By Andy Roth
New York, NY (Sports Network) -
Chicago is bullish on beating Boston and Gerald Wallace is blazing a defensive trail in Portland. I've got those stories and more in my latest take on the NBA.
The road to a second straight trip to the NBA Finals for the Celtics will likely have to go through Chicago and the Bulls are brimming with confidence about that possible matchup.
"We know we can beat them," said Derrick Rose bluntly following the Bulls rout of the Celtics last Thursday.
Part of the reason is the departure of Kendrick Perkins from Boston. Derrick Rose knows this is not the same Celtics team without their former starting center.
"He was tough," said Rose. "He was really tough to go around...They're different."
Chicago dominated the inside play in its 97-81 win over the Celtics, getting very little resistance from Boston's revamped front line. The Bulls outscored the Celts 44-22 in the paint and outrebounded them 44-35. The Celtics' two newest additions-Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic-played a total of 39 minutes and pulled down just 5 rebounds.
On the flip side, 38-year old Kurt Thomas came off Chicago's bench and pulled down those very same 5 rebounds in just 19 minutes.
Not only will the Celtics have to be concerned with how they match up with the Bulls front line in an eventual meeting in the Eastern Conference finals, but also, how their all-star point guard, Rajon Rondo, will contend with Rose, who appears to be in line to be the league's MVP.
Rose totally outclassed Rondo in their most recent battle, and has clearly outplayed him in their head-to-head meetings over the course of the season. Rose had 30 points (9-16 FG, 10-10 FT), 8 assists and 5 rebounds in last week's win over Boston, while Rondo finished with just 7 points (3-10 FG) and 6 assists.
The two great point guards have met four times this year, and Rose has clearly been the better player when they're guarding each other. He's averaged over 14 ppg while shooting 46 percent from the field when being covered by his Boston counterpart. Rose, meanwhile, has pretty much shut down Rondo, holding him to 4 ppg on 36 percent shooting.
There may not be an NBA franchise that has had worse luck with injuries, but despite losing key players for an extended period of time again this season, the Blazers will be playing playoff basketball for a third straight year. And they may be the toughest out among the lower seeds, in part due to the trade- deadline deal that brought Gerald Wallace from Charlotte to Portland.
The 28-year old small forward is an excellent two-way player, who not only was an All-Star last season, but was a first-teamer on the NBA's All-Defensive team.
His ability to shut down an opponent was never more evident in the Blazers' meeting with the Thunder in Oklahoma City on March 27. He held the league's leading scorer, Kevin Durant (27.8 ppg), to 21 points on just on just 5 of 18 from the floor. Durant was nearly invisible in the second half, as he shot 0-7 and scored a mere four points. Less than a week later, the two teams met again, and Durant had another sub par game, as he connected on just 9 of his 24 shots.
Wallace's presence has had a dramatic effect on the Blazers' overall team defense, as they've allowed an amazing 83.8 points per game since his arrival, while putting up a 14-8 mark.
In addition to having a dramatic effect on the defensive end, Wallace's offensive game has improved significantly since the trade and it's probably benefited from playing with a better supporting cast. Wallace shot 43% from the field this season with Charlotte, but has been hitting at a 50% clip since coming to Portland. No doubt that playing with a quality point guard (Andre Miller) and a really good low-post scorer (LaMarcus Aldridge) has made life a lot easier on the offensive end for Wallace.
If Marcus Camby is healthy for the start of the playoffs, and can join Wallace and Aldridge on the Blazers' front line, Portland will be a handful for its first-round opponent.
James Harden needed to step up his offensive game since the Thunder lost some scoring punch in their trade with the Celtics and he's done just that. The second-year shooting guard is the NBA's leading scorer off the bench since the All-Star break, averaging 16.1 points, while hitting on 47 percent of his shots.
The Lakers' Shannon Brown has seen his season go in the opposite direction of Harden, and his lack of production off the bench has to be a concern going into the playoffs. Brown worked diligently on his outside shot in the off season, and it really seemed to pay dividends as he shot 52 percent from the field through November. But since that point, he's basically been in a prolonged slump as he's connected on just 40 percent of his shots.
Andy Roth covered the Knicks for NBC Radio and AP Radio for eleven years and
was an NBA Columnist for Celtics Pride Magazine for two years. He's covered
many of the major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA
Finals, U.S. Open Tennis and Golf.