December 28, 2011

Two days after opening the 2011-12 regular season with a road game against the Phoenix Suns, the New Orleans Hornets commence their home schedule by taking on the veteran-laden Boston Celtics. Wednesdays game marks the final stop of a season-opening, three-game road trip for the Celtics, who also were scheduled to visit New York and Miami this week.

Due to the revised, 66-game NBA schedule, Wednesdays interconference meeting in the Hive marks the only time in 2011-12 that the Hornets and Celtics will face each other. The clubs each prevailed on the others home floor in 2010-11, including a dramatic New Years Eve victory by New Orleans in Boston.

Since these two clubs most recent regular season encounter in March, the Celtics starting lineup and rotation remain largely unchanged, but the Hornets have an altered look, thanks partly to the recent trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. Shooting guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman and small forward Al-Farouq Aminu are expected to make their Hive debuts Wednesday, part of what Hornets general manager Dell Demps recently described as a new era for Hornets fans.

Gordon is a high-scoring, accurate perimeter shooter who gives the Hornets their most proven offensive option at his position in years. The four-year NBA veteran, who turned 23 years of age on Christmas, averaged 22.3 points per game with the Clippers in 2010-11. Kaman was a Western Conference All-Star in 2009-2010, the highlight of whats been a solid nine-year pro career. Meanwhile, Aminu said recently that an individual goal of his for 2011-12 is to be selected to play in the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge game at NBA All-Star weekend.

Intriguing matchup: Shooting guard, Eric Gordon vs. Ray Allen
Two of the NBAs most feared offensive weapons meet on Hive opening night. Due to injuries, Gordon did not play in enough games last season (56) to qualify for the NBAs scoring average leaders, but otherwise he wouldve been ranked 13th among all players. Allen who has been known to arrive at the arena as many as six hours before tip-off to hone his shooting touch connected on the fifth-most three-pointers in the NBA last season. Allen went 168-for-378 from beyond the arc, an accuracy rate of 44.4 percent. Allen has also drained more three-pointers than anyone in NBA history. He surpassed Reggie Miller atop the all-time list last season.


Since forming the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in the summer of 2007, the Boston Celtics have been one of the NBAs premier teams. In their first season together, the trio spearheaded Boston to the 2007-08 league championship, prevailing over the Los Angeles Lakers four games to two in the NBA Finals. Partly due to an injury to Garnett, the Celtics were unable to defend their crown in 2009, but they returned to the NBA Finals in 2010, falling to their historical rivals, the Lakers, in a classic seven-game series. Boston was a title contender again last season, but was ousted by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat in the second round. With Garnett (35 years old), Allen (36) and Pierce (34) in their mid-30s and in their fifth season together, the future is now for one of the NBAs oldest teams.

Whats new
The most significant offseason addition for the Celtics is a familiar face to Hornets fans, 6-foot-8 power forward Brandon Bass. The 26-year-old an LSU product and former Hornets reserve provides frontcourt depth and aggressive interior play for the Celtics. With injuries hampering some of the Celtics veteran big men in recent years, Bass could fill a prominent role in Boston, after his minutes often fluctuated in recent stints with Orlando and Dallas. Incidentally, Bass was traded to the Celtics for another former LSU Tiger, Glen Big Baby Davis. Aside from the Bass acquisition, Boston made few major offseason changes to the roster. In early December, the Celtics traded for backup point guard Keyon Dooling and signed free agent forward Chris Wilcox.

Celtics star
The title of best player on the Celtics has frequently changed hands over the past few years, sometimes from week to week, with Garnett, Allen and Pierce sharing a similar scoring load and role as go-to guy. However, many believe the clubs MVP is now sixth-year point guard Rajon Rondo. The quick, long-armed defender is one of the best all-around players at any position in the NBA, averaging 10.6 points, 11.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals. Few players in the league can affect a game as much as the multi-dimensional Rondo without scoring, a trait that has made him an ideal fit while surrounded by talented wing players including Pierce and Allen.

Celtic on the rise
With so many key contributors in their prime or nearing the latter stages of their careers, its been difficult for young players to crack Bostons rotation during the Big Three era. The Celtics invested in their future to an extent this offseason, however, when they acquired Purdue standouts JaJuan Johnson and ETwaun Moore during the 2011 NBA Draft.

On the sideline
Celtics head coach Glenn Doc Rivers shares several connections with key members of the New Orleans organization, having been a teammate of both Monty Williams and Dell Demps on the 1995-96 San Antonio Spurs. Rivers is now in his eighth season at the helm for the Celtics. During his tenure he has guided Boston to one NBA title (2008) and four straight Atlantic Division championships. Rivers earned the nickname Doc from a coach as a youngster, when Rivers wore a Julius Erving (known as Dr. J) T-shirt to a basketball camp. Rivers son, Austin Rivers, is a star freshman guard at Duke University.

Did you know?
The Celtics are the most successful team in NBA history, with 17 championships. Next on the list are the Los Angeles Lakers with 16 league titles, followed by Chicagos six (all won during the 1990s with Michael Jordan as the Bulls star player). When Boston captured the 08 crown, it ended a 22-year drought for the storied franchise. The 1990s were the only full decade in NBA history that the Celtics were not crowned NBA champions.

Players the Celtics want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Celtics need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (entering 2011-12)
Ray Allen 89.3
Shot over 90 percent in five of the past six seasons.
Paul Pierce 80.5
Career-best 86 percent from stripe in 2010-11.
Keyon Dooling 80.0
Backup PG much better than starter Rondo (62.2 career).
Name Career three-point percentage (entering 2011-12)
Ray Allen 39.9
Has made more three-pointers (2,612) than anyone in NBA history.
Paul Pierce 36.9
Relies more heavily on drives and mid-range shots in clutch spots.
Keyon Dooling 35.0
May help Cs improve from 26th in three-point makes last season.

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