Celtics

Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals preview: Game 1

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Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals preview: Game 1

It will all come down to defense in the end for the Boston Bruins.

Their bread and butter is keeping the opposition out of the back of their net, and that defense takes on many Black and Gold forms. There will be Patrice Bergeron manning a shutdown forward group with Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, and showing exactly why he's the favorite to take home the Selke Trophy this season. It will be interesting to see how Bruins coach Claude Julien deploys his shutdown forward line and his shutdown "D" pairing of Zdeno CharaDennis Seidenberg with the Capitals splitting up their elite forward groups.

Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom are with rugged forward Jason Chimera on one line, and Alex Ovechkin is bombing down the wing on a crash-and-bang line with Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. So much will be asked of second defensemen pairing Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference, and perhaps they'll get some assistance from defense-minded centers like Bergeron and Chris Kelly.

"It's about everybody on the ice -- all six guys -- knowing exactly who is out there. Especially when it's the guys with high skill level," said Bergeron. "We need to make sure we look behind our shoulders for the man without the puck. Their skill guys are great players and they make great plays. We need to play together, communicate a lot and hang tough in our own zone."

One area the Bruins don't want to dwell too much on is Chara's mission to shut down Ovechkin. It's pretty clear the B's Captain will be on the ice whenever the Russian superstar hops over the boards, but Claude Julien felt like that was short-changing the rest of the players on both teams.

"I think people are forgetting about the rest of the players in the series," said Julien in a chiding tone. "There's more than these two. They certainly play a big role, but at the same time there's a lot more depth from both sides. There are a lot of players that can do some damage in this series. We have to stay aware of that. It's a lot of hype for the media, but for us as coaches we prepare for a little bit more than that."

All that being said, Julien will be calling No. 33's number early and often just to be safe.

PLAYER MOST IN NEED OF HIS TIRES PUMPED: Joe Corvo. He's been much-maligned after a difficult regular season and he was headed for a bevy of healthy scratches to start the playoffs until Adam McQuaid came down with an upper-body injury. Now it's up to Corvo to make up for his lackluster, mistake-filled regular season and add something to a power play that he'll be a key member of to start. Corvo will be playing the point opposite Zdeno Chara, and should get his share of chances to unleash his heavy shot if the Washington PK is overloading on Chara's side of the ice. Otherwise Claude Julien won't be taking too many chances throwing Corvo on the ice to start things up.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: "We don't even talk about that. We're focusing on Game 1. You can't be looking at something whenyou're not eventhere" --Zdeno Chara when asked about Boston's desire to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

KEY MATCHUP: What else but Chara vs. Ovechkin? Thegap-toothed Russian superstar sniper against the cold-blooded superhumanly big and strong Bruins defenseman. This is like a match made in Ivan Drago's dreams. Chara has consistently had good luck against the rugged, skilled Ovechkinbecauseboth players like to inflict their will through physicality, and Ovechkin has perhaps lost a little bit of his speed as age and conditioning have caught up to him. He is still Ovie, however. If theCaps star winger goes off then the Bruins are in trouble, but if Chara is able to bottle up and frustrate Ovechkin then the series is won. Expect Washington to do whatever they can to get Ovechkinattacking from Dennis Seidenberg's side of the ice, but Chara willstill be involvedheavilyin Operation Shutdown Ovechkin.

STAT TO WATCH: 87 -- the number of points that Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin combined for while onthe ice together this season. It's the third-highestin the NHL behind lines headed by Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg.

INJURIES: Tomas Vokoun (groin) and MichaelNeuvirth (lower body) are not expected to be available. Neuvirth might be able to go later in this round; Vokoun's return is murky as the series begins. The Bruins announced Wednesday that right wing Nathan Horton will not be available this postseason because of a concussion. Defenseman Adam McQuaid (upper body)and backup goaltender Tuukka Rask (groinabdomen)are both out for Game 1, though defenseman Johnny Boychuk (knee)is expected to play despite a knee injury.
GOALIE MATCHUP: Tim Thomas is only the second goaltender in NHL history to win the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup all in one season, and all hockey eyes are looking to see if he can recreate the brilliance while turning 38 years old this month. He'll need to be excellent if the Bruins are hoping for a deep run. Braden Holtby has 21 games of NHL experience and has never appeared in an NHL playoff game prior to Thursday night. He is Washington's third string goaltender and it would be an amazing story if he somehow backstops the Capitals to success in this playoff series.

