November 23, 2012

NBA D-LEAGUE: Claws begin tonight

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

They have been together for less than two weeks.

Time enough for the Maine Red Claws to jell?

"I'm really happy with where the team is at," said new head coach Mike Taylor, whose team begins its fourth NBA D-League season tonight in Canton, Ohio.

"We've prepared ourselves well. We've developed the team chemistry well," Taylor said.

And one more thing.

"We've developed in the Celtics system very well."

That last comment reflects the change in the Maine Red Claws this season. No longer connected to multiple NBA teams, the Red Claws are the sole affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

The Red Claws have turned over all basketball decisions to the NBA team. Taylor, hired by the Celtics, is employing the Celtics playing style, with players chosen by the Celtics.

Of course, some of those players were already familiar with Boston's style. Three of tonight's expected starters -- center Fab Melo and guard/forwards Kris Joseph and Micah Downs -- were in Boston's preseason camp this year.

Downs was cut before the season started -- and sent to join the Red Claws roster. Melo and Joseph, both 2012 draft picks, are on the Celtics roster. They were assigned to Maine last week to get more playing time.

Notice that both Joseph and Downs can play both guard and forward. The same goes for Omar Reed. Chris Wright can play both forward positions. Chris Ayer can play strong forward or center.

"We're pretty excited about our depth and versatility," Taylor said. "We've tried to create different lineups -- a regular lineup, a smaller line-up and a big, powerful lineup."

Along with Melo, Joseph and Downs, the other expected starters are Wright and point guard Shelvin Mack, the team's first-round draft pick.

Off the bench, Taylor can turn to a pair of experienced guards: Xavier Silas, who played in Maine last year (as well as four games with the Philadelphia 76ers) and Champ Oguchi, a Red Claws member in 2010-11 and a standout last summer with the Nigerian Olympic team.

"Those are real good options to have," Taylor said.

Tonight's opponent, Canton, is not only affiliated solely with Cleveland, the team is owned by the Cavaliers. Three players from Cleveland's preseason camp play for the Charge -- guard Kevin Anderson and post players Michael Eric and Kevin Jones.

The Red Claws play at Fort Wayne on Sunday. The Mad Ants feature No. 1 draft pick Jajuan Johnson, a 6-10 forward who played briefly with the Celtics; and former Boston University guard Darryl Partin. Fort Wayne also just received two players from its parent team, the Indiana Pacers, 6-11 Miles Plumlee and 6-5 Orlando Johnson.

The Red Claws return to Portland next week and open their home schedule Nov. 30 at 7 p.m.

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