First of all, Merry Christmas to all the fine patrons of Silver Screen and Roll. This is SS&R's first Christmas, and we've grown to be a very strong community in a very short time. We can't do it without you.
Right, sentimentality out of the way, it's time to get to work. In our efforts to bring you the best Lakers coverage on the net, there will be no SS&R Christmas holiday this year. If the team is working on Christmas, then we are working on Christmas. Since today marks the 11th straight year the Lakers have played on Christmas day, I guess it's something we better get used to. Christmas is the NBA's holiday. The NFL has Thanksgiving, baseball has the entire summer, but Christmas day is a day for roundball. And the Lakers are the marquee team in the NBA, and will be for at least a few years to come.
The preview is after the jump.
The Christmas day game is all about hype for the NBA. Which matchup between which two teams will create the most amount of buzz. Last year, it was a rematch of the NBA Finals, with the Lakers ending Boston's 19 game win streak on Christmas Day. This year, the Christmas game comes with a healthy dose of "Who's the best player in the NBA" debate thrown in for good measure. And wouldn't you know, the NBA also found a way to have Shaq and Kobe face off on Christmas once again, after last year's one year hiatus. That's right, ladies and gents, the Cleveland Cavaliers are coming to town.
Before the season, the Lakers, Spurs, Cavs, Celtics, and Magic were tabbed as the 5 elite teams in the NBA. This is the Lakers' first matchup with one of the other 4. Of course, that should hardly matter, because things have not gone according to plan. The Celtics are right where they are supposed to be, but the Spurs are struggling with injuries and with defensive intensity en route to being only 15-11. The Magic lost Jameer Nelson again, and just don't seem to have the same spark they did last season. And Cleveland, well, despite it's relatively decent record at 22-8, Cleveland looks to be a mess.
Cleveland made a bunch of moves over the summer, none "bigger" than acquiring Shaquille O'neal, and trading away absolutely nothing to get him. While opinions ranged from "The Cavs are the favorites" to "Shaq doesn't make them any better", the general consensus was that the acquisition of Shaq was a good thing, mainly because the pieces lost were worthless anyways. As it turns out, in a seemingly unrelated move, the Cavs did lose a big piece of the puzzle, and now they are struggling to fit Shaq in with the rest of the pieces they already have. The missing piece is Jon Kuester, now the head coach of the Detroit Pistons.
Kuester was the Cavs offensive coordinator last season, the guy who actually created an offense for the Cavs to run that was more sophisticated than "give LeBron the ball." If Kuester were still employed by the Cavs, I dare say they would be free of the struggles which have ailed them, because he would have figured out a way to utilize the big fella. But Kuester is not with the Cavs, and so we've been treated to a heavy dose of "I have no idea how to coach this team offensively", complements of Cavs head coach Mike Brown. In fact, the Cavs season really took off when Shaq missed time with an injury early in the season.
None of this is to say that the Cavs are not a good team, they are. They have the 1B to the Lakers' 1A in the conversation regarding "Who's the best player on the planet?" (And if you need me to explain what I mean, you are not a basketball fan.) Their record puts them right where they should be, 3rd in the east and 4th overall. They still play great defense, 6th best in the NBA. And they actually score better than the Lakers' "struggling" offense as well. This will be a true test for the Lakers, the first such test they've had in quite some time. The Lakers haven't played a team this good since the game against Denver, over a month and a half ago. Of course, since that debacle, and the ensuing game against Houston, the Lakers have become a different animal all together. 16 wins in 17 tries, with the return of Pau Gasol turning the Lakers, stunningly, into the best defensive squad in the NBA.
And today is the day we get our first glimpse into the real reason behing pulling the trigger for Ron Artest. Artest has been better than anticipated so far this season, but the LeBron James's of the world are why he was brought to LA in the first place. The matchup between Artest and James is by far the defining matchup of the game. But there are other intriguing matchups as well. The Cavs are one of the few teams that have the size to matchup with the Lakers front court if they choose to, but they probably will not because the Lakers bigs out speed the Cavs bigs. So, the Cavs will probably stick with JJ Hickson or Anderson Varejao on Pau Gasol. And the real deciding factor in the game might be the Cavs Mo Williams, because whether or not Mo shows up is a pretty decent indicator of Cav wins and losses. When he's draining shots and being aggressive, the Cavs are a very good team. When he's off, so are they. Let's hope Fisher's old legs can stay in front of him today.
Forgive the lazy stats work, but it's Christmas for goodness sake.