All signs point to LeBron James playing against Celtics Tuesday

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All signs point to LeBron James playing against Celtics Tuesday

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- A sprained left ankle injury kept LeBron James out of all but one of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason games, and has created a certain element of uncertainty as to whether he’ll play against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. 
 
While it has yet to be determined for sure if he’ll play, all indications are that the 15-year veteran will be in the starting lineup as the Cavs kick off their quest to remain the team to beat in the East.

“I never hide stuff from you guys. I really don’t know,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said when asked if James would play against the Celtics. “Depending on how he feels, but I really don’t know.”
 
However, James looked pretty comfortable shooting the ball after practice with a trio of former Celtics in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jeff Green. 
 
And if you listen to the man who would likely start in James’ place -- J.R. Smith -- there’s nothing to worry about Cavs Nation. 
 
According to Smith, James will play. 
 
“We were talking about it, he’s never missed, since he was 8 years old and he started playing, he’s never missed a first game,” Smith said. “I’m preparing for him to play.”
 
Despite having played more than 41,000 minutes -- only 33 players in NBA history have done so -- James has been one of the game’s more durable players. Last season James he sat out only eight games, and that was the most he has missed in a single season.
 
 "He's gonna go [Tuesday]," Smith said. "He's gonna go, trust me [on] that. I don't care what he's gotta do, he's gonna play."
 

Celtics may spend a good part of the year playing 'Getting To Know You'

Celtics may spend a good part of the year playing 'Getting To Know You'

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- It’s hard to believe the Celtics are just hours away from their first regular-season game after having been together for less than a month. 
 
The quick turnaround isn't all that different than it is for the other 29 teams in the NBA.  But the Celtics, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season, are returning only four players -- and just one starter -- from last year.
 
Training camp was indeed a crash course called Getting to Know My Teammates 101.
 
But listening to the players, and coach Brad Stevens, it’s clear there will be lessons learned all season long.

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“We have a good feel about how things can look, in the preseason,” said Al Horford. “But it is the preseason. Now it all starts. And right away we face a tough test (in the Cavaliers). But yeah, we’ll start learning even more. We’ve already learned a good amount, but even more when Tuesday rolls around.” 
 
That's when the Celtics kick off the regular season at Cleveland, which will once again be the favorite to advance to the NBA Finals.
 
Not too far behind (right behind them, by most accounts) are the Celts, whose season ended in the Conference finals a year ago in a five-game loss to the Cavs.
 
And the Boston players collectively feel that, despite the short amount of time together, they’ve developed a good sense of chemistry and understanding of how to play effectively with one another. 
 
Having said that, they also understand that there’s still plenty of room to grow. 
 
“I don’t expect it to be perfect by any means at all,” said Gordon Hayward. “We’ll definitely have some ups and downs this season. Like I said, one thing is we’ll be able to compete every night. We’ll be able to play together. Those things should stay the same.”
 
In many respects, the Cavaliers are going through a similar challenge this season.  They've added Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder -- and, when he recovers from his hip injury, Isaiah Thomas -- to a core group that’s led by LeBron James. 
 
While the increase in talent is undeniable, it’ll take some time before they too develop the kind of on-the-court cohesiveness that comes with time. 
 
“It’s gonna take time,” Rose said. “It’s going to be a process for everybody to learn their roles, learn everybody’s tendencies, and not think while they’re out there.”
 
And while there’s a heightened level of uncertainty as to how things will play out with the Celtics this season, Stevens embraces the unknown. 
 
“I think we're going to be learning about ourselves through the middle of the season,” Stevens said. “I think you do that with every team, but I think that's especially the case now. But this is, I've said this before, like, the first week, the first 10 days, the first few weeks, we have such great and unique challenges that it's gonna be really good for this team regardless."
 
Stevens added: “Because, to have to go into Cleveland with that level of intensity, with that level of attention, distraction, etc., is great. It's great to experience that in game one. A tremendous learning experience for our group. So, we're preparing to play as well as we can. And we know that they're really, really good. But this is, I'm looking forward to it because I want to find out where we are.”

Hayward added, “It’s a fun first game to start the year. Regardless of what happens, we’ll have some improving to do and things to get better at.”
  
 

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