December 09, 2011

How The NBA Grinch Returned Christmas

Twas the month before Christmas, and all throughout NBA stadiums, not a basketball was dribbling, not even a sneaker squeaking. Fans were hanging around every news outlet and their favorite team’s website hoping that Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Derrick Rose would soon be returning.

Five months had passed since the last moment spectators gawked at their television sets as they watched Dirk Nowitzki and his teammates dribbling out the remaining seconds of the 2010-11 season. The uncertainty of a new CBA agreement between players and owners was hovering over the league like a bad omen ready to unleash a black plague upon the league and its supporters. Sure enough, the July 1st deadline came and saw the the first day of the lockout; and the beginning signs that this Christmas could be the bleakest in years.

Then finally, after four months since that fateful day, the Grinch was able to bless the public with what it had been longing for so long.

On November 26th, the league and its players finally reached a tentative agreement to end the lockout and get the ball rolling on starting the 2011-12 NBA season. The new schedules were recently released to the public, allowing fans open their gifts a few weeks early.

The celebration of the NBA’s return will be short-lived by the players and the fans, as the start date for opening day will commence on Christmas Day. Here’s a look at who will be playing and what the match ups have in store for everyone in attendance:

Boston Celtics @ New York Knicks (9am PST/Noon EST)

While it isn’t as big as the Red Sox vs Yankees rivalry, the first game of the new season will certainly be an intriguing face-off of two cities that despise one another when it comes to sports.

The Celtics head to Madison Square Garden against the Knicks in a battle of two franchises headed in different directions. Boston’s aging roster will hope for one final run at a championship, while New York is just beginning to reform back into the powerhouse that it once was many years ago.

The star firepower will be hotter than any furnace on the plane; as Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony will come out blazing as they try to show the public that no rust has eroded their game during their time off.

Both teams will also be dealing with major issues and rumors with their rosters. The Celtics will be wondering if Jeff Green will be returning after trading for him at the deadline last season and what will happen with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett when their contracts are up at the end of the year. The Knicks appear to be adding a winning, dominate center in Tyson Chandler and hope that he can rub off his winning essence upon the team to give Anthony and Stoudemire what they have been coveting for years: a championship ring.

Miami Heat @ Dallas Mavericks (11:30am PST/2:30pm EST)

The NBA will be giving the greatest gift they can give to its millions of spectators who sat grudgingly by waiting for the start of the new basketball year: a rematch of last season’s championship.

Dallas will look to defend its crown against the biggest villains in the league, the Miami Heat. Although most of the key names from last year’s Finals will return for a second go-around (Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry for the Mavs and James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh for the Heat), both squads will still be pondering who else will be stepping on the floor with them when they tip-off.

The Mavericks have huge holes that need to be addressed, specifically at the center position, which proved to be vital in capturing their first title. Tyson Chandler appears to be gone and J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, and Caron Butler will all be testing the free agent market as well. Losing those four could be the key to their attempts at repeating, as they all played a pivotal role in making Dallas physically and mentally a more tougher, defensive-minded team.

After the circus element surrounding Miami lead to the franchise’s inability to reach their ultimate goal as champions, they will be hoping that the sophomore campaign for “Miami Threesome” can eclipse last year. Numerous veterans appear ready to join the party (Shane Battier, Samuel Dalembert, and Butler have all been rumored to join via free agency), but the conclusion of the 2010-11 season illustrated just how vital the new acquisitions will be in trying to capture King James’ first title.

Chicago Bulls @ Los Angeles Lakers (2:00pm PST/5:00pm EST)

This one may have a bigger appeal than any of the others, not because of the actual game, but because of the chaos one of the franchises has unleashed throughout the NBA.

It’s not unusual for the Los Angeles Lakers to be at the pinnacle of the league’s attention, as they are the most relevant franchise in all of basketball. This will be the reason why fans won’t hear announcers discussing much about how Rose and his Bulls are playing when the game comes on television, even though they have the reigning MVP on their side and are one of the brightest, most up-and-coming rosters in the Eastern Conference.

No, Chicago will be taking that backseat as the telecast will center specifically on the Lakers and if a certain point guard from the “Big Easy” will actually don the famous yellow-and-purple top in Los Angeles. The league continues to anxiously await if Chris Paul will actually be sent to La-La land, after commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade.

With Paul on the roster, the Lakers’ stock will rise as a perennial Western conference powerhouse again. If the ban still stands, they will remain the Pacific favorite, but may find it hard to get back into the West final four this post season.

Orlando Magic @ Oklahoma City Thunder (5:00pm PST/8:00pm EST)

This battle could lose a bit of its luster if a certain super hero gets his Christmas wish early.

Orlando finds themselves at a crossroads as they ponder what to do with their super-human center. Superman, who really goes by Dwight Howard, is now insisting that he be shipped up east to New Jersey, and it appears the team is ready to follow through with his demands. If they indeed give in, the Magic could see the rerun of the destruction of their second dynasty after Shaquille O’Neal burnt the first one when he left for LA decades ago. Any replacement for the seven-footer will not equate for the production and success he brought during his tenure in Florida.

A trade of that magnitude will only increase the likeliness of a blow out by, arguably, the team with the best young core in the NBA. Oklahoma City finally won a playoff series for the first time since they moved from Seattle, but they didn’t stop there. Kevin Durant and company went the distance in the second round with the surprising Memphis Grizzlies, and found themselves a participant in the West Finals. Although they took a thumping to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, the series elevated the team’s status as the next great franchise to reckon with going forward.

Howard staying with the Magic may be the only blockade from a beat down at the hands of the Thunder.

Los Angeles Clippers @ Golden State Warriors (7:30pm PST/10:30pm EST)

While these squads facing off aren’t much to drool over, both have the ability to make a shocking bolt up the Western Conference food chain this season.

The Clippers may not have won many games last year, but they certainly had the most attractive piece in the NBA during the 2010-11 season. Blake Griffin leaped over everyone and everything, literally, to become one of the most talked-about players in the league. His freakish ability to consistently get more vertical than any other man on the court is a testament to why his popularity will only continue to grow. Combine that with promising young pieces surrounding him, and this club may have a chance to make some noise in the West.

Just up the state though, the Golden State Warriors and their new mindset may cut off the Clippers attempt to ascend upward. After a new ownership bought the team at the start of the 2010-11 season, they spent this off-season repainting their franchise into their ultimate vision. Last year’s head coach Keith Smart was replaced by former announcer Mark Jackson, Ex-agent Bob Myers was signed as the assistant GM, and Jerry West was brought in as a special consultant. With a new attitude and direction at the top, the franchise is hoping those changes trickle down to the players and increases their number of wins from last year.

This game might not be a big feature this early in the season, but it could be looked back on as the start of a promising season for one of the two.

By Norcal JW with No comments


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