Changing Face of the Atlantic MORE: Preseason all downhill from here

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Changing Face of the Atlantic MORE: Preseason all downhill from here

Five years ago last month, Kevin Garnett landed in Boston and changed the face of the Atlantic Division.

Or maybe changed the face is the wrong phrase. More accurately, Garnett simply took over. He invaded and pillaged the Atlantic like a White Walker after sundown.

That first season, the Celtics took the division by 25 games.

Of course, most of that had to do with the fact that Boston was a damn good team. Obviously. Now that the Cs have fallen slightly back into the pack, I think we have a much better appreciation for just how great that 2008 squad was. They won 66 games. They went 35-6 at home. They would have won in any division that year. But at the same time, their dominance was enhanced by a lack of competition.

Back in 2007, the rest of the Atlantic was a ghost town. The Knicks were stuck in the Isiah Years. The Nets were on their last lap with Jason Kidd. The Sixers were figuring out life after AI. The Raptors were OK, but never a threat. They were the best worst team in basketball. And all of a sudden, they were sharing a division with an NBA super power.

In Year 2, even with Garnett injured down the stretch, the Celtics won the Atlantic by 21 games. In Year 3, with KG hurting, Big Baby pouting and Rasheed Wallace stinking everything up, Boston fell back to Earth with 50 wins, but still won the division by 10. In Year 4, Perk trade and all, the Celtics won by 14. Last year, they started slowly, but went on a late run to claim the Atlantic by three. Three games.

From 25 to three, things have obviously changed.

Over the last five years, the Knicks have freed themselves from Isiah's crippling insanity. The Nets were purchased by a crazy Russian billionaire, determined to compete at all costs, and moved to Brooklyn. The 76ers drafted well, found the right coach and were bought by a young HarvardWharton-educated owner. The Raptors are down, but can only get better.

When KG arrived in Boston, the Atlantic was void of star power. You had Chris Bosh and little else in Toronto. A bunch of spare, awkward parts in New York. Young Andre Iguodala flailing in Philly. Kidd and Vince Carter past their primes in New Jersey. Today, you look around and its hard to believe the talent that surrounds the Celtics.

Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Brooke Lopez, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner . . . and now, Andrew Bynum.

There are about 1,500 different storylines surrounding today's enormous Dwight Howard trade, and as far as I can tell there's only one positive for Boston: They got Howard out of the conference. I don't care where he went, or who else changed teams, one of the biggest and best defensive players in NBA history no longer stands between the Celtics and the NBA Finals. That's a good thing. But after that, it was a tough day for Boston. Emotionally (with Howard going to the Lakers) and in a pure basketball sense.

As A. Sherrod Blakely pointed out this afternoon, moving forward, Andrew Bynum's presence will concern the Celtics far more than Howard's absence. Obviously, Bynum's a bit of a wild card physically. If he isn't healthy, the conversation will change. But assuming he stays on the court, the transformation of the Atlantic Division is just about complete.

From the most boring and one-sided segment of the NBA world, to one of the most competitive divisions in the league.

In a way, we knew it would eventually happen. There was no way that an entire division could stay down for so long without a worthy challenger finally scraping its way to the surface. But all of a sudden, there are three of them.

Fortunately for Boston, Kevin Garnett's still here. Five years older, but still willing and able to defend his kingdom.

But for he and the Celtics, the days of feasting on the Atlantic have disappeared in the rear view.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Terry Rozier believes he can build off his postseason opportunity

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Terry Rozier believes he can build off his postseason opportunity

BOSTON – If you look at Terry Rozier’s basketball odyssey, it is filled with moments in which the 6-foot-2 guard got a shot to make an impact and more often than not, he did.

During Boston’s first-round playoff series against Atlanta, Rozier went from a seldom-used reserve into a viable option off the bench that head coach Brad Stevens turned to a lot.

In fact, Rozier’s playing time in the playoffs more than doubled (19.8 minutes) from the minutes he logged per game (8.0) during the regular season.

“With this business, how it works, it’s all about opportunity,” Rozier said. “And my opportunity just happened to come (in the playoffs).”

And Rozier for the most part made the most of it.

It was an opportunity Rozier believes he can build on during the offseason with a goal being to cement a spot for himself in the team’s regular rotation.

He understands all too well that his opportunity to play more was due in large part to Avery Bradley suffering a right hamstring injury of the fourth quarter of Boston’s Game 1 loss at Atlanta.

The increased playing time naturally brought about a bump in his overall stats as his scoring (4.8 points versus 1.8), rebounding (3.4 versus 1.6) and effective shooting percentage (.478 versus .302) all underwent a significant increase.

