Friday , Dec , 26 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

What We Saw on Christmas Day in the NBA

What We Saw on Christmas Day in the NBAOn December 25, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics by 9—a huge turnaround from the last game the two teams played that ended in a 39 point blowout of the Lakers for the 2007-2008 NBA Championship.  Last week, I asked the question, "what’s going to be different on Christmas day?"  Answer: about 48 points.
And earlier that day, Chris Paul brought his record of 108 consecutive games with at least one steal into Orlando for a Hornets v. Magic match-up resulting in a 20 point victory for Orlando.  Paul did not get a steal.
However, it was not a Christmas full of discontent in the NBA.  Fans had the unique opportunity to see how each of the ten teams showcased measured up to quality opponents on a pressure filled-stage.  It was almost a playoff preview with nine of the ten teams above .500.  Christmas day was fully loaded, with a potential Finals match-up between the two best teams in the league.
We learned that the Hornets either need to take a 5-Hour Energy (they had a 12:30pm tip-off) or cannot play well without Peja Stojakovic.  And on a subpar shooting night—he was only 4-15 from the field—Dwight Howard demonstrated that he superior to most players at his position with 15 rebounds and three blocked shots.
We had the chance to look at Greg Oden.  Before the season began, he seemed to be on his way to a break-out year in the limelight.  At this point, almost halfway through the season, he is being outplayed by Eric Dampier.  As a starter in 22 minutes against the Mavericks on Christmas, Oden registered 4 points, 5 rebounds, 4 fouls, and 3 turnovers.  For the Trail Blazers to do well in the Playoffs, either he will need to play better or sit on the bench more.
And, even though the Celtics lost, Rajon Rondo played a good game with 12 assists to only 2 turnovers.  The big story of the Celtics/Lakers match-up, however, was how a front line of two seven-footers, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, fared against the Celtics.  Their height was instrumental for the Lakers in that it gave them a consistent presence in the paint on the defensive end.  The word is out in the NBA: if your team has two skilled seven-footers, you have a change against the Celtics.  And Kobe Bryant might make things a little easier.  The rematch is set for Thursday, February 5th in Boston.
Games to Watch
Miami v. Cleveland
(Sunday, December 28 at 7pm and Tuesday, December 30 at 7:30pm)—The Heat have been playing better basketball than could have been expected, especially considering that at 12 point and 9 rebounds a game, Shawn Marion’s numbers are lower than usual.  Even with Dwyane Wades’ 29 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game, the heat will need big numbers from guys like Marion and Mario Chalmers to get in LeBron’s way.  With Cleveland at 24-5, LeBron James is currently poised to win MVP honors at the end of the season.  This 2-game playoff miniature should show Miami what improvements they need to make to become an elite team in the east.
Denver v. Atlanta
(Monday, December 29 at 7pm)—As of December 26, the Nuggets are 18-11 and the Hawks are 18-10.  That said, Denver might be the better team.  The acquisition of Chauncey Billups has made Denver a stronger team than they were with Iverson.  This game will be close and will come down to which team can execute offensively in the last 5 minutes of the game.  Joe Johnson is clutch, but so are Carmello and Chauncey.