that has come either in transition or from questionable decisions chucking jump shots. He hasn't been able to establish his own game.
Part of that is coaching. Doc Rivers has been dubious about how much of the playbook the new guys like Green can pick up right away, so he's been slow to mix up the playcalling and run a lot of sets to get them involved. Green's had to fend for himself, which is tough to do when you're a seventh man who's used to starting your whole career.
Green will be better in the future. It's been a hectic couple of months for him.
7. Danny Ainge needs to begin rebuilding soon. I was looking at the Celtics' roster, and it includes several expiring contracts, most importantly Glen Davis and Nenad Krstic. I can't see Danny giving Big Baby a big contract if he wants to have cap space in 2012. So can we still trade these expiring contracts? I think they can, up to June 30. If so, wouldn't it make sense to deal them now, possibly for a bad contract that ends after the 2012 season, and maybe pick up a draft pick or move up in the draft?
You're correct that Baby and Krstic are expiring this summer. But no, they can't be traded. It's in the fine print of the current collective bargaining agreement — if you're in the last year of your contract, you can't be traded after the February deadline.
But your point about 2012 salary cap space is a good one. The Celtics are in a tricky position with Baby — do they sign him this summer, since he's an important part of their plans to win it all in 2012, or do they clear him out and make room to potentially land a big prize like Dwight Howard in free agency a year from now?
I think the C's make a play to keep Baby around. They have less than $30 million on the books for 2013, so they still have plenty of space for even a max player (depending on what the max ends up being after a new CBA gets hammered out). They can probably afford to offer Baby a fairly modest offer like $6 million a year — or maybe, maybe $7 million. We'll see if he takes it.
The C's went into this winter knowing they could only afford to keep one of their two young bigs — Baby or Kendrick Perkins. We now know which one they chose. They don't want to let him slip away.
8. Do you see any possibility of Lawrence Frank taking over as head coach next season if Doc retires?
Yes and no. Yes, in that I think that was part of the plan when the Celtics brought him in — they knew that in Frank, they had a backup plan with head coaching experience in case Doc left. But no in that I don't think it'll actually happen.
Look at it this way. Right now, it looks very likely that Doc will stay through 2012 at the very least. Two reasons — next season may be shortened by a lockout, making his job easier, and also Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen each have another year left on their contracts, and Doc will naturally want to stick around as long as they do.
If Frank is qualified for a head coaching job — whether it's somewhere else in the NBA, or perhaps a college gig (remember, he was rumored at Tennessee before Cuonzo Martin got it) — he'll probably prove it this spring and get a job soon. He's not going to sit around and wait for 2012.
Doc would be fine with that. He always roots for his assistants to get head coaching jobs. He was thrilled when Tom Thibodeau left him to coach the Bulls, and he'd be thrilled to lose Frank, too. He always wants what's best for his guys.
9. In light of the sweep, I watched He Got Game this weekend because I thought it would be funny to see Ray Allen and Spike Lee working together. We all know your sports critiquing skills, but let's hear your thoughts about this classic!
Good question! It's not often I get many chances to offer a movie review in this space. So, thanks.
I'm a fan. Even though generally I think Spike's been mailing it in for the last two decades (Do the Right Thing was 22 years ago!), He Got Game was a nice exception. It's an intriguing look at the life of a high school basketball star, with all the pressures that come along with it. It's well-written, well-shot, and, surprisingly, well-acted.
We shouldn't take for granted what a multitalented star we have in Boston in Ray Allen. How many guys can ball and act as well as he can? Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Chris Bosh's four-second cameo on Entourage as much as the next guy, but Ray's in another realm altogether.