Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett
Bucks: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Tobias Harris, Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert
Tuesday night, the NBA regular season opened with the defending champion Heat taking on the Boston Celtics in Miami. The champs got their rings, showed off a further improved lineup — featuring ex-Celtic Ray Allen — and dumped 120 points on a Boston team predicated on defense. Plus, the Celtics spent the offseason obsessed over the Heat like a jilted ex-girlfriend stalking her former beau’s Facebook statuses.
Suffice it to say that they will be an ornery bunch tonight.
Then we have the Bucks, NBA vagabonds when it comes to season openers.
On October 27, 1984, Michael Jordan played his first-ever NBA game — in Milwaukee. He scored 23 points. The game was the last time the Bucks opened a season at home.
It was also David Stern’s first time opening a regular season as NBA Commissioner. Stern will soon finish a 30-year run in the NBA’s top job, a three-decade stretch during which the Bucks were considered worthy of a home opener exactly once. If Stern channeled Rhett Butler, his response to the plaintive cries of the Bucks might be, “Frankly, my Deer, I don’t give a damn.” (Thanks to Scott Zimmerman (@Scott_Z57) for that line.)
As Opening Games go, the Bucks are in somewhat of a pinch. They get a road game against a legitimate title-contending opponent — and one who is stewing a loss to an imagined and more talented arch-rival. Plus, it’s not like Boston is a big fan of stoicism. They’re an emotional group, chippy at times, prone to acting like a bully (or at least trying to make it look that way.)
The Bucks, for their part, have a fair shot at winning the game. Monta Ellis, named a co-captain yesterday along with Mike Dunleavy, shouldn’t struggle against the Celtics. Neither Jason Terry nor Courtney Lee promises to be the big, physical two-guard that Monta has difficulty guarding. And the Celtics’ floor-slapping, dog-barking won’t faze Ellis or fellow starter Samuel Dalembert, who will get the job of guarding Kevin Garnett. If he can keep the Bucks’ starters even with Boston in the rebounding department, then Milwaukee may thrive.
What the Bucks need most in this game, though, is steady, even-headed performances from Brandon Jennings and Tobias Harris. Harris has started games before (in fact, he started the season-ending game in Boston a season ago), but it’s different with a fresh season on the line and teammates counting on you for production and not just for a glimmer of talent. Tobias is still a 20-year-old susceptible to the ups and downs like most young NBAers. For his part, Jennings needs to play within himself without getting caught up in his recent non-extension, after which he vowed to “audition” for teams for next season. (Can you see me wincing?) Rajon Rondo arguably defends better than any point guard in the NBA; forcing the action his way would be folly.
The Bucks, who cling to modest goals like a ‘C’ student in a family full of Summa Cum Laude-types, still need to win games like this one — games where the deck is stacked mostly in favor the opposition. The playoff berth they covet (“Let’s get a 6-seed!”) may require a +.500 record, and that means they can’t just rely on the easy wins. They need to earn some of the hard ones, too.