By Ian Parfrey – BrooklynFans.com Contributor - @Ianparfrey
Christmas is a wonderful time of year for basketball fans. The NBA has arranged a 5-game, 13-hour extravaganza of marquee matchups, that kicks off with the Celtics and Nets on ESPN at 12 noon. The Nets will try to extend their domination of the Celts, and Kris Humphries will probably get DNP’d out of a rematch with Rajon Rondo. Next up is the Knicks and the Lakers (now at full strength) on ABC at 3:00. The Thunder play the Heat at 5:30, also on ABC, and then it’s back to ESPN for the nightcaps: Rockets-Bulls and Nuggets-Clippers.
In the spirit of the season, I’m also giving gifts to all the Eastern Conference contenders:
Notes by team
Atlanta: The Hawks are still off to a terrific start, but there are two minor concerns. Devin Harris and DeShawn Stevenson have been in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries, while leading scorers Josh Smith and Al Horford are 92-169 (54.4%) from the free-throw line. So, let’s give them a free-throw tutorial from Rick Barry.
Boston: The good news is that Paul Pierce has scored 40 and 35 in his last two games. However, the Celtics aren’t getting much production outside of their Big Three. Jason Terry had a nightmare game against the Bucks on Friday, scoring 4 points on 1-15 FG, and forward Brandon Bass managed to lose his starting job to ex-Net Jason Collins. For the Celtics? How about their young players discovering the Fountain of Old Age?
Brooklyn: After losing 8 of 10, the Nets righted the ship with a hard-fought win over the Sixers. Joe Johnson had 22 points, and Keith Bogans scored 13 points on 5-6 FG in a rare start. For the Nets, how about a quiet, controversy-free 3-1 week for their embattled coach and their star point guard?
Charlotte: The Bobcats have lost 15 in a row, and their next two opponents are the Heat and the Nets. While Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist give the Bobcats hope for the future, there’s still a significant talent gap between the Bobcats and the teams in front of them. Their present? A win over the Hornets December 29th.
Chicago: Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are first and second in the league in minutes played. Tom Thibodeau was criticized for blowing out Derrick Rose‘s ACL in the closing minutes of a playoff game that the Bulls had well in hand; it’s almost as if he’s still defending that decision. What do the Bulls need? Garbage time.
Indiana: Quietly, the Pacers have won 12 of their last 17 to grab a share of the Central Division lead. Center Roy Hibbert recently admitted that he’s been playing through a wrist injury. His FG percentage is a career-low .404. Ben Hansbrough‘s run as the backup point guard ended with a 5-minute, 3-turnover outing against the Hornets. The Pacers trailed by 22 in the second quarter in that game, but opened the second half on a 17-2 run and came back to win. For the Pacers, let’s get them some fans. They’re last in the league in attendance.
Miami: The Heat had three easy wins over Western conference opponents this week. They play the Thunder in a Finals rematch on Christmas Day (5:30pm, ABC). What do you get for the team that has everything? Ray Allen figuring out their defensive schemes.
Milwaukee: The Bucks won an overtime thriller against the Celtics Friday night in Boston, with center Larry Sanders putting up 17 points and 20 rebounds. Apparently exhausted from that effort, they lost at home to the 6-23 Cavaliers the next night. Point guard Brandon Jennings is shooting 36% over his last 10 games. In the Bucks’ stocking: Monta Ellis‘s missing three-point stroke.
New York: The Knicks’ defense was mostly absent in losses to the Rockets and Bulls last week. Their role players are returning to earth. Forward Ronnie Brewer is playing his way out of the lineup, shooting 9-39 over his last 10 games. Brewer was held scoreless five times in that stretch. Two weeks ago, Jason Kidd was leading the league in three-point percentage. He’s made 8-of-34 since. Fortunately, the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, who’s averaged 33.7 points over his last 6 games. For the Knicks? Amar’e Stoudemire returns and doesn’t disrupt the team’s winning ways.
Orlando: The surprising Magic had a 4-game winning streak, and a soft schedule until facing the Heat on New Year’s Eve. Then starting power forward Glen Davis sprained his left shoulder in a win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Davis had been averaging 16 points and 7.9 rebounds. For the Magic: A quick recovery for Davis, and effective fill-in work from Andrew Nicholson and Gustavo Ayon.
Philadelphia: The Sixers have lost 9 of their last 12, and began a brutal 8-game road trip with a close loss to the Nets yesterday. They’ll visit the Grizzlies, Warriors, Lakers, Thunder, and Spurs. Coach Doug Collins apparently bought Philly fans $72,000 worth of Big Macs after failing to run up the score in Friday’s blowout of the Hawks. Can’t we just admit that these stupid free food giveaways have no place in a professional sport? Anyway, for Philly– the courage to let Andrew Bynum walk as a free agent. Don’t build your team around a guy with the worst knees in the league except for Brandon Roy’s.
Toronto: I should probably mention that the Raptors won five straight after Andrea Bargnani got injured, and then ripped the team. For them? A trade partner.
Washington: The Wizards are 3-22, and have lost 7 in a row. In a rare case of firing the players, veteran reserves Shaun Livingston and Earl Barron were waived yesterday, while dead-duck coach Randy Wittman remains employed. For the Wizards? A re-do on the last five seasons.
This week’s big games:
Tuesday, Dec. 25– Celtics @ NETS (12 noon, ESPN)
Wednesday, Dec. 26– Bulls @ Pacers
Wednesday, Dec. 26– NETS @ Bucks (8pm, YES)
Saturday, Dec. 29– Pacers @ Hawks
Saturday, Dec. 29– Heat @ Bucks