As the Boston Celtics continue the beginning of their long, difficult journey of rebuilding, they face one of their most daunting tests of the young 2013-14 season: the NBA champion Miami Heat.
With only two wins under their belts--a 97-87 victory over an inexperienced, winless and downright sloppy Utah Jazz squad on Wednesday, and a victory over the young Orlando Magic Friday--coach Brad Stevens' gang hopes to pull off a major upset over LeBron James and company.
The individual matchups suggest that it will be a tough task, especially considering Boston's loss of notorious Heat haters Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to trade over the summer. Unfortunately for C's fans, the numbers don't lend much support.
Boston sits dead-last in the league in points per game (89.4) as well as assists per game (15.8). They also find themselves third-worst in rebounds per game (39.2). While Miami rebounds the ball even more poorly, ranking 30th of 30 teams with a paltry 33.5 boards per contest, they score the eighth-most points per game (104.3) and dish out the most assists in the NBA (28.3).
Frankly speaking, the Heat perennially struggle in rebounding averages because they put the ball in the hoop at a much better pace than most of the league. They mix a run-and-gun style with quality perimeter shooting, and don't put much focus on big men down low.
The Celtics have rolled out a similar fast-paced offensive scheme through five games, but the efficiency has simply been nonexistent. According to ESPN statistician John Hollinger, the Heat are the second-most efficient offensive squad, compared to the Celtics at 28th. This almost certainly seems to be due to Boston's league-leading 19.9 turnover rate.
With a two-guard running the offense in Avery Bradley, who already proved in the 2013 postseason that he struggles under the pressure of the point, the Celtics' pace has been wildly inconsistent. And with blown plays, meager true shooting numbers (low 50s), and pitiful rebounding percentages, the chips are stacked against this young squad.
Of course, it's not all gloom and doom. Boston's defense has actually risen to the occasion in this first couple of weeks in the regular season. They surprisingly allow the second-fewest points in the NBA, lending hope to fans who simply need something to praise.
Stevens seems to have a good rapport with his squad, but at times he has struggled to stop the bleeding when things go awry in the second halves of games. Fourth quarter concerns have been a particularly befuddling issue. Whereas the KG era served as some of the better instances of clutch play, the Stevens era seems marred by “choke” plays.
Look for the Celtics to make some tweaks now and in the immediate future in order to address their problem areas. For one, watch out for Vitor Faverani, the rugged Brazilian center signed over the summer from Spain. Stevens has placed the big man, affectionately called “El Hombre Indestructible” (the Indestructible Man) by fans, in Boston's starting lineup for some toughness and rebounding support.
Fans should also expect Stevens to continue developing backup point guard Phil Pressey's role on the squad. After playing 17 minutes and registering three assists in the win over Utah, it seems well worth the risk of playing the undrafted rookie from Mizzou, if only for his court vision and ballhandling skills. He has yet to turn the ball over in his first two games, and he also offers quality man defense on every inch of the court.
Still though, Miami's arsenal may once again prove to be too much for this young, transitioning team in green. The Heat just overtook the Los Angeles Clippers, many pundits' preseason favorite for Western Conference champions, thanks to Dwayne Wade's 29 points. And of course, there's the best player in basketball. King James once again boasts ridiculous averages: 24.3 points on .564 shooting, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
It has the potential of being a lopsided defeat. But remember, this is the time to focus on long-term potential, not short-term failure.