WALTHAM, Mass. -- A collection of news and notes after the Boston Celtics practiced Monday afternoon at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint in advance of Tuesday's season-opening blockbuster against the Miami Heat:
TUESDAY'S PRIZE: EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPS ... FOR A DAY
Celtics coach Doc Rivers is quick to point out that, amidst all the hoopla surrounding Tuesday's game, Boston turns around the very next night and plays a far-less ballyhooed game against Cleveland -- and that contest means just as much in the standings.
So while he understands and -- to some degree -- appreciates the hype surrounding Tuesday's showdown at TD Garden, he stressed that the game won't mean much by Wednesday night.
"Once the game starts, [the hype] doesn't matter," said Rivers. "It's going to be the team that plays the best -- one of the two teams is going to win and, whoever wins, will be anointed Eastern Conference champs for a day. The next day we play Cleveland, it’ll go away. I get the buildup; it is a neat game. It’ll be a lot of fun for everybody."
Rivers went so far as to suggest that Boston, the defending Eastern Conference champs, is simply "the other team" in Tuesday's matchup, and that's fine by him.
"All eyes will be on the game in Boston, but all eyes will really be on Miami," said Rivers. "We’re the other team that’s playing. We’re just going to show up. I’m sure everyone is there to see Miami."
Rivers suggested Sunday that coaches typically get anxious and worried as opening day approaches, but that players grow more excited for games that matter. Even still, Celtics guard Ray Allen noted that Tuesday's game is big for Boston, regardless of the opponent.
"I do believe that everybody on this team has been excited about this first game and not because it's Miami," said Allen. "But because it's the first game. Last year is not far from our memory. We're ready to get back to where we were. We know that [Tuesday] night, as much as we're playing [a big game], we're getting on a plane [after] and playing the next day too. We want to start the season off on the right foot."
Captain Paul Pierce said the Celtics are simply glad to have a nice measuring stick game out of the gates.
“I think it probably means more to [the media] and the fans than us," said Pierce. "We’re looking at this as it’s definitely exciting when you get a team of that caliber. Nobody has seen that type of talent on one team.
"I’m hyped because it’s the start of the season. Definitely, there is a lot of excitement in the air. You’ve got two heavyweights going at it. A lot of predictions have been made. Everybody is excited for the NBA season. A lot of changes have been made, especially in Miami and with us. I’m taking this as any other regular-season game. It’s important for us to get off to a really good start and just kind of set the tone for the season."
SHAQ 'MOST LIKELY' WILL START AT CENTER
While Rivers said the Celtics haven't made a formal declaration on who will start at center Tuesday, it's been widely assumed Shaquille O'Neal will get the call.
"Most likely Shaq, but we haven't officially announced anything," said Rivers. "But most likely him."
With Jermaine O'Neal sidelined through much of training camp (hamstring) and missing four exhibition games in part because of two other ailments (back, left wrist), it's been widely assumed Shaq would be the starter.
That also appears to be the right decision based on the team's performance this preseason. Shaq helped open the floor offensively by forcing the opposing center to stick with him and didn't prove to be as much of a liability defensively as some expected (though Boston certainly has put the onus on its guards to get over screens in the pick-and-roll).
Rivers also said that rookie center Semih Erden (shoulder) is likely to dress, but wouldn't tip his hand on how the rest of Boston's active roster will look for the first of 82 games.
As for the Heat, the Celtics are preparing as if Miami will have a completely healthy Dwyane Wade (Rivers said to pencil him in for 40 minutes) and find its chemistry immediately, despite the lack of time together in the preseason.
"Great players figure it out," said Rivers. "They’ll be great, we understand that. The summer they had, all the talk and anticipation. We’re going to get great players that are really fired up. So, in that way, it won’t be like a normal regular-season game. You’ll see those three guys at full speed, full blast."
Asked if he was curious how Miami's Big Three would come together, Pierce said, “I’m not really curious because I know they’re going to figure it out. They’re great players. Great players are always going to find a way to figure it out. My worries are more with what’s going on with this basketball club."
Rivers suggested his biggest worry with his own team is consistency.
"I like us, but we have yet to play a whole game, in my opinion," said Rivers. "That concerns me. We’ve been a spurt team, and that concerns me because we’re a veteran team. Spurt and veteran teams usually don’t go together. When veteran teams get down in the middle [of games], they don’t have the legs to make a spurt. We have to be more consistent. When we’re playing at a good level, I like us against everybody. We haven’t done it against anybody yet."
LOOSE BALLS: CLEVELAND FANS CHEER, THEN BOO C'S; DEFENDING JAMES AND WADE TOGETHER
* Allen provided the line of the day, noting that fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers would be rooting vehemently for the Celtics to beat LeBron James and his new team Tuesday night, then flop to the opposite end of the spectrum when the new-look Cavs open their season against Boston the next night. Like the old joke, Cleveland's favorite teams now are the Cavaliers and whoever is playing the Heat.
* Pierce on defending James: "LeBron, he’s definitely an extra-special talent. We had Tony [Allen, now with Memphis] but by no means did Tony defend him by himself. We're a team defense. It’s hard to defend LeBron one-on-one. They set a lot of plays they run through him, they set a lot of picks for him. He’s so dangerous in transition, so it’s going to be important for five guys to always be aware of where he is. The bad thing about it is they have Dwayne Wade on the other side now, so you know we just have to have our antennas up at all times, along with Chris Bosh, and be very aware where all these guys are on the court at all times. When LeBron has the ball, we have to be low and have one or two guys right there looking at him, and when they swing it to Wade, same thing there."
Allen stressed that not turning the ball over, something that plagued Boston much of last season and this year during the preseason slate, is key to limiting the damage done by both Wade and James.
"I think, defense-wise, transition defense is important to us," said Allen. "We have to get back and stop the ball. The Heat have two of best players in the NBA in the open court, so we've got to get back and load up our defense. We can’t turn the ball over. We turned the ball over in the preseason, the last couple games we kind of got a handle on it, but if we turn the ball over on this team, they'll score on us in transition. We have to give our defense a chance to set up."
* It's like the NBA Finals, minus the international media. That's the way Boston's media relations staff put Tuesday's game into perspective in terms of press coverage. More than 500 credentials are expected to be issued to media outlets from across the nation. Clearly, Tuesday's game transcends even sports, as CNN had a news crew in town starting Monday to cover the event.