By Andy Roth
New York, NY (Sports Network) -
I've got "The Truth" behind the banged-up
Celtics' improved play, plus other teams that have survived the injury bug in
my latest take on the NBA.
The ship looked like it was sinking in Boston even before the Celtics lost
Rajon Rondo to a sprained right wrist, Ray Allen with a sprained left ankle,
and Jermaine O'Neal with a bruised left knee. But thanks to the resurgence of
Paul Pierce, there is some reason for optimism in Beantown.
Pierce, himself, missed all of training camp and the first three games of the
season with a heel injury, but finally seems to be rounding into shape, and
the timing couldn't have been any better with the latest rash of injuries.
Allen returned last night, as the Celtics one-point loss at home to the
Cavaliers snapped a four-game winning streak, but Pierce continued to show the
form that has made him a nine-time all-star with his all-around game, as he
put up 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.
During Rondo's six-game absence, in which the Celtics have gone 4-2, Pierce
has shown his star quality in his playmaking skills and his ability to make
other players better. He's averaged 7.7 assists during that span, which
includes two games where he dished out 10 assists.
Despite his early struggles this season and talk of his demise, Pierce knew it
was only a matter of time and getting back into shape before he was back to
playing to the level he was accustomed to.
"I think I'm finally starting to get into a good rhythm, understanding where
my shots are coming to come from in the offense, when to be aggressive, when
to pass the ball," he said. "This is what I expected. I put a lot of work in
the gym, and what people don't expect is when you don't have the time and when
you're out for so long, people expect you to just come out there, step on the
court, and be amazing. That's really not how it works. There's a process to
being a great player out there. You have to put in the time, you have to put
in the work, and I wasn't able to do that over a three-week period, and so I'm
coming along a little slower than normally, but it's coming."
I believe most NBA observers think the best small forward in the Atlantic
Division resides in New York (Carmelo Anthony), but I'll go with the guy in
Boston who you know you can win a championship with.
Atlanta suffered what seemed to be a devastating blow when starting center Al
Horford went down with a torn left pectoral muscle that could sideline him the
rest of the season. But the Hawks have held up exceptionally well without
their two-time All Star, putting up an 8-2 mark since he went down. It's
taken a collective team effort to continue their winning ways , but the one
player who has really stood out is Josh Smith. The versatile power forward has
taken his game to another level since Horford's injury, especially trying to
fill the rebounding and defensive void left by his absence. In the ten games
without their starting center, Smith has averaged 10.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks
per game, in addition to the 15.8 points and 3.4 assists he's contributing.
The Heat gladly welcomed Dwyane Wade back to the lineup on Friday, but they
did just fine without him, winning eight of the nine games he was sidelined,
including one in which LeBron James sat also. Chris Bosh, who has been
tentative at times offensively, and has had to take a back seat to Wade and
James since coming to Miami, really stepped up during Wade's absence,
averaging 25.7 ppg during that stretch. The Heat were also helped by the fact
they have a much deeper team this season with the additions of Shane Battier
and rookie point guard Norris Cole.
The Grizzlies did a terrific job last year after losing Rudy Gay to a season-
ending shoulder injury, and they're doing the same this season as they await
the return of former All-Star Zach Randolph, who is sidelined until early
March after suffering a torn MCL in his right knee on New Year's day. The
Grizzlies are 9-6 since losing Randolph, which includes a seven-game winning
streak, and are only two games back of the first place Mavericks in the
Southwest Division. Center Marc Gasol, who is playing at an all-star caliber
level. is a big reason why Memphis has held up so well without their talented
power forward. Gasol's numbers are up from last season in all of the major
statistical categories, and is playing even better since Randolph went down,
as he's averaging 15.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 3.7 assists per
Chicago has the league's second-best record (17-5), despite Derrick Rose
(five games), Richard Hamilton (11 games), and Luol Deng (four games) missing
chunks of playing time. It's a testament to the Bulls' depth that they've
played so well even with all the injuries they've had to deal with. They
arguably have the best center-power forward bench combo in Omer Asik and Taj
Gibson. Asik, as a matter of fact, has a better per 48-minute rebounding
(16.4) and shot-blocking (3.7) average than Joakim Noah (15.6 rebounds and 2.2
blocks), and has the second-best defensive rating in the league this season
according to basketball-reference.com.
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.