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News » Revived rivalry creates captivating Christmas


Revived rivalry creates captivating Christmas


Revived rivalry creates captivating Christmas
Today they are scattered in and around the NBA like historical artifacts in the game that made them legends.

Most of them represent different teams now and are called things like analyst, coach or general manager, though they'll always be known for what they did in green or gold.

The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the L.A. Lakers defined the NBA throughout the '80s as they claimed eight of the nine championship trophies awarded from 1980 to 1988. The one they didn't get, the Lakers lost to Philadelphia in 1983.

But it wasn't until the star-powered Celtics-Lakers Finals' matchup last season that today's incarnation started to draw acceptable comparisons to the era of Magic, Bird, Kareem and Parish with new one-name studs like Kobe, Pau, Garnett, Pierce and Allen.

This new burgeoning edition of the original East Coast-West Coast battle will resume Christmas in the annual Finals' rematch.

"The excitement is just like the old days, no question about it," Lakers' Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Magic Johnson said. "The same intensity, yes. The same hate? No. But they are getting there. What makes a rivalry is when you start not liking each other, and they will get there. They've already got the same star power and great coaches on both sidelines."

His praise for the new school aside, Magic said he still -- and rightfully so -- gives the nod to his generation of green and gold if for no other reason than the players each team had from top to bottom on their rosters.

"You have to remember who was in the game at that time," he said. "Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Robert Parish. They are all Hall of Famers. Dennis Johnson should be. Just great role players. [Danny] Ainge was tremendous spacing the floor. [Bill] Walton could still block shots.

"That was a tremendous team. We still haven't seen a front line as dominant. Our side, the same thing. So many Hall of Famers and the will to win was high. We all bought into the style. We were the running team; they were the half-court Wizards."

In last season's Finals, the Celtics clinched their first title since 1986 by embarrassing the Lakers 131-92 in Game 6 in front of a raucous TD Banknorth Garden crowd.

It is that kind of beating that obviously adds steam to the Christmas game for a Lakers team that went 0-for-Florida last week in dropping back-to-back games to Miami and Orlando.

Center Andrew Bynum, expected to be a huge lift for L.A. after missing last season's playoffs following a January injury, also has struggled lately.

Boston, on the other hand, is shining with the NBA's best record.

If the Celtics win tonight against Philadelphia, they would arrive in Los Angeles' Staples Center Thursday with a team-record 19-game winning streak.

The Celtics' 18th straight win improved their record to 26-2 and matched the NBA mark for the best start by a team with two losses.

Not only that, but Boston is not just relying on its usual Big Three because point guard Rajon Rondo is raising his game to all-star status.

Still, Magic said that the Christmas game is about the Lakers showing the rest of the league that they can challenge the reigning champions.

"I think this is about the Lakers," Johnson said.

"The Lakers have to prove to the Celtics and to themselves they can handle the physical play of the Celtics.

"The last beating should have left a sour taste in the Lakers' mouth. . . . The Celtics know they've got something over the Lakers and when you know that, you come in with confidence."

Numbers game 6

Number of NBA coaches to hit the unemployment line before Christmas with the firing of Reggie Theus as Sacramento coach last week.

11.6

Ounces that Kobe Bryant's new low-cut sneaker from Nike -- the Kobe Zoom IV -- weighs. The lightest Basketball shoe ever made, according to Nike, he began wearing them during the Lakers' recent road trip that ends today in New Orleans.

47

Number of days Oklahoma City went between home wins before snapping its 11-game home losing skid with a 91-83 win over Toronto this past Friday.

Top five

Here is a look at the leaders in each of the NBA's main individual statistical categories entering the week (through games Sunday):

*Scoring: Dwyane Wade (Miami), 28.8 ppg

*Rebounding: Dwight Howard (Orlando), 14.0 rrg

*Assists: Chris Paul (New Orleans), 11.8 apg

*Steals: Paul (New Orleans), 3.04 spg

*Blocks: Howard (Orlando), 3.7 bpg

Line of the week

52 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds

Posted by Portland's Brandon Roy in the Trail Blazers' 124-119 win over Phoenix last week. He was 5-of-7 from 3-point range, 14-of-27 overall and 19-of-21 at the free-throw line.

Who's got next

*New Orleans at Orlando, noon Thursday (ESPN). Buzz: Magic get their first glimpse of Hornets' MVP candidate Chris Paul.

*Boston at L.A. Lakers, 5 p.m. Thursday (ABC). Buzz: Kobe and Lakers are looking for payback after Celtics took Finals 4-2 last season

*Chicago at Miami, 5 p.m. Friday (ESPN). Buzz: The most recent NBA draft's top two picks square off.

Closing thought

With the Magic playing well and the Celtics-Lakers Finals rematch, Christmas is setting up to be a great Basketball-watching day.

NBA power poll

1. Celtics (Looking very strong with Lakers' rematch looming.)

2. Cavaliers (LeBron reiterates that re-signing in Cleveland in 2010 is possible.)

3. Hornets (Winners of four straight entering the week.)

4. Magic (Passed Lakers' test, but get another one against Chris Paul and New Orleans.)

5. Lakers (Lake Show goes 0-for-Florida with losses to Heat and Magic.)

26. Kings (Company in the Pacific dregs along with neighbor Golden State.)

27. Warriors (Tell me how Nellie isn't on the hot seat?)

28. Wizards (Oh, Gilbert Arenas, where art thou? Oh, yeah. Still hurt.)

29. Timberwolves (Wonder if Kevin McHale is rethinking leaving the front office for the bench?)

30. Thunder (That newness of having NBA hoops has to run out sometime, right?)

Tip-ins

*With Grant Hill in the news last week after talk about him possibly coming back to Orlando bubbled up, it didn't take long for fellow Phoenix Suns teammate Shaquille O'Neal to run a little interference. This latest Shaq holiday gift is all about his touches, or lack of them. The quote, via the Arizona Republic, is a little long but entertaining, we promise. Lots of third-person stuff. "I could average 27 and 10 in this league easily. Easily, in this conference, in this league, easily. Eyes closed. I can but I've got to get the opportunities. I'm not really the first option on this team but when I get it down there, I'll do what I do. Like I told everybody, 'You want me to be Shaq?' Then I've got to get the Shaq touches and Shaq opportunities. I just can't be taking five shots . . . and then you look at me like I'm old. I could average 27 and 10 until I'm 50."

*Who said that time heals all wounds? Former Indiana Pacer Stephen Jackson was still hearing the boo birds last week in his third trip back to Conseco Fieldhouse since being traded. He, of course, has that whole Pistons-Pacers' brawl stigma and didn't exactly live up to billing in his time in Indiana. He told the Indianapolis Star, though, that he feels like he is moving on from his past as a Golden State co-captain. "It's a totally different team now," said Jackson. "We've got a lot of youth now. I'm the oldest on the team."

Magic beat

EVERY GAME COUNTS

On paper the Magic's current four-game homestand -- featuring games against San Antonio, L.A. Lakers and New Orleans -- is among their toughest of the young season. That's especially true after playing 13 teams with losing records in October and November.

But even after wins over the Spurs and Lakers, it doesn't mean that Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy is willing to assign it any more importance.

"I've always said that until they start giving me two wins for one [game], then they're all big games," he said.

Quote of the week

"I think what is going on, under the radar, is the job that Stan Van Gundy is doing. You could make a case that he is coach of the year in the NBA right now."

--ESPN NBA analyst Mark Jackson


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 25, 2008

 

 
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