They have seen the future of the NBA in the past two exhibition games, and now the Utah Jazz will get a look at what some are calling the past. The Boston Celtics, the most legendary of all NBA teams, will play the Jazz in tonight's exhibition game at the Dee Events Center. Tipoff is 8 p.m.
The game is being billed as the first sellout in Dee Center history.Despite winning 52 games last season, reports have it that the proud Celtics are on the way out. Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale have probably seen better days. The Brian Shaw incident over the summer - in which he attempted to ignore his Celtics contract and play in Europe - kept team plans in doubt for weeks. "People are putting us off to the side. I kind of like that, being the underdog and not having the pressure to be at the top," said Celtics first-year coach Chris Ford.
But others aren't so ready to agree. "They've still got great players," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "Anytime you've got Bird, McHale, Parish and Reggie Lewis, you're going to be pretty good."
Ford isn't taking the concerns lightly. In hopes of halting the decline - they lost out in the first round of the playoffs last year - he is installing an up-tempo attack. It worked well enough in the exhibition opener - after a 10-day training camp - to give the Celtics a 116-98 win over NBA champion Detroit. Ford said Boston scored 41 points off transition play in that game.
That was followed by a Friday night game at Denver.
Concerns that the Three Wise Men, McHale, Parish and Bird, wouldn't adjust well to the changes are unfounded, said Ford. "They feel comfortable. We'll push the ball up quickly, and if we don't get the open shot, we'll look for a secondary way by looking to our inside people."
Naturally, the biggest Boston concern is Larry Bird. He is now two years removed from heel surgery, and Ford says he hopes the form that made Bird famous will return. Prior to camp, Bird's back started hurting, but he is "slowly getting into shape."
"In the first outing he wasn't on top of his game, but he's geting closer to where he wants to be. Larry is going to be the Larry of old," Ford continued.
Celtics players who aren't expected to play due to injuries are rookie Dee Brown and veteran John Bagley.
Meanwhile, the Jazz 0-3 in exhibition play, plan to continue expending most of their energies looking at young players. So far they have played two of the league's more promising teams - Chicago (twice) and Phoenix - losing all three games. Not to worry, says Sloan. "Chicago has mostly veteran players and they've been out there on the court; that's why they're winning games," Sloan said.
The Jazz aren't in great condition. Rookie Walter Palmer sat on the sidelines resting through Friday's practice, guard Jeff Malone missed due to a bout with the flu (he is expected to be ready for Saturday's game), and swingman Blue Edwards has a cut over his eye, sustained in Friday's practice.