NBA Finals Game 7:  Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers

10 things about Modern Celtics-Lakers XX

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There are regular-season games, there are important regular-season games, and then there is Celtics-Lakers. On Sunday the two contenders will meet for the 20th time since the start of the 2007-2008 season, when the rivalry was truly renewed as Andrew Bynum emerged and the Lakers became good enough to justify trading for Pau Gasol, and the Celtics’ Big 3 first took the court together. It is the first meeting since the Celtics walked off the Staples Center floor in June, purple and gold confetti falling on them as the Lakers celebrated their championship after a fierce and ugly Game 7. Now the two will renew their rivalry, and although nothing in January will match the intensity of a Finals meeting, this will be as close as it gets.

So what are the factors in play Sunday? Here’s a rundown of 10 things in play when L.A. and Boston renew their historic rivalry.

1. The Old Gang

The players you know and love in this rivalry will all be on the floor. Kobe Bryant. Ray Allen. Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. Pau Gasol. Andrew Bynum. Kendrick Perkins. Lamar Odom. Rajon Rondo. Derek Fisher. All the relevant starters from 2008 and 2010 are starting Sunday, and all are healthy enough to play, which is good news. These players know one another, these players dislike one another, these players enjoy playing against one another. Garnett and Bryant provide fascinating contemporaries, both out of high school and legends on opposite sides of the court. The only players with relevant history in this rivalry who are missing are Sasha Vujacic, so he can get taken off the dribble by Ray Allen, and Tony Allen so he can vanish as the game continues. Part of the draw of this game is that it does feature not only the teams in the rivalry, but the full cast of players who have re-ignited it.

2. The Rondo effect

Rondo was dealing with a back injury in last year’s Finals and did not look full strength. This is no excuse, both sides had injuries to deal with, most notably Bynum playing on a torn knee tendon and Perkins out after tearing a knee up. But Rondo was not at full strength. Rondo also has dealt with injuries this season and has pretty much gone from injured list to playing brilliantly. His assist numbers have been pretty ridiculous this season, averaging 12.5 assists per game, and 50.4 percent of all assists for the Celtics, which is kind of insane.

Rondo’s best regular-season game against the Lakers was last Jan. 31, when he tallied 21 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, and two steals in a painful loss. In the playoffs, Rondo’s best game was in the ’08 series, with 21 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and six steals in a huge win for the Celtics. He also had a triple-double in the Finals last June. When Rondo plays well, it’s a decided advantage for the Celtics, who cannot guard him with Fisher and have to adjust by putting other players on him and sending doubles. That will open up things. Rondo needs to be huge for the Celtics.

3. The New L.A. Bandstand

While the starters are mostly the same for L.A. and Boston, the reserves are wildly different. L.A. will be missing Matt Barnes for the game, but Steve Blake is in place, and Shannon Brown is a much bigger part than he was when the teams met in 2008. Brown had a nearly mute series against the Celtics in the Finals, but the three games he played the most in were all wins for the Lakers. With Nate Robinson coming off the bench on the other side, the Lakers need Brown to make his mark with his suddenly blistering outside shooting and take the pressure off the rest of the offense. Blake provides a competent backup to run the point and another perimeter shooter. Blake has been erratic this season, brilliant at times and disappointing in others.

4. The New Green Gang

But the biggest changes are on the other bench’s reserve units. The Celtics feature the deepest team they’ve had behind the Big 3. With Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, the aforementioned Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels healthy, along with Semih Erden and Luke Harangody getting minutes, the Celtics are able to make runs at different times with their bench units. If the Big 3 aren’t having a stellar game, the Celtics can still win with their bench, led in particular, by Davis.

5. The Drunken Seal Show

Davis plays a bigger and better part this season than he ever has. He’s leading the league in charges (estimated). He’s a top-notch defender in all areas, and his offense is as good as ever, hitting 37 percent from mid-range, and a career high 64 percent at the rim. Davis has brought energy and poise off the bench, and is a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Countering the Lakers’ size beneath with his awkward, falling style of scoring and tough defense (as well as spittle) will be a key for the Celtics.

6. Finally healthy

Bynum has been a beast since coming back from his umpteenth knee surgery. He’s playing well on both sides of the ball and he makes the Lakers a wholly different, and better team, as showcased in the Finals last season. He’s the difference-maker for the Lakers. With him in the lineup, rebounds are a nightmare for L.A. opponents. He’s matched up with Perkins, who is still trying to recover in his fourth game back, and against O’Neal, who’s no spring chicken. If Bynum comes out aggressive, he could bury the Celtics.

7. Tactical artillery

The Celtics have an uncanny ability to free up Ray Allen, a constant threat from the outside, for open three-pointers. They like to run him off multiple screens, often weaving an opponent back across the same screen just to free him up for a minute. Allen’s precision is such that when his stroke is on target, it seems superhuman. He buried the Lakers last year in Game 2 of the Finals, hitting eight threes. That came two years after he nailed seven against L.A. in a clinching Game 6. When the Celtics get Allen the ball in space and he’s hot, he can drive Lakers fans to tear out their hair.

8. Best Big on the Floor?

Gasol is thought by many to be the best big in the NBA. Against the Celtics, his smooth, fancy footwork is offset by the Celtics’ brutal physicality. He has the turnaround every seven-footer dreams of and is thought of by some to be a more important part of the Lakers’ offense than even Bryant. Denying the entry pass needs to be top priority for the Celtics. Fronting Gasol won’t work because lobs lead him to tiny soft lay-ins. The only solution is to challenge on the perimeter, then bring weak-side help to get him trapped. The Celtics can block him if they get him in traffic, where they almost never get called for fouls for some reason. But in the mid-post, Gasol can do serious damage.

