Tag:Pau Gasol
Posted on: January 28, 2011 2:56 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2011 3:20 am
 

Celtics at Lakers: What it means for Boston

What Sunday's Celtics-Lakers game means for the Boston Celtics in the first rematch since the 2010 Finals. 

Posted by Matt Moore



On Sunday, Boston travels to L.A. for Modern Celtics-Lakers XX.  The 20th time these two have met since the 07-08 season (twice in the regular season for three years, plus 13 playoff games) will still represent what many feel is a clash of the two best teams in basketball currently, as well as the resumption of the oldest and greatest rivalry the sport has ever known. With Los Angeles at 33-13 and the Celtics 35-10, the two look every bit ready to see each other once more in the Finals, even with challengers like San Antonio and Miami in their path. 

This rivalry extends beyond the history and legacies of their franchises, though. There's a genuine dislike between the two teams, even if they share a mutual respect.  The Celtics' brutally tough, bullying defense and marksman like precision clashes organically with the Lakers' smooth ball movement and overpowering height and athleticism run through the Triangle.  Doc Rivers' explosive motivational coaching approach runs in contrast to Phil Jackson's zen-like trust in his players and press-conference tweaking.  And at the end of it, they just don't like one another. 

But as the two meet in the rare regular season game that actually does seem to matter (although afterward the loser will predictably dismiss such claims), what does this matchup actually mean for Boston? 

Just for Kicks

Kevin Garnett has never been one to back down from an opportunity for dramatics. As much as his reputation is for visceral toughness and unbridled intensity, he is also a showman.  While the legitimacy of his stanchion-smashing, cobra-weaving, "Anything is possible" lunacy is up for debate, he does know how to send a message in outright terms. Nothing proves that like the shoes it was announced Garnett would be wearing for the game. Yes, his shoes. Have a look, courtesy of Nice Kicks /Aaron Knows and The Basketball Jones :




On the tongue there? That's the Celtics all time record against the Lakers, 152-120. The shoe is delicately titled "Beat L.A.."  Kevin Garnett had shoes produced for one game.  If that doesn't serve as proof of Garnett's intentions in this game, nothing will. It's just his feet, but in basketball terms, that's as good as wearing a T-shirt that reads "I plan on kicking your face in because that's what my team does to your team."  It's an outright signal of the Celtics' entire attitude, which isn't just "We're going to win" but "We're going to win because we're better than you, our franchise is better than you, and our collective being in every way is superior to yours."

It's why the Celtics don't really respect Orlando, nor do they show real signs of respect for anyone. It's part of their own personal code of conduct. But it's amped to another level with L.A. That will always be part of it as the players seek to carry on the legacy of the game built into the rivalry. But it's even more prevalent because of how things were the last time these two stepped on a court together. 

Revenge and the Art of Maniacal Maintenance

Losing to the Lakers in the Finals was devastating for the Celtics. Losing a championship series is hard for any player, but these are the Celtics, a group of veterans trying to make good on promises to themselves as well as their fans that they would collect multiple rings once among players of their caliber. Beyond that, though, losing to L.A. creates a sense of failure beyond just disappointment. You've let down the players that came before you, the players who managed to beat the Lakers, who protected that legacy (despite the Lakers having won quite a few of their own throughout the years).  It's the darkest of all places, as Garnett told WEEI this fall about his mindset after Game 7: 
“Very dark, to be honest, dark. ‘Just leave me alone, let me be my myself. I don’t want to deal with anything right now. Let me just be in a dark place.’ Just the way I replay the game over and over in my mind, trying to get a resolution to some type of place to where you can settle with it. I never found it, but that’s what it is. I say it’s fuel to the fire. [Expletive? (Bleeped completely out] .“
via Sports Radio Interviews » Blog Archive » Kevin Garnett Goes To A Dark Place In The Off-Season .

Paul Pierce wasn't in a great place afterward either, when WEEI spoke to him about it: 
How long does it take a competitive person like you to get over a seventh-game loss in the NBA (Finals)? A week? A month? Ever?

“I still haven’t gotten over it. It’s tough. Because you envision back, and say, ‘If we could have done this different, that different in the game, it would have been a different outcome.’ So, it’s hard. You think about the what ifs and all of that. I don’t think you ever forget it.”

