BOSTON (CBS) — Following a four-month break in action, the NBA is going to conclude its season down in Orlando. With a bubble setting in place that will have all teams playing at Walt Disney World Resorts, home-court advantage in the playoffs is no longer a factor.
That’s great news for the Boston Celtics, according to TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith. “The Jet” joined WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton to discuss the NBA’s restart, and says Boston has as good a chance as any team to surprise people this postseason.
The Celtics went an impressive 43-21 during the regular season and currently sit at the No. 3 seed in the East ahead of the NBA’s resumption. Kemba Walker fit in seamlessly with his new team and there was no sophomore slump for Jayson Tatum, who is quickly rising into superstar status. Add in Jaylen Brown becoming a near-elite two-way player and Gordon Hayward having his best season in green, and the Celtics were one of the more surprising teams in the NBA before COVID-19 put a halt to the season.
With the season now just a week away from tipping off again, Smith believes the Celtics could be one of the last teams standing.
“They have the best shot that they’ve had in the last five years,” he said. “They lost games that I felt, ‘Man, they’re not experienced enough to win Game 6 on the road.’ There is no road. Everyone is in the same playing field with no hostile environment; there is no fans, there is no travel to get there and mentally get prepared, there is no inexperience at play here. The great teams are still going to play great, but the young teams don’t have that to fight anymore,” he continued. “To me, that is a huge advantage for the Boston Celtics.
“I see that Super Bowl poster behind you — you could have a new poster behind you, because they have an opportunity to do something,” Smith said to Burton, referring to the Patriots Super Bowl poster that graces his backdrop. “The anxiety of being on the road is gone.”
Walker is going to be a big part of Boston’s success, but there are concerns about a lingering knee injury that just won’t go away. The point guard has been limited in practices down in Orlando, and that comes with four months of rest.
Smith spoke glowingly of Walker — who is helping the analyst out in his virtual camp, The Jet Academy — and the point guard’s ability to make everything easier on his teammates.
“His ability to create for himself and others is unique, especially the size he is at. Typically, that’s for a guy who is 6-foot-7 — you can see that from Jayson Tatum because he can overpower people,” said Smith. “But Kemba’s ability to create offense that isn’t there for his teammates and himself is his most unique and best skill.”
Smith is optimistic that the NBA can pull of the bubble season, just as long as players don’t forget that the threat of COVID-19 still exists — even inside the bubble.
“The biggest challenge is being cautious. It’s the most contagious virus we’ve seen in our lifetime, the most deadly. To not forget that that exists, and that threat exists [is a challenge],” he said. “As things start and it becomes a familiar environment, people can sometimes get lax. I would like for them to remember that, and have it stay on the top shelf.”
Catch more of Smith’s thoughts on the NBA bubble — including the “snitch” line set up in Orlando — and his basketball camp coming up Sunday night on WBZ-TV’s Sports Final!