9. The Great One

Bryant is having an up-and-down season, at times his same brilliant self and at times looking very much the aging star. Outside of the clutch questions, he’s gone outside the boundaries of the triangle offense significantly at times, going one-on-five and putting his teammates in an offensive coma. But then, it’s still Bryant. Bryant is due for an explosive game, and after a disappointing loss to the Kings, and after the debacle on Christmas, Sunday is right up his alley for a breakout.

10. All in the system

Boston’s greatest asset, even more so than their star power, is their defensive system. They bring help at the right times, challenge all shots inside, foul when appropriate, or available, or fun, and harass their opponent on the perimeter. The triangle offense creates problems for this with quick passing, but it also creates congestion which the Celtics can capitalize on. They like to isolate Lakers and make them go into forced shots, which often the Lakers’ long shooters are primed for. Odom will need to deliver off sharp cuts, and passing has to be at a premium. A lack of ball movement against the C’s, and the Lakers’ offense will drown.

Report: Kings also ready to trade Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Ben McLemore

Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison, foreground, is hugged by teammate DeMarcus Cousins in the closing moments of the Kings 109-106 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. At right is Kings guard Arron Afflalo. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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A driving force behind the Kings trading DeMarcus Cousins: Sacramento keeps its first-round pick in the loaded 2017 draft only if it lands in the top 10 (though the 76ers hold swap rights). Otherwise, the Kings’ pick conveys to the Bulls.

Sacramento, only a half game better than the NBA’s 10th-worst team, figures to drop into the keep-pick zone without Cousins, the team’s best player.

But the Kings can intensify a fall through the standings by trading supporting players like Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Ben McLemore.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Kings excised Cousins, and there are strong indications they are not done dealing, either. Sacramento is determined to restock the franchise with assets, and will be targeting rookie-deal players and draft picks in the coming days, sources told The Vertical. Free agents-to-be Ben McLemore and Darren Collison are available, sources said, as is Arron Afflalo, a solid bench scorer with a manageable contract.

Collison is the Kings’ starting point guard, and he’d be solid for a team seeking a rental. He’s making $5,229,454 in the final year of his contract. Trading a starter would certainly help Sacramento keep its pick in the top 10.

Afflalo ($1.5 million of $12.5 million guaranteed next year) and McLemore (who can be made a restricted free agent next summer) are producing far less. It’s less likely other teams covet them. At least keeping these two guards probably won’t lift the Kings too high in the standings.

Paul Pierce uses two phones at dunk contest, says props shouldn’t be allowed

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Paul Pierce — NBA veteran and emoji enthusiast — used not one but two smartphones to record the action during Saturday night’s underwhelming dunk contest. Why was Pierce doing this? Perhaps he wanted to have an extra copy of it because he doesn’t trust “the cloud”. Or maybe he’s doing some work as a social media manager on the sly. You know, getting a jump on that retirement thing.

Or maybe this is just something that Pierce really likes to do:

Whatever he’s doing, I’m not sure if he looks like a boss or like a goober doing it. I feel this accurately sums up Paul Pierce’s aesthetic.

Meanwhile, after Glenn Robinson III won the 2017 NBA Dunk Contest, Pierce had some thoughts that he expressed via Twitter.

Pierce may have a point. Jeremy Evans dunking over a painting of himself in 2013 immediately felt pretty ridiculous. But eliminating props entirely? I’m not so sure about that. How would they sell Kias then?

DeMarcus Cousins projects to miss out on at least $29.87 million due to trade

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings speaks with the media during media availability for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DeMarcus Cousins was all smiles the moment he appeared to find out about his trade, or at least trade rumors of going, from the Kings to the Pelicans.

But once he examines the deal closer, he might not like every aspect.

Cousins stands to miss out on a lot of money — about $30 million or more — due to this trade.

Because he made All-NBA teams the last two seasons, he was eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension this summer. As a matter of fact, he reportedly planned to do just that with Sacramento reportedly planning to offer it. That extension projected to be worth $209,090,000 over five years ($41,818,000 annually).

But, once officially dealt, Cousins will no longer be eligible for that super-max extension. It’s reserved for players still with their original team or who changed teams only via trade during their first four years.

This is Cousins’ seventh season, dropping his max starting salary in 2018 from 35% of the salary cap as a designated veteran player to 30%. That projects to be $179,220,000 over five years ($35,844,000 annually) if he re-signs.

It’d be even less if he leaves New Orleans, a projected $132,870,000 over four years ($33,217,500 annually).

Notice how small that difference is now between his incumbent team and other suitors. By rule, the Pelicans won’t hold nearly the same advantage in keeping him as the Kings would have. In other words, New Orleans faces greater risk of Cousins walking.

And there’s no guarantee Cousins gets the max. You saw how little the Pelicans traded for him. That speaks to his value around the league.

Just over a month ago, Cousins appeared content to take $209 million or so and stay in Sacramento. Now, his financial future is far more uncertain. But this much we know: His max possible salary on his next contract just got lowered.

Is this the moment DeMarcus Cousins found out he was traded? (video)

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 18:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings attends practice for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 18, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins was set to answer questions after the All-Star game, when a Kings public-relations official said, “All-Star questions first, please. All-Star-game questions.”

“What other questions we got?” Cousins asked, seemingly unaware of his trade to the Pelicans.

The PR person whispered in Cousins’ ear.

“Oh, really?” Cousins asked.

More whispering.

“It’s whatever,” Cousins said.

Then, asked about his All-Star experience, Cousins smiled big and said, “It was amazing, man. I enjoyed the city of New Orleans. I love it here in New Orleans.”