What’s the process? Do you go in your bedroom for a couple of days and sleep, and then don’t shave for a while, or don’t bathe, and then finally come out of the shell?

“I didn’t talk to people for a long time. I didn’t watch any basketball for a long time. I sort of kind of did go into a shell. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t even want to go out and eat for a while, because you just felt that bad about the loss. But then as I got back into the gym and working out, I just used it for motivation and just sort of loosened up from there.”
via Sports Radio Interviews » Blog Archive » Paul Pierce on Losing Game 7 .

This is just speculation, but I'm betting Glen Davis' reaction was to eat a muffin. Or a boar whole, or something. Regardless, things were pretty rough for the C's after that loss. 

Nothing will really provide the Celtics with a satisfied feeling of revenge short of winning the championship, preferably over the Lakers this spring.  But this game is a chance to send a message.  It's an opportunity to go into the Lakers' house and show them that they are still every bit as tough as they have been, and even tougher with their improved depth. It's a chance to illustrate that they are the ones in control of this rivalry, even after last spring, and that even though this is just a regular season game, they can dominate at will. 

This isn't about just showing L.A. who's boss, it's about testing themselves. Being 35-10 means little to them because they don't care about beating the Nets, or the Bobcats, or even the Magic or Heat.  They want to show they can beat the Lakers.  Everything else is just a means to get there. 

And in part, the Celtics want the opportunity to show that they're right: Kendrick Perkins was the reason they lost. 

Man Down, Ring Down

Losing Kendrick Perkins before Game 7 hurt .  One of the Celtics' biggest advantages against the Lakers as opposed to nearly every team in the league is their ability to counter the Lakers' length with their own interior defense.  Perkins isn't a behemoth like Andrew Bynum, but what he lacks in height he makes up for in toughness, physicality, and savvy.  Losing him meant the Celtics lost just enough of an edge down low.

At the end of the matchup considerations, though, is this: the Celtics were without a starter for Game 7 of the Finals.  That's enough to prompt anyone to keep an excuse at the back of their minds, even if they'll publicly give the other team credit.  Perkins means a lot to this team, and even in limited minutes now that he's back, you can see what he brings the team.  

Sunday is an opportunity to showcase what they look like at full-strength, should they stay healthy till then (which is far from guaranteed, this is the Celtics, after all).  Even with Shaquille O'Neal nursing an injury and Jermaine O'Neal still struggling through his knee problems, this is the Celtics, at their core.  Sunday provides an opportunity to show the difference in the Celtics with and without Perkins. Perkins wasn't even expected to be available for this game, supposedly out another week.

But of course Tuesday he pops up healthy.  That's how this works. Some, like myself, never questioned that Perkins would be back for this game. This game matters to him. You'll have a hard time keeping him out of a game like this, even in the regular season. Because this is like a dress rehearsal.

Trial Run

There's no way to duplicate the intensity of the Finals, but this will be as close as it will get for a while, at least until the Lakers visit Boston in a few weeks.  And it's a chance to test things for future reference. How will Shaquille O'Neal do against Andrew Bynum?  How will Nate Robinson do as backup against Shannon Brown or Steve Blake?  What can a healthy Marquis Daniels do against Ron Artest

These are the questions that will be in Doc Rivers' mind, as they try and get a regular season win, but also try and figure out some things to rely on should these two meet again.  There's no way to block it out, though they may try. "It's just another game" will likely be a refrain at practice and shootaround. Don't be fooled. This is the setup, the first act of the 2011 chapter of Lakers-Celtics.  Let's draw the curtain, and see what happens.




Posted on: January 26, 2011 12:13 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2011 12:30 pm
 

Game Changer 1.26.11: Beatdowns and takedowns

Beatdowns, takedowns, and shakedowns all in today's Game Changer. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Each game is made up of elements which help formulate the outcome. Monday through Friday, we'll bring you the elements from the night before's games in our own specialized version of the game recaps. It's not everything that happened, but it's an insight into what lead to the results you'll see in the box scores. This is the Game Changer.   

