Amare Stoudemire

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


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.

Magic benching Victor Oladipo, starting Channing Frye

Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye
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Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.

But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.

The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.

Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.

“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”

Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the

  • Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
  • New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8

The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.

I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.

If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.

At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.

This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.

Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs

Dwight Howard
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The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.

The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.

Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.

Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth


The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.

Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay apologizes for verbal spat with coach

Emmanuel Mudiay, Michael Malone

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone was willing to get into it with just about anyone Tuesday night. He had a few words with Blake Griffin.

And he had a few words with his rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay — and Mudiay gave it right back. Then got benched. Later the rookie realized he should be a little more deferential to the guy who controls his minutes, and apologized. Malone played it down. Everything is fine in Denver (well, except for the four straight losses). Here are the quotes, via Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.

Said Mudiay: “It’s just both of us being competitors. It probably was my fault, I could have been doing a lot more. So I kind of put the blame on myself. I’ve got nothing against Coach, I respect him. He’s a great person, and I have all the respect in the world for him.

“Me and him are both competitive. We want to win. We hate losing. We’re on a four-game losing streak, something like that. It’s just us trying to win. At the same time, it’s over with. It’s on to the next game. It’s been like that my whole life. He’s just trying to challenge me, which I accept.”

“There is frustration on our end, having lost four games in a row now,” Malone said. “Just trying to find way to get a win. Winning is a great cure-all for anybody, like it was for (the Clippers) tonight, coming in having lost three in a row. So this is a very competitive game, guys are out there working hard trying to do their best, and sometimes emotions get involved. By no means is there an issue with Emmanuel or anybody else on this team. We are together, we are unified and we’re going to continue to fight to stay together to get this thing turned around.”


These kinds of little flare-ups are a common part of the NBA season — if the Nuggets were not frustrated after losing four straight, it would be a bigger concern. That Mudiay pushed back is some fire I want to see from a rookie.

Mudiay is learning, his turnovers are down of late (although they flared up against Golden State). His shooting is still an issue, and his decision making has a ways to go, but there is progress.  Which is all you can ask of a rookie. And it helps to have a coach who will push him. (And play him in the fourth quarter — Byron Scott, we’re looking at you.)