“I try to take advantage of it as much as I can,” Rozier said of his increased role. “Whether it was rebounding, whatever the coach needed me to do. Like I said, I was happy to be out there just to enjoy the time with a lot of my teammates. It’s been a great year. I had a lot of fun.”

But as Rozier will soon find out, past success doesn’t necessarily correlate with improved play going forward.

In addition to putting in the necessary work to improve physically, Rozier knows he has to step his game up mentally, too.

The best players in the league have a certain swagger, an elite level of confidence about them that often separates them from the masses.

Rozier isn’t quite there yet, but having been given an opportunity to see his most action in the postseason can only help.

“I’m gonna feel more confident,” he said. “Not too many rookies can say they played in the playoffs. It’s definitely going to give me a boost for summer league. I’ll have the ball in my hands a lot. It’s definitely going to be a confidence booster.”

Among the areas that Rozier sees as an absolute-must for him next season is being more vocal with his teammates.

“This year was more learning, watching it and all the veterans,” he said. “Next year, I think I can take on a bigger role.”

Boston’s Evan Turner agrees.

“He’s going to be a good player in this league,” Turner told CSNNE.com. “He already defends at an NBA-level, a high level, so that’s half the battle right there. He just has to get more comfortable with his game, with his teammates and he’ll be fine.”

One thing that hasn’t been a problem for Rozier thus far in the NBA is rebounding.

This past season, he averaged 9.7 rebounds per 48 minutes which ranked 8th in the NBA. And his offensive rebound average per 48 minutes (3.7) was tops among players who logged at least 300 minutes this past season.

“It goes back to me just the way I grew up,” Rozier said. “Rebounding was always my thing. It’s something you can’t teach; it’s part of toughness. That’s something, I don’t think it’s ever going to leave me.”

Rozier said his goal next season is to average at least five rebounds per game which would put him in some pretty exclusive company.

This past season, only 12 guards averaged at least five rebounds who logged more than 300 minutes per game.

But as Rozier has shown us thus far, he can be an impactful player when given an opportunity – something he believes he will get more of next season.

“I can’t wait until next season,” Rozier said. “I felt (our season) was cut a little short. But unfortunately, things come to an end. We’ll be back next season. We’ll be better; I’ll be better. That’s the most important thing.”

Tonight's lineups: Red Sox vs. Yankees

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Tonight's lineups: Red Sox vs. Yankees

Rick Porcello attempts to increase his record to 6-0 as he starts tonight for the Red Sox against the Yankees in the opener of their three-game series in New York.

Tonight's lineups:

RED SOX
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DB
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Brock Holt LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Christian Vazquez C
---
Rick Porcello P

YANKEES
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Brian McCann C
Carlos Beltran DH
Starlin Castro 2B
Aaron Hicks RF
Didi Gregorius SS
Ronnie Torreyes 3B
---
Michael Pineda P

 

Friday, May 6: Boudreau excited at prospect of coaching Senators

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Friday, May 6: Boudreau excited at prospect of coaching Senators

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while fairly certain I’ll never be buying Tom Brady’s $200 cookbook:

-- Good piece on NBC’s Inside the Glass man Pierre McGuire, who is once again doing yeoman’s work during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

-- Bruce Boudreau is excited at the prospect of coaching the Senators as he readies for an interview with Ottawa. Boudreau would be a good fit there, given his past history with offensively talented teams.

-- Down Goes Brown lists their top-10 old guys without a Stanley Cup whose playoff hopes are still alive in this current postseason.

-- You’ve got to love the fancy stats crew that, when their team is down 3-1 in a playoff series, contends it’s all based on luck. No, it’s based on the other team scoring more goals than your team rather than which team is winning the puck-possession battle.

-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer ripping the goalie interference replay system, saying it’s been “clear as mud” all season after it cost the Sharks in their triple-overtime loss to Nashville. It feels like he’s got a point: I thought the Joe Pavelski goal should have been a game-winner too rather than be waved off for goalie interference.

-- It looks like the mighty have fallen quite: Stephane Da Costa isn’t on France’s World Championships roster after being in the NHL a couple of years ago. Or maybe the mighty are just hurt after playing last season in the KHL. It’s tough to tell at this point for the former Merrimack hockey star.

-- The massive nation of China is becoming a growing incubator for budding young hockey players and could become a new resource for the NHL.

-- For something completely different: For a Lego commercial for Star Wars movies that still don’t come out for almost a year, this is pretty great.