Of the four teams left in the hunt for the NBA title, ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy believes the Pistons have the most balanced roster. He said the Celtics-Pistons matchup in the Eastern Conference will be very tight, and he likes the Lakers over the Spurs in the West.
"Detroit has proven winning experience," said Van Gundy. "I think both [Boston and Detroit] are great defensive teams. I think at some point, Ray Allen has to come alive shooting and scoring for [Boston] to win it. But I was really impressed by their Game 1. I thought to bounce back and play with such physical and mental energy was a testament to their coaching staff and also to their core players."
Van Gundy was a little surprised the Cavaliers pushed the Celtics to a seventh game in the Eastern semifinals.
"I think Boston has a much better team than Cleveland, but Cleveland is putting the best player on the floor every night in [LeBron] James," he said. "I thought Boston defended him as well as they could. They played really great."
Van Gundy said he has always been impressed with Paul Pierce's talent but believes Pierce has added elements to his repertoire.
"He's a great competitor," said Van Gundy. "He loves the game. He came into the league as a great scorer and has steadily improved the other parts of his game. He's a better ballhandler, a better passer. He's a better pick-and-roll player and a better defender than he was when he first came into the league. That goes right to his work ethic and his love for the game."
Van Gundy, who coached the Knicks and Rockets, expects Allen to get back on track against the Pistons.
"I thought in Game 1, he passed up a couple of good opportunities where he could have and should have shot the ball," Van Gundy said. "But other than that, I thought he made some good adjustments in taking the ball to the basket. He's just got to figure it out. Sometimes in these situations, it's up to the player to figure it out. He knows his game, his shot better than anybody else. He's done it really well for a long period of time. I just don't think he should pass up any of those opportunities. He should have absolutely no hesitation to his game at all."
Although Van Gundy expected the Celtics to be much improved, he didn't expect them to win 66 games in the regular season. He said the improvement is a testament to the coaching staff and because Kevin Garnett, Pierce, and Allen bought into the program. The only thing that has been elusive in the playoffs is a win on the road.
"They've earned the right to have home-court advantage," said Van Gundy. "They don't have anything to apologize for, just winning their home games. Certainly they're going to have to win on the road at some point to win a championship. I think you always have to expect to win - when you have home-court advantage like Boston does - at least one road game per series to win the series. That hasn't happened in the first two series, but I would suspect it would happen in this series, that they would need to win a road game to win the series."
A better view?NESN has switched its camera angles during Red Sox home games, showing a better view of the pitchers' delivery. Some readers have praised it. Others weren't as enthused. NESN promotions/public relations manager Gary Roy had this to say about the view via e-mail: "We are always seeking innovative ways to improve our broadcasts. The new center-field camera position allows viewers, for the first time, to see each pitch in relationship to the strike zone more clearly and has quickly become a preferred angle for our color analyst, Jerry Remy. We are continuing to evaluate and tweak the new position, and so far, we are very happy with the feedback from our fans and the results." . . . If you missed Jon Lester's no-hitter Monday, tune in tonight at 6:30 for the replay, which leads into the Sox pregame show at 9. The Sox play the A's in Oakland at 10:05. On Monday, after the network broadcasts its first Pawtucket Red Sox game - 1 p.m. against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, with Eric Frede and Ken Ryan doing the announcing - NESN will replay the Clay Buchholz no-hitter from last September at 4:30 p.m. and Lester's (again) at 6:30 . . . Former Sox utilityman Lou Merloni is scheduled to make his NESN debut as an analyst Tuesday at 9 during the pregame (and postgame) broadcast . . .
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.