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.

Bob Bass, former GM in San Antonio and Charlotte, dead at 89

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Bob Bass, the former San Antonio and Charlotte general manager who was an integral part of the front office for most of the Spurs’ first 20 years in South Texas, has died. He was 89.

Bass’ death was confirmed by the club Saturday in a statement from coach Gregg Popovich. The San Antonio Express-News reported that Bass died Friday at home in San Antonio after a series of strokes.

“Over the course of four decades, Bob Bass had a huge impact in both the ABA and NBA,” Popovich said in a statement released by the team. “BB was a true pioneer in the world of professional basketball. His knowledge, passion and dedication to the game were inspiring. We send our condolences to the entire Bass family.”

After getting hired as coach during the Spurs’ second season in San Antonio in 1974-75, Bass joined the front office as general manager when the club moved from the ABA to the NBA in 1976.

The two-time NBA Executive of the Year spent 20 seasons with the Spurs in various roles – returning three times as coach – before going to Charlotte as the GM in 1994. He spent nine seasons with the Hornets. Bass coached his alma mater of Oklahoma Baptist from 1952-1967, first joined the ABA as coach of the Denver Rockets in 1967-1968. He went back to college at Texas Tech from 1969-1971, then back to the ABA with the Floridians in 1971-1972 and the Memphis Tams in 1973-1974 before landing with the Spurs.

Bass had a 311-300 career regular-season coaching record in the ABA and NBA.

 

What is Jamal Crawford looking for in a new home? “Fit”

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It’s a little surprising Jamal Crawford is still available as a free agent. Yes, he is 38, and his skills and his efficiency have slipped in recent years, but the man can still get buckets off the bench and averaged 10.3 points per game last season in Minnesota.

He turned down an $4.5 million player option and is still waiting for a contract. What is he looking for? He talked about it with Percy Allen of the Seattle Times, in a story about the amazing pro-am Crawford runs in Seattle every summer.

The three-time Sixth Man of the Year is an unrestricted free agent, which he said is equally worrisome and exciting…

“Fit is first and foremost when I’m thinking about where I’ll play next,” said Crawford, who wants to play another 2-3 years. “Last year, I may have made the mistake of not thinking fit all the way through.

“You look at my career, when the fit was right, I contributed on the court. … I know people that care for me want me to win (an NBA title), but I don’t know if my career will be defined by that.”

Crawford’s name was rumored with contenders such as Golden State and Houston, but nothing came of any of it. At this point Crawford is not going to be able to be as picky about fit, he may have to look at any offers that come in.

Most teams’ rosters are set, and at this point in the summer most teams are happy with their rosters, or at least have talked themselves into being happy with it. Crawford may be a guy who gets a call a couple weeks into training camp, or a week or two into the season, when a team realizes its bench was not as impressive as it thought. There are teams he could still help, even if those teams don’t realize it yet.

Scout on Rodney Hood: ‘Cleveland can get him for a song and dance at this point’

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Rodney Hood is the best free agent still available.

Hood’s problem is he’s a restricted free agent, meaning the Cavaliers can match any offer for him. No team was interested enough in his skills — after last season when the Jazz traded him away to Cleveland and he struggled to get off the Cavs’ bench — to come in over the top with an offer the Cavs wouldn’t match, so teams never tied up their money with an offer. He still has no contract in front of him to sign.

Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz, talking to a scout, asked about the Cavaliers (the scout agrees with those of us in the “why didn’t they just start the rebuild now?” camp) and Hood in particular.

“Cleveland can get him for a song and dance at this point. I don’t think anyone else wants him, which is surprising because I really liked him in Utah. Utah just let him fly. I was impressed with how he came back in the Finals as an ‘I’ll show you’ game.

“I always liked him. He’ll be good in Cleveland because Cleveland’s going to be bad, and they’ll need his scoring. Who else are they going to go to? He’ll get quality minutes on that roster. How could he not? I’m not sure how tough he is, though. He can put up big scoring numbers on a bad team.”

It’s incredible how far Hood’s stock fell in one season. Heading into last season he expected to be the go-to scorer of the Utah Jazz (Donovan Mitchell became that guy). By the end of the season he barely got off the bench in Cleveland (and in one case would not get off the bench), although once put into the Finals he showed by Tyronn Lue should have gone to him earlier.

Hood’s options at this point are to play for the $3.4 million qualifying offer and become a free agent next summer, or work out a deal with the Cavaliers for a couple of seasons at a number he likes.

 

Baron Davis vs. Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis in Big3 championship showdown next Friday

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The Big3 finals are set — and there are a lot of names NBA fans will know.

On one side is Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Chris “The Birdman” Andersen of top-ranked Power. They are coached by former NBA assistant coach and Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman — and they had to sweat out their semi-finals win.

On the other side are DerMarr Johnson, Baron Davis, Drew Gooden, and Andre Emmett of 3’s Company, the three seed, who are coached by Lakers’ legend and NBA/WNBA coach Michael Cooper. Emmett got them to the finals.

Power and 3’s Company will face off to decide the Big3 title next Friday night in Brooklyn (live on Fox at 8 p.m. Eastern). The semi-finals drew a record crowd in Dallas, and the league has seen its ratings climb on its regular live Friday night slot (they drew 1.47 million viewers this past Friday, roughly the same as an NBA regular season game). All of that has to make Ice Cube happy.

It will be an interesting matchup. Power has been the team to beat all season, with a balanced scoring attack led by Maggette, who has the second most points in the league (behind the legendary Ricky Davis, a player beloved by NBA Twitter, with good reason). In the clutch though Power has looked to Big Baby and his power game inside.

However, Emmett — the former Texas Tech standout from when Bobby Knight coached the team, who was a second-round NBA draft pick and has spent most of his career overseas — may well be the MVP of the league. He is capable of taking over the one-game Finals and making the upset a reality.