NEW ORLEANS — Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has hit hat off to the Miami Heat and coach Eric Spoelstra for their winning streak, the second-longest in NBA history thus far.
However, after his team’s 105-103 loss on Monday to Miami, it’s clear Rivers’ mind is still on the Heat and his team’s chances to win the NBA championship this season.
The game in Boston was seen as a highly possible end to the streak, which had reached 24 heading into Friday’s game against Detroit in Miami. Rivers was asked before Wednesday’s game against the Hornets if anybody would stop Miami before the playoffs begin.
“I don’t really care if they stop them before the playoffs,” he said. “But we certainly want to stop them during the playoffs.
“They’re playing great; they’re on a great roll. When teams are on a roll, you don’t want to actually catch them when they’re going through that because they’re playing better sometimes than they are.”
Make no mistake about it, though, Rivers said, the Heat, the defending champion, will be tough to knock out. And, he credited Spoelstra, who was criticized when Miami failed to win the title two years ago.
“They’re a good team; they’re extremely well-coached,” he said. “I don’t think Eric gets half the credit that he deserves. The reason I say that is they won a title, and now they changed the way they play this year, playing small ball mostly and spreading the floor.”
Rivers said, although there are no moral victories, his team came out of the Heat game feeling confident. However, he said even though starting center Kevin Garnett sat out with a groin injury and illness, that game has to be thrown out if they meet in the playoffs.
“I felt we had the advantage going into that game,” he said. “They played the night before; we had the night off. Even though we didn’t have Kevin, I still felt like we’re playing at home, we had an extra day to prepare for them.
“Well, in the playoffs, you don’t get that advantage. Everybody’s rested, everybody’s ready. No surprises. That’s why I don’t ever overdo what happens in the regular season then when you play in to the playoffs, because it’s a different game completely.”
Friday night’s Hornets opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies have held foes to an average of 89.2 points per game this season.
Asked what makes the Grizzlies such as good defensive team, Hornets coach Monty Williams said they have very good individual defensive players. Tony Allen is a great defender, Mike Conley is known for his on-ball defense against other point guards, and Memphis added veteran Tayshaun Prince, known for his defense, in the Jan. 25 trade of star forward Rudy Gay. And, the Grizzlies execute well offensively, allowing them to set their defense.
However, Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez, who was drafted by Memphis in 2010 and played with the Grizzlies as a rookie, said it’s not that they force teams to certain spots or that they’re all great defenders. Mostly, he said, it’s Allen, a shooting guard who averages 8.9 points per game.
“When you have a guy like Tony Allen, he might not give you 20 points, but he helps your defense,” Vasquez said. “He can make the worst defensive guys into solid defensive guys. They play such good defense because they have one guy who sets the tone. Everybody else just follows that lead.
“Even when I was there, we were successful because he was guarding the Westbrooks, the best player from the other team. He was able to contain one player by himself, so he helps everybody else just stay honest.”
Rest of the way
Guard Terrel Harris’ second 10-day contract with the Hornets is up Thursday. Then, the team will have to decide, as per NBA rules, whether to keep him for the rest of the season or release him.
It definitely appears Harris will be with the team the rest of the way. He has impressed Williams with his defensive intensity and effectiveness and with his ability to pick up the team’s offensive and defensive concepts. And, he’s proven to be a good rebounder.
Williams gushed about his play Monday against Golden State, his most extensive playing time since signing with the Hornets on March 8.
“He plays hard,” Williams said when asked what impresses him about Harris. “He forced (Stephen) Curry into an offensive foul. He was attacking the basket. He got a layup on a play we’ve been trying to teach the guys all year long; he’s the first guy to get a layup.
“I just like his ability to play with force and he defends, and you can get on him, and he doesn’t buckle, at all, which is what I like, guys who can take coaching. So we’ll see what we get in the next few days.”
Health brings optimism
The Los Angeles Lakers were due to get back guard Kobe Bryant (ankle) and power forward Pau Gasol (plantar faciitis) on Friday.
It would make just the 18th game this season the Lakers have had their starting five of Byrant, Gasol, center Dwight Howard, point guard Steve Nash and small forward Metta World Peace. However, the Lakers had gone just 6-11 with the starters, so what’s the big deal concerning their return?
The big deal is that they’re all healthy now, said coach Mike D’Antoni. In the games in which they played together earlier in the season, one or more was hampered by an injury. With the Lakers having slipped out of the eighth playoff spot after Bryant was injured March 13 against Atlanta, D’Antoni sounds as though he is intrigued by the team’s potential in the playoffs, particularly with Howard playing well of late.
“There were a lot of decisions made when Steve wasn’t on the floor at 100 percent, when Dwight wasn’t on the floor 100 percent, and when Pau wasn’t playing really well in the beginning, he wasn’t 100 percent,” D’Antoni said. “All of them were hurt, and you think ‘Well, that’s not working. This is not working.’ But when they’re all 100 percent, it can work.”
In the past two months, Howard has climbed the rebounding stats and now leads the league at a 12.5 per game.