THE BIG ONE: L.A. beat the crap out of Utah


I have no other way of discussing this. None. Utah was overwhelmed in every facet of the game to the furthest degree. It wasn't the Cavaliers game, but it was pretty embarrassing. But don't take my word for it. From Silver Screen and Roll on the SBNation Network:
The cushion reached 17 in the first quarter, 28 at halftime and 33 late in the third. Utah never made a run that was even mildly threatening. That the game got out of reach early meant plenty of garbagio time for the scrubs, who did some nice things of their own. Luke Walton made all four of his shots (seriously?), Devin Ebanks buried a step-back three, and Derrick Caracterflashed some aggressive D at the rim. Top grades all around!

As a team the Lakers made 68% of their twos and 44% of their threes - easily their best shooting night of the season. They also did a great job of getting to the free-throw line, a direct result of their relentlessness in attacking Utah's sluggish team D. The Lakers were just faster to every spot on the floor, which forced the Jazz to clutch and grab all night long.
via Lakers 120, Jazz 91: Wire to Wire Ownage - Silver Screen and Roll .

Yeah, that's pretty much how that went. The Jazz' defense is completely out of sorts right now. Al Jefferson was atrocious, and he's going to have to be the difference maker if that team is going to go anywhere. Granted, in years past, the Jazz would fire out strong in January then fade in April, so maybe this year will be the reverse, but at some point, the Jazz have to be concerned of how far they're going to fall in the standings and who they'll wind up facing in the first round. Because if it's the Lakers, at this point you have to assume that's going to be a pretty quick series. 

GO-GO-GADGET LINE OF THE NIGHT:

Kwame Brown: 13 points, 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block Wait, Kwame Brown?!

Runner-Up:

Pau Gasol: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists

FLAGRANT OR NO FLAGRANT?

Brendan Haywood gave Blake Griffin an elbow contusion with this takedown. Haywood says it's not a flagrant. What do you think?


Posted on: January 14, 2011 4:28 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2011 4:30 pm
 

Rudy Gay's 'most interesting man' All-Star video

Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay has released a spoof on the "Most Interesting Man In The World" commercials as part of his NBA All-Star campaign. Posted by Ben Golliver.

NBA players campaigning to make the All-Star game on the internet is about as corny as it gets (leave it to the fans, media and teams), so when they do go out of their way to try to drum up support it's always best executed with a tongue-in-cheek flourish or a self-deprecating self-awareness. 

Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay shows the world how that's done, with this successfully executed self-promotional All-Star campaign video that plays off of the famous Dos Equis "The Most Interesting Man in the World" television commercials. If you've been living under a rock for the last three years, the character in the commercials is basically Casanova crossed with Chuck Norris, in that he is alluring to women and able to do all sorts of impossible things simply because of his cool aura.

The plot is the same in Gay's spot, dubbed "The Most Interesting Man in the NBA," as he sits at a swank restaurant table surrounded by attractive females, swirling wine in a glass as a narrator lists off his humorous accomplishments. "Rudy once missed a dunk just to feel what it was like," the narrator says. "When Rudy shoots a three, he actually scores four points. His charm demands it." And then, "He slept through a game and scored a triple double."

The spot concludes with Gay stating, "I don't usually vote for All-Stars, but when I do, I vote for Rudy Gay. Keep voting, my friends."

Here's the video.


Hat tip: Pro Basketball Talk.

Honestly, Gay needs to campaign, as he's trying to make the game at the league's most stacked position: Western Conference forward. He's going up against the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love. Here are the latest returns.

On the season, Gay is averaging 21.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, and the Grizzlies are 18-21.
Posted on: January 4, 2011 9:59 pm
 

Report: Apple iPhone glitch gets three Lakers

Posted by Royce Young

If it looked like the Lakers were a bit lethargic in their 104-89 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday, it's because some of them actually were a little weary-eyed. As in maybe they just woke up.

A team official told ESPN.com that at least three Lakers, including Pau Gasol, were victims of Apple's now famous iPhone/iPod glitch that caused the alarm function to not work. As a result, Gasol entirely missed the team's shootaround and the two others (one was Luke Walton) were late.

Mentioned in the report is that Gasol's absence just added to Kobe Bryant's current frustration with the team, highlighting a perceived lack of committment and focus from the two-time champs. The loss to the Grizzlies made it fourth out of six in the loss column for the Lakers.

Gasol had 10 points, eight rebounds and five turnovers with no assists in 32 minutes. After the loss the Memphis was when a lot of the barbs between Phil Jackson and Kobe started getting tossed around.

