5 Things to Watch, Celtics-Knicks: A good ol’ fashioned Christmas brawl at the bowery

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GAMES. There will be actual NBA games played today starting at noon. To get you pumped, ready, and primed for the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season, we give you five things to keep an eye on today in Celtics-Knicks.

To get you pumped:

 

Not just an old-fashioned love song.

The Knicks didn’t put up much of a fight against the Celtics in last year’s playoffs. They were thin, injured, and burned out from pushing just to get into the Sweet 16. So it doesn’t seem like there’s much bad blood. But expect this to get chippy early and often. The Celtics have to bully the Knicks in order to maintain a mental edge because, in reality, the Celtics are long in the tooth and short on the bench.  They need help and their attitude is the best thing they have going for them. But the bigger issue is the Knicks are trying to change their culture. Tyson Chandler was brought in to make them a bigger, meaner, tougher team, and that’s going to filter through. It doesn’t take much for Melo to start swinging. This thing could turn ugly early in the kind of thing the NBA wants to avoid. If it doesn’t, whoever winds up the bully wins the game.

Good luck with that, rook. 

Presumably, Iman Shumpert will get significant playing time behind Landry Fields at shooting guard. Which means Shumpert will be tasked with defending Ray Allen. That’s nerve-wracking enough on its own, but that also means Shumpert has to bust through the 700 screens the Celtics set for Allen, often moving, and often as brutal as they come. Shumpert’s got the usual rookie frame on him, so this will likely be a learning experience in how much he’s going to need to spend time in the weight room. As for Fields, his length and athleticism isn’t great, despite being a decent enough defender. The key with him will be sticking with Allen until the possession ends. Often times Allen sneaks out to the corner after offensive rebounds or loose balls wind up in the Celtics’ hands. That leaves him open. You have to have constant mindfulness. Like Buddha.

Landry Fields needs to be like Buddha.

Go big or go home.

Remember when the Celtics won Game 2 almost entirely because of Jared Jeffries getting blocked by Kevin Garnett? That will be Tyson Chandler this time. Good luck, KG. Garnett is expected to play minutes at the five spot with Jermaine O’Neal limited by age. That seems like a pretty dangerous setup considering Garnett’s no spring chicken himself. He’s got to save himself for a long season. Then again, it’s not like Tyson Chandler just hopped off the factory truck or is without injury issues either. If the Celtics can get Chandler in foul trouble, they can run small ball, and surprisingly, here, that helps them. Anything that involves moving Stoudemire to the four helps both in terms of offense, getting fouls on STAT, and taking away his energy on offense.

The Amazing Rondo. 

Here’s what Rajon Rondo averaged last year versus the Knicks. 11 points, 6 rebounds, 16.7 assists. Good night, nurse. Rondo has been unstoppable against the Knicks. He’s back, health, and in a bad mood from trade rumors. Rondo flourishes playing against Mike D’Antoni’s up and down style. If the Knicks can’t find anyone to get a handle on him, Rondo himself will destroy the Knicks and leave their stockings empty.

Paul’s not dead, but he is injured. 

Paul Pierce is not expected to play Sunday due to a bruised foot. He made the trip with the team, so it’s possible he could give it a go, but he’s not full strength. Great start for the C’s. The bigger issue with Pierce’s absence is it means Marquis Daniels will be guarding Carmelo Anthony, if not Brandon Bass sliding up from power forward. Anthony torched the Celtics in Boston during the playoffs, with the C’s narrowly surviving his onslaught. Melo is reportedly thinner and stronger, so it will be a tough matchup with or without Pierce. The Celtics need their captain badly.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.

Kawhi Leonard is smiling, and that confuses Manu Ginobili (PHOTO)

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Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.

In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.

When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.

Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.

Via Twitter:

You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.