Can I just say it? Please? Just once?
Okay, here it is:
NBA BASKETBALL IS BACK, BABY!
The torture of August (otherwise known as “NBA Dead Month”) and September are over and preseason has begun! And with that said, the Raptors are back and raring to get started as they look to take down the new-look Celtics in their first preseason matchup tomorrow evening.
The Celtics will be without All-Star guard Rajon Rondo due to injury, but the rest of the mean, green team should be ready to contribute. Boston no longer has iconic players Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett at their disposal after the trade with the Brooklyn Nets this offseason, but they acquired some decent players in Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks.
The Celtics may seem like a pushover team right now, especially without Rondo, but treating them like a joke would be a severe mistake, even in the preseason.
Kelly Olynyk, the Canadian center out of Gonzaga, has got to be one of the more interesting players to watch come tomorrow night’s game. Olynyk played fairly well in the Summer League and has all the tools to become a very good center in the East.
By his side he’ll have Brandon Bass, the seasoned forward who can make a jump shot and battle down low. Jeff Green and Wallace will likely be filling the wings (I say likely because this team has yet to figure out their rotation and it could easily be mixed and matched) and neither can be taken lightly. Wallace is a former All-Star and Green, when healthy, is an explosive talent who went off last season for 43 in a game against the Heat.
This leaves Avery Bradley likely to replace Rondo at the point. He’s a proven perimeter defender, one of the best ballhawks in the league, and fits the Celtics’ grind-it-out style of defense. If he’s improved his offense over the summer, he could become quite the handful.
The Celtics’ bench, filled with players like Humphries, Brooks, Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger isn’t a stellar cast, but they aren’t bad either. Sullinger is young player and he looked pretty good at times last season, especially on the defensive end. Humphries is a solid backup big as well, who can block shots and make baskets around the hoop. Brooks, Crawford and Lee are all guards that can score and have some explosiveness to them; meaning they could provide a necessary spark if the Celtics’ offense begins to lack.
Throw in the fact that Boston’s coach is fresh out of the college scene and you’ve got a perfect recipe for an interesting game. Stevens is certainly no Doc Rivers at this point, but obviously Danny Ainge saw something in the man and that should mean something to Boston fans.
As for the Raptors, they should be using the preseason to figure out each other more than anything. For most of last season their biggest problem was chemistry, but hopefully going through an entire training camp together will fix that.
Lowry and Bradley should make for an interesting matchup, as both have pride in their defensive skills. DeMar and Rudy should be the biggest difference makers in the game, as both could exploit their matchups pretty quickly. Gay is currently much better than Wallace and DeRozan shouldn’t have too much of a problem scoring on Green, though defending him will be a tall task.
This, of course, leads us to our game’s Key Matchup and Keys to Victory:
Jonas Valanciunas vs Kelly Olynyk
Both are young centers with a lot of talent and skill that want to prove themselves among the East’s elite at a position that is lacking in terms of All-Stars. Jonas has got a head start on Kelly having already played a year in the NBA and should use that to his advantage. He’s also filled himself out more than in his rookie season and should be able to combat Kelly down low fairly easily.
Both players are going to be looking to go right at each other; however, and should make for the best matchup of the night.
Keys to Victory:
1. Improved Offensive Sets
Last season the main problem for the Raptors wasn’t their defense, it was their offense; this is partly way Colangelo brought in Rudy. The offense often grew stagnant last season and ended up to a forced three or ugly drive headfirst into defenders. And let’s make something clear; you cannot do this against the Celtics, preseason or no. Dwane Casey will have to come up with something better than he had going on last year.
2. Contain Green
If any player is set to go off on the Raptors, it’ll be Jeff Green. The dude can flat out score when he’s healthy and has proven this several times before. He’ll be a handful for DeMar, who hasn’t proven yet to be a great defender, and will require some help defense if he gets hot.
3. Rudy Gay
Has he gotten better over the summer? We know that he had eye surgery to help improve his vision, but other than that, the only story we’ve heard is that he gained about 20lbs across his shoulders and chest. This would put Rudy at about LeBron-level size and weight. If this is true, he should have no problem dealing with Wallace or anyone else who tries to cover him. But for some reason, Rudy looked awfully plain during the intra-squad match…
So grab your popcorn, plunk your butts down in front of the nearest television and prepare yourself for some NBA action, because the Raps are back and their minds are already set on the postseason.
Game starts at 7:30PM ET.