One of the complaints from Jackson was how Gasol wasn't involved enough in the offense in the second half. Maybe the reason he didn't get more involved was because he wasn't totally awake during the game.

Right now, the Lakers are going through the motions and just kind of expecting to get by each night because of talent. They don't have the same commitment to the defensive end that made them champions and Kobe is trying to do way too much.

It really looks like the Lakers need a pretty good wake-up call. Better to use something other than an iPhone for it though, I think.
Posted on: December 29, 2010 12:17 pm
 

Kobe must stop shooting, but Lakers will be fine

Kobe Bryant must curtail his shooting as his percentage dips with the Lakers struggling, but come playoffs? They'll be fine. 
Posted by Matt Moore





The Lakers are 7-8 this year when Kobe Bryant shoots more than 20 times. The defending NBA champions who are 21-10 overall, have a losing record when Kobe Bryant shoots more than 20 times. On the season, Bryant is shooting 44% and 33% from the perimeter. In those 15 games where he's shot 20 attempts or more, he's shooting just 41% and 30% from the arc. 

So, in all honesty, Kobe's got to stop shooting. 

Don't count on it. 

Before the season started, there were discussions with the Lakers training staff and coaches about Bryant's role in the offense, and the hope that he would come to accept a decreased role in the offense. Instead, Bryant seems more intent on shooting his way out of the hole the Lakers have found themselves in.  He has responded to the Lakers' struggles by yelling at teammates, demanding improvement, and then going out and not letting the most talented team in the league be the most talented team in the league. 

This is the worst part of Bryant's offensive kamikaze failures. The Lakers' offense features the personnel, talent, and system to allow them to overcome any individual challenge. Is the defense denying Pau Gasol the entry pass (while he's once again failing to establish position)?  Lamar Odom off the cut should pull the defense apart to allow Gasol better angles. Has the defense compacted to shut down on interior movement?  Shannon Brown, Ron Artest, Steve Blake, and Derek Fisher will make them pay from the perimeter. 

Bryant's refusal manage his game when it's not falling (or when his pinky is bothering him) has to concern Lakers fans not only about this season, but about how the rest of his career will shape up as his skills continue to deteriorate. But at the end of this, after three losses of double digits by the Lakers, are they in trouble?

Come on. It's December. 

This Lakers team had troubles in the 2009 playoffs. They slacked off in the regular season last year. And while this stretch of games feels considerably worse than their issues last year which were all coasting, Phil Jackson has five months to get the team right. This has never been a team to sprint to the finish. Or the middle. Or really at all.  For a team driven by such an obsessive as Kobe Bryant, the Lakers haven't held an all-out attitude.  But they still have two rings to show for it. Trying all the time and remaining focused hasn't been their path. But being taller, more talented, and more experienced has gotten them where they want to go, regardless of how they perform in the winter months. Spring is what matters for this team. 

The questions are about whether they'll have home court advantage. But with the experience this team has, it may not need it. There's not a dominant home court advantage for a contending team, unless you consider Oklahoma City such a team. The Lakers just need to get a top four seed, not the top seed. As long as they're ready for May, that's what they care about. 

That said, the Lakers danced with Bryant shooting them out of games in the playoffs last season, but managed to survive it. (Go check out his numbers from Game 7 of the Finals.) This year, with an improved Eastern Conference and now the West making a strong show, at some point, something's got to give. The coaching staff is going to have to get Bryant to buy into trusting his teammates in a way he never has before. In the past, he's relied on them to fill in the gaps of his game. Now, he may need to rely on them to carry him for stretches. Something tells me that's going to be an awkward conversation for the Mamba. 
Posted on: December 29, 2010 10:23 am
 

Shootaround 12.29.10: 5-Hour Tuff Juice

Kings don't want Ming, Camby doesn't want out, and a really weird Mavs video, all in today's Shootaround. 

Posted by Matt Moore

Vince Carter is expected to make his Suns debut tonight. The Suns' training staff is excited to take on their biggest challenge yet. Keeping Carter on the floor for more than five minutes at a time. 

Marcus Camby has had just about enough of being bounced around and is feeling very "Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon." He may be too old for this stuff. He's making noise that were he to be traded to a bottom-feeder like Charlotte, he may just retire instead. He doesn't need the cash and has talked about retirement for a few years now. 

