Will the new decade mark the return of the titans in the NBA?
With the new NBA underway, old memories have returned as the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers are dominating the East and West respectively. The Celtics (17) and the Lakers (16) combine for nearly half the titles in NBA history. Boston last won a title in 2008 while the Lakers last won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Both teams suffered as their key players retired and while Boston has slowly rebuilt, the Lakers have taken a more aggressive approach towards reforming their lineup.
At the start of the current season, Boston wasn't expected to show its current dominance. They received Kemba Walker after losing Kyrie Irving and the performance was expected to be similar to that of the previous season. Turns out that they are on track to be far better. Kemba Walker has been a blessing in disguise for the Celtics. His presence behaves like a coolant to the heated, explosive young core and that has allowed Brad Stevens to unleash the true potential of the team.
In the young team, Kemba's agility and speed have proved to be a more important factor than Kyrie's handles and shooting (not to say that Kemba doesn't do that stuff). The Celtics atmosphere has also returned to the 'shoot until you score' pattern, a notable change from the 'score or pass it to the guy who can' style. Their method of keeping it even between Marcus Smart, Jayson Taytum, and Jaylen Brown is working quite well. Enes Kanter has also been a valuable addition to the team.
The Lakers, on the other hand, had standards set from Day 1 of the season. With Anthony Davis, Danny Green, Dwight Howard and others joining the team they had no excuses to make this time after LeBron's injury last year. They haven't just managed to keep expectations, they've surpassed them by quite a bit.
With LeBron and AD running the show the bench and younger core seem to have newfound inspiration. Alex Caruso has found himself a place in the starting five at times and Kyle Kuzma has turned into a three-point threat in the aftermath of his injury. Avery Bradley and Troy Daniels are important bench points while Javale McGee and Howard are both exceeding their performances from the previous season.
Danny Green is being trusted with the game-winning shots while LeBron diverts the attention to himself. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also fitting in nicely in Frank Vogel's plans of making the team deadly beyond the arc as well as inside the perimeter.
The Lakers, however, must work on maintaining this record. They must focus their energies into winning key games against teams like the LA Clippers, Houston Rockets and Celtics to name a few. They had a hard-fought battle against the Dallas Mavericks and surprisingly the Kings which was unplanned and would have resulted in a big blow to the team morale should they have lost the game. They should aim to get to the point where LeBron doesn't need to play for 30+ minutes so that they don't lose their tempo if anyone picks up an injury.
Meanwhile, the Celtics have already suffered a setback as Gordon Hayward is ruled out for the next six weeks. Kemba did a fine job of stepping up against the Golden State Warriors, who are already missing Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson so the test is yet to come. Hayward's injury should now empower guys like Carsen Edwards and Brad Wanamaker, the former hoping to repeat his fiery game against the Cavaliers in the preseason.
While Kemba might be the main guy dishing the ball around for some time now his shooting is also vital and Brad Stevens will have to find the right balance to ensure the team continues their 10-win streak.
The stage seems to have been set though and it will be interesting to see which team comes out on top in this ages-old rivalry to add yet another Championship to their enormous collection.