Celtics

Maria pain-free after her first Aussie match

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Maria pain-free after her first Aussie match

From Comcast SportsNet
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Maria Sharapova said it felt like "forever" since she last played a match without pain, although she didn't hang around long on Hisense Arena to enjoy the experience. Finally recovered from a left ankle injury she sustained in September, the Russian reeled off the first eight games in a 6-0, 6-1 rout of Gisela Dulko on Tuesday. "I couldn't wait to start," the 2008 Australian Open champion said. "It's just nice to go into a match you know that you're going to compete again at such a high level in front of so many people, especially a place where I've won before." Sharapova said the ankle, which forced her to pull out of a planned tuneup event in Brisbane, was no longer troubling her. She may only be 24, but Sharapova is playing in her ninth Australian Open and the three-time Grand Slam winner said she is experienced enough to cope with not playing any matches coming into a major tournament. Since a breakthrough win at Wimbledon in 2004, Sharapova's career has been punctuated by a series of injuries. She was out of action for nine months until May 2009 after right shoulder surgery. Now, her focus is on being as healthy as possible when the major titles are on the line. "I'd rather come in feeling good physically than feeling like I played a lot of matches," she said. "It's more important to me than anything. "I've been on the tour for many years, played enough tournaments, I just want to be as ready as I can for the big ones." ------ BROTHERLY LOVE: Rift? What rift? Andy Roddick believes that talk of tension between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been completely overblown. Earlier this week, Nadal criticized Federer in the Spanish media for not doing enough to push the players' demands for changes to the men's game, allowing others to "burn themselves" to make conditions better for everybody. The Spaniard later apologized for airing his disagreement with Federer in public. "Those guys have been the model of a respectful rivalry in sports, so for it to be represented any differently is unfortunate," Roddick said Tuesday after his first-round win at the Australian Open. "I think this is all new territory for us. I think, if anything, it probably taught us that we have to choose our words very wisely right now when talking about it because it is a sensitive issue." The players held a meeting on Saturday to discuss their concerns about the tour, which include the length of the season, the number of tournaments players are required to enter, and the prize money at Grand Slam tournaments. Roddick says there's no "quick fix" to the problems, but he believes the players have a unity they lacked before. "It is fascinating to see how it will play out," he says. "You know, I think as the product, I don't think we should underestimate our leverage in this game, especially if we do have one voice." ------ U.S. REVIVAL: Sloane Stephens says there's no need for hand-wringing over the future of American women's tennis in the post-Williams era -- the kids are going to be all right. The 18-year-old Florida native, who hit a career-high ranking of No. 89 last fall, moved into the second round of the Australian Open on Tuesday with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain. Four other American women are also through to the second round -- Serena Williams, Christina McHale, Vania King and Jamie Hampton, a qualifier ranked No. 144 who had only won one WTA-level match coming into the Australian Open. "When (the Williams sisters) stop playing tennis, there'll be someone else to take their spot," says Stephens, who also reached the third round of the U.S. Open last year. "You're kind of like searching for someone to be there right now and I don't think that's going to happen. But there's a lot of us, so who knows who could break through." She says now that a few of the younger Americans have broken into the top 100 -- McHale (No. 42), Irina Falconi (No. 81) and herself -- there's more competition among them, which will only make them better in the long run. "Definitely when we have camps and we're practicing together, it's serious, it's no joke. On changeovers, it'll be ha-ha, hee-hee, but when it's time to play, it's like, OK, I'm going to cut you." Just because they're starting to come into their own, though, doesn't mean they're not still in awe of the elder stateswoman of the tour: Serena. Stephens was so star-struck at a recent tournament, she almost didn't say hello. "She was really nice," Stephens says. "I don't think she knew who I was." ------ VETERAN RIVALRY: Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt have been on the ATP Tour a combined 24 years, but surprisingly, they've only played each other 13 times. The two veterans meet in the second round of the Australian Open after each won on Tuesday. There are many similarities between the players: career records (Roddick is 589-197, Hewitt 551-205), titles (Roddick has 30, Hewitt 28), prize money (Roddick has 20 million, Hewitt 19 million). Roddick, however, has a 7-6 edge in their head-to-head record -- and he has won the last six times they've played dating back to 2005. He's also ranked 16th and Hewitt has slumped to 181. Still, Roddick expects a close match. "I've won the most recent meetings, but I think out of the six that I've won, four or five have gone the distance," he says. "We always have a bit of a war." For that reason, the match could well be scheduled during the evening session on Rod Laver Arena. Hewitt was part of the latest finish in Australian Open history four years ago, closing out victory over Marcos Baghdatis at 4.33 a.m. "I don't really want to have too many of the Baghdatis matches again," Hewitt said. "Go home and McDonald's is already open on the way home for breakfast."

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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