Since when did Kobe Bryant feel the need to get into it with third year players like George Hill?

And since when did Pau Gasol feel the need to call out the Lakers' lack of inside presence without taking on the responsibility himself for not establishing post position? Gasol did respond to suggestions that the Lakers' bigs needed to call for the ball more, but didn't comment on his post position.

The Heat's intro video is really silly.

The Magic have shot 47.4% from the arc since the big trade two weeks ago. So much of that is having more weapons on the floor and guys who understand spacing. The guys they shipped out had simply lost that with age. 

Corey Maggette is making all sorts of bad noise in Milwaukee about the team, the coaches, everything. Bad mojo on the horizon. 

The Kings are not interested in any trade for Yao Ming. Which is bizarre because anything else they would get back from Houston would be better than what they have now. 

Then there's this. Whatever this is. 

Posted on: December 28, 2010 11:25 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2010 12:11 am
 

Spurs take down Lakers; is it worry time in L.A.?

Posted by Royce Young



From the opening tip, you could feel the intensity. This might've been a regular season game on Dec. 28, but it sure seemed like something you'd see April 28.

Two titans of the postseason were playing and even though it's just one more of 82, anytime the Spurs and Lakers hook up, pleasantries don't stay in the arena very long.

Kobe Bryant and George Hill tangoed in the first half, pointing fingers in faces and saying, um, stuff to each other. Ron Artest roped Tony Parker on a fast break for a hard foul. Andrew Bynum clothes-lined Tiago Splitter on the inside. Richard Jefferson and Derek Fisher had an exchange with Fisher picking up a technical after chasing Jefferson down to bump. Hard fouls, technicals, trash talk -- this one just had that extra umph.

But just like a classic Spurs playoff win, San Antonio used stifling defense, smart offense and big plays from role players to overwhelm the Lakers in the fourth quarter, beating the defending champs 97-82 in front of a sold-out AT&T Center crowd.

And here's where we go one of two ways: Is the story how well the Spurs are playing or if the Lakers officially in crisis mode?

Let me hedge here and say both. The Spurs are playing wonderful basketball. They're undefeated at home in December, own the NBA's best record and get something from everybody that steps on the floor. Tim Duncan was just 1-7 from the floor and scored only two points. Manu Ginobili went just 3-12 from the field. So naturally, since this is the Spurs we're talking about, someone stepped up.

DeJuan Blair was a complete difference maker scoring 17 points while also grabbing 15 rebounds. Gary Neal -- who you can just picture becoming Robert Horry in the postseason -- hit two huge fourth quarter 3-points to give the Spurs some serious breathing room. George Hill was entirely terrific on Kobe in the fourth quarter, frustrating the Laker star into turnovers, bad shots and some serious barking at the officials. And of course one of the San Antonio stars played big with Tony Parker pouring in 23 including 14 in the first half.

On the Laker side, things never really looked good. The Lakers almost seemed like the team desperate for energy, frantically looking for a spark. It was almost like they were rattled. Offensively, there was never any kind of rhythm. Especially in the second half where L.A. scored only 38 points total.

The Lakers shot 35 percent for the game and the man leading the charge there was Kobe. He went just 8-27 from the field for 21 points. Pau Gasol was 3-8 for only nine points. Lamar Odom was 3-9 for nine points. Really, L.A.'s best offensive player was Matt Barnes who went 3-4 from the field.

So again, good Spurs or bad Lakers? From my perspective, it looked like a game where the Lakers self-combusted a bit as Kobe kept shooting and shooting while a very good team in San Antonio took complete advantage of it. Take this game for L.A. and put it against Sacramento and the Lakers probably win ugly. But against the Spurs? You lose by 15.

That's not something that should sit well with the Lakers. Kobe has been pretty honest with his appraisal of the team, feeling at times that they don't seem interested or committed enough. And that's what really showed against San Antonio. Kobe tried to do way too much, the offense never ran through Bynum or Gasol and defensively, there wasn't ever any kind of urgency.

