NBA

Atlantic preview: Boston's last hurrah?

Marques Johnson previews the Atlantic Division
Marques Johnson previews the Atlantic Division
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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Here we have one team with bona-fide championship expectations, along with four teams striving for mere respectability.

BOSTON CELTICS

Because of the preponderance of aging players, there will be a palpable sense of urgency as the season unfolds. The Big Methuselah is 38, and, if he’s slow both laterally and vertically, he remains capable of taking up space, setting stonewall screens and beating up post-up opponents such as Dwight Howard.

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Ray Allen is 35, and the accumulated miles on his wheels have negatively impacted his consistency. Even so, if his playing time is carefully managed, Allen can still be a reliable clutch shooter.

At 34, Kevin Garnett is likewise showing signs of decay. Never known by his peers as a dependable player in the endgame, KG these days offers his midrange jumpers and his enthusiasm as his biggest assets.

Paul Pierce is 33 and should have one more magnificent season left. He’s still the team’s go-to scorer, but his defense has slackened.

Jermaine O’Neal is another guy who’s short-handed when a game is up for grabs. For 20 minutes per game, though, he can bang some, rebound some and knock down a few jumpers.

Glen Davis makes mistakes and misses layups, but always plays hard.

Rajon Rondo is the sparkplug. Sometimes, his decision-making is questionable, and his jumper remains iffy, but he’s still an electric player.

Delonte West is a gritty if relatively slow-footed defensive stopper.

If Nate Robinson continues to expand his horizons, he can be a devastating scorer off the bench — although his defense remains weak.

Don’t count on Kendrick Perkins since radical knee surgery (especially in big guys) requires at least a year to fully heal.

The absence of Tom Thibodeau (and Perkins and Tony Allen) will take some starch out of Boston’s unyielding defense. But the Celtics will still be aggressive and physical at both ends. They’ll need perfect health and optimal seasons from their fading stars to return to the NBA Finals. Not a far-fetched scenario.

NEW JERSEY NETS

Having Brook Lopez as the face of the franchise is a risky business. Yes, he’s big, strong, smart and unafraid. But Lopez also has difficulty holding on to the ball when he’s double-teamed and playing defense without fouling.

POLL

  • Who will finish last in the Atlantic?
    • Celtics
    • Knicks
    • Nets
    • Raptors
    • Sixers

Devin Harris is quick as a wish and is an irresistible penetrator. His subpar shooting and inability to effectively run an offense are the reasons Dallas gave up on him. Hopefully, some hands-on teaching by Avery Johnson will accelerate Harris’ learning curve.

Troy Murphy can rebound and drop treys, but he’s a plodding presence whose lack of NBA-quality athleticism makes him as much of a minus as he is a plus.

Jordan Farmar is quick and explosive but can’t differentiate between good shots and bad ones.

Anthony Morrow is a deluxe shooter.

Travis Outlaw is a dynamic scorer with sticky hands.

Derrick Favors is N.J.’s blue-chip rookie, who is already demonstrating he’s more of a project than anticipated.

The Nets won’t threaten to low-ball the record 73 losses endured by the 1972-73 Sixers, but winning 25 games would be an impressive improvement.

NEW YORK KNICKS

Amar’e Stoudemire is athletic, energetic and always has his eyes on the basket. He’ll absolutely love being the focus of Mike D’Antoni’s quick-hitting offensive schemes. Too bad Stoudemire doesn’t rebound, defend or truly understand the game.

Raymond Felton is relatively slow, but is otherwise solid in every aspect of the game.

For such a celebrated long-range shooter, Danilo Gallinari is hampered by inconsistency. His handle and lateral movement are questionable, yet he does play better-than-average position defense. He’s still a year or two away from reaching his peak.

Ronny Turiaf can’t finish and fouls too much but plays with extraordinary energy. At best, he’s a backup center on a bad team and a third-string center on a good team.

Shooting is what Roger Mason does. Handling the ball and defending are what he doesn’t do.

Wilson Chandler can score, but, at 6-foot-8, he lacks the quickness to defend small forwards and the defense/rebounding to compete at power forward.

Timofey Mozgov is tough and athletic. He’ll be given maximum opportunities to learn how to play defense without fouling.

Anthony Randolph possesses spectacular talents, which are compromised by his equally spectacular mistakes.

The Knicks will be entertaining when they have possession of the ball. However, their lack of rebounding (David Lee was more valuable than Stoudemire will prove to be) and defense make the playoffs a pipe dream.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

The immediate future continues to look bleak in the City of Brotherly Love.

Newcomer Spencer Hawes is a soft 7-1 big man who will drive Doug Collins batty.

Elton Brand is slow and defenseless, and his Achilles' surgery has robbed him of whatever explosiveness he once had.

Andre Iguodala is easily the best player on the team. He can defend and jet to the rim with any of his peers. His shooting, however, is erratic. A. I. would make a perfect second option.

Louis Williams is one of the NBA’s speedsters, and he also comes equipped with streaky three-point shooting. Unfortunately, he’s still learning how to run a team. In the best of all possible worlds, Williams would play the shooting guard.

Thaddeus Young needs large doses of playing time to develop consistency. Given this requirement, he could eventually develop into a top-notch point-maker.

Andres Nocioni is justly renowned for his perpetual toughness. Hopefully, this trait is contagious.

Marreese Speights can be as good as he wants to be. However, thus far in his spotty career, his lack of on-court motivation indicates that, instead of being an outstanding NBA player, he’d rather be a fireman or a cowboy.

Evan Turner is good everywhere on the court, but great nowhere.

Collins frustrates easily and could lose his players if the team gets off to a slow start. If the Sixers should somehow qualify for the playoffs, the in-town celebrations might be so extreme as to create another crack in the Liberty Bell.

TORONTO RAPTORS

A bad team in a good town.

Leandro Barbosa scintillates in the open court, but is dull in half-court sets.

Jarrett Jack is smart and tough, yet lacks the necessary athleticism to be routinely effective.

Jose Calderon takes good care of the ball. But he tends to over-handle, and his defense is awful.

It’s doubtful Andrea Bargnani has the stuff to be the go-to guy in Jay Triano’s offense. If somebody has to display some on-court leadership, it won’t be Bargnani.

Linas Kleiza once said his offense is so good that he doesn’t have to play defense. The prosecution rests.

Julian Wright and DeMar DeRozan are still living off their potential.

OK offense, dismal defense and a short bench will have the Raptors battling the Nets to avoid having the NBA’s worst record.

Tagged: Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Raptors, Grizzlies, Ray Allen, Andre Iguodala

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