This makes three straight losses for the Lakers, all coming by double-digits. And while it seems like this might be a time to scratch your head, keep in mind, this is December, even if the game felt like it was in April. It's not time to worry... yet.
Posted on: December 24, 2010 10:01 am
Edited on: December 24, 2010 11:26 am
 

NBA stocking stuffed on Christmas Day with games

Tis the season for Heat-Lakers, Celtics-Magic and more as we preview the NBA Christmas Day extravaganza.
Posted by NBA F&R Blog Staff



With five games on the NBA schedule Christmas Day, we walk you through each one, letting you know how to fit in your basketball with your sugarplums (we don't even know what those are, just go with it). 

Miami Heat at Los Angeles Lakers, 5 p.m. ET

When the Lakers and Heat tip off Saturday afternoon at Staples Center, their goal will not have anything to do with the other team. Forget sending messages, staking claim, or becoming top dog in conference (an impossibility for both teams considering their records relative to the conference leaders). This is about finding out about themselves. 

The Lakers have drifted after a stunning start, losing to teams they have no business losing to and doing so on a regular basis. Even the win streak they peeled off came against exceptionally weak opponents like the Wizards, Sixers, and Pacers. In reality, this is their first big test against a contending opponent since their loss to the Bulls two weeks ago in Chicago. No one really doubts the Lakers, not yet. But a loss on Christmas Day in a major hyped game against the Heat would definitely put a damper on Christmas and plant some seeds of doubt about their ability to simply breeze through to another title. Beating LeBron and company allows them to send a message: "Don't confuse our coasting with weakness. We've got our fingers on the switch ready to flip."

The Heat on the other hand, are in a no-win position. Should they beat L.A., downing the defending champs with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, critics will simply say what they've said every time the Heat have managed to win this season: it doesn't matter until the playoffs. (Note that when the Heat lose, this same approach is not employed; suddenly the games matter when the Heat lose "meaningless" games.) Should the Heat lose, well, that just means they're definitely not ready for prime time and that Kobe is still the real King. But testing themsevles against LA give them an opportunity to see where they're at and if the progress they've made is real in any sense. Beating the Lakers wouldn't be a real victory in terms of contending status, but would at least give them a measure of how good this team can be. 

So how does this matchup shake out, exactly?

L.A.'s interior defense is considerably bolstered by the return of Andrew Bynum, and they're going to have considerable advantages inside. The Heat have no one to counter Bynum or Gasol inside, as Chris Bosh is simply not good enough to slow down Pau Gasol if he gets touches. Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Kobe Bryant should have their hands full on defense in this game, and in fact, Bryant may want to take a backseat on offense just so he can keep Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in check on the perimeter. This isn't to say Kobe can't get it done on the offensive end, but it's a strategy that would play both to the Lakers' strengths and the Heat's weaknesses. Somehow I doubt Bryant will opt for that. 

Bryant needs to be careful though. If he decides to come out guns slinging and the triggers aren't perfectly aligned, he's going to start the fast break for the Heat. And that's their bread and butter. The Lakers need to slow this game down and force Miami to beat them in the halfcourt set, with Carlos Arroyo and James Jones taking jumpers. Do that, and Miami will wither and die on the vine. But get into an up-down type game with them, and the youth of Miami may create some problems for the Lakers.


Bench play will probably be huge in this game, since the Lakers have such a phenomenal advantage. Shannon Brown versus Mario Chalmers. Matt Barnes versus Juwan Howard. Steve Blake versus Eddie House, should Erik Spoelstra elect to turn to the veteran. The Lakers are dominant in this regard and should be able to extend leads or close deficits while multiple members of the Big 3 for Miami rest.

This isn't a game about sending a message to a possible Finals opponent. The Heat just aren't there, yet. But it is about proving something to themselves. For the Lakers, it's a firm conviction that they can turn it on whenever they need. For the Heat, it's that they may finally be ready to play with the big boys, something they have yet to show this season.


Should be merry and bright, indeed.

Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic (2:30 p.m ET)

The Magic just started clicking a bit with their new, revamped roster with a big win over the streaking Spurs. Now they get another chance to bust a big streak. 

The sizzling Celtics come to town riding a 14-game streak and playing as the best team in the Eastern Conference. Boston is doing damage behind a devastating defense and an offense that scores consistently throughout the entire 48. If Orlando expects to hang with Boston, the Magic will have to get production from their new line of scorers. Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson will have to provide Dwight Howard some major help. If Orlando doesn't get that, the Celtics will feast on the Magic's stalled offense and probably cruise to a 15th straight win. 

What Boston does so well defensively is that it funnels the opposing offense into becoming one dimensional. The Celtics take what you want to do and use it against you. Orlando wants to use dribble penetration to clear lanes for Howard and also to free shooters. Boston's fine with letting you try and do that, but they're just going to close those lanes off and shut down the shooters. This is a game where Howard will have to play big on the inside of Orlando wants to play with the Celtics. 

However, the new Magic have options that they didn't have before. This feels like it could be a big opportunity for Arenas to really break out offensively or for Turkoglu to get some of that isolation play going where he drains step-back after step-back. The Celtics can play with Orlando if it's scoring, but the Magic have the players to put points up in a hurry. Boston wants a game in the high 80s, while the Magic probably want to push the pace a bit more and score in triple-digits. 

This game will likely come down to who gets to play their game the longest, and also who plays the other guy's game better. The Celtics are tested and typically thrive in these situations, but the Magic may be gelling a bit. There's definitely a chance here to play streak-buster a second time for them.

Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks (12 p.m. EST)

A rematch of the November 4th Knicks win, this game features two teams still trying to gain an identity. After a long impressive win streak, the Knicks dropped three straight to Boston (understandable, especially on a buzzer beater), Miami (understandable, even in a blowout), and Cleveland (not understandable in any universe ever created). Then they go out and drop the Thunder this week, just to keep us on our toes.  The Bulls? We know they're good. But Joakim Noah is out with a hand injury, which changes much of their dynamic.  This game could wind up being a preview of a first-round playoff series, and we're going to see a lot of familiar themes most likely. Primarily that Carlos Boozer can't guard Amar'e Stoudemire in any impactful way, and that the Knicks are going to be run through by the saber that is Derrick Rose, especially on the pick and roll. 

This should be a fun one to open the day with, in a fast paced affair featuring two good point guards (and one elite), two good power forwards (and one elite), along with capable supporting players. The Knicks will need to send help in the form of wing defenders when Rose drives off the pick and roll, or he's going to get to the basket all day long. They have to take their chances with Kyle Korver and Luol Deng on the perimeter. The Bulls on the other hand will need to flash help at Stoudemire to get him off the shot-fake elbow-jumper that he's killing teams with this season. Tom Thibodeau versus Mike D'Antoni also means a classic clash of styles. 

Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder (8:00 p.m. ET)

The primetime Christmas Day game lost some of its luster with Carmelo Anthony missing due to a recent death in his family. Obviously, basketball has taken a backseat for Carmelo and rightly so. But despite his absence, there's still an important Northwest Division game to be played.

The Thunder are right atop the division with the Nuggets just a few back. Oklahoma City hasn't been the most consistent team in the world but with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook playing as the most dangerous tandem in basketball, they don't have to be. Denver will look to run and get hot from outside to keep pace with the Thunder's big guns, but OKC's improving defense will be a key in shutting off a big Nuggets run.

The game may not have the same star power and spotlight head-to-head matchup of Carmelo and KD, but it's still something worth watching.

Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors (10:30 p.m. ET)

Four out of five big-time match-ups isn't bad. Christmas Day's nightcap is easily the least glamorous affair on the schedule, with the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, two teams that have battled injuries for the last two seasons, facing off in California.

Blazers guard Brandon Roy and center Joel Przybilla won't play, and Portland will continue to run things offensively through its make-shift centerpieces, LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews. The duo has stepped up big in Roy's, as has reserve guard Rudy Fernandez. The Blazers just beat the Warriors in Portland last week, so what will be different this time around? For starters, Portland always struggles on the road against the Warriors, and Golden State point guard Stephen Curry, as of this writing, is expected to make his return from a nagging ankle injury that has kept him out since Dec. 8. In Curry's absence, it's been all Monta Ellis all the time for the Warriors, as Golden State's leading scorer has maintained his big numbers from last season (25.6 points, 5.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds), while improving his field goal (from 44.9% to 48.0%) and three-point shooting (from 33.8% to 36.4%) numbers. Ellis had a chance to beat the Blazers at the buzzer in Portland, but it rimmed out. He's hit for 30+ four times in December, and could easily make it five on Saturday, assuming that he's out for a little Christmas revenge.
 
 
 
 
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