By Bryan Jeon
Boston (22-3) 103 – 91 Orlando (18-11)
The Celtics had four of their starters score at least 20 points and led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter to cruise against the Magic Sunday night, who have dropped seven of their last nine games. Dwight Howard, who had 23 points and 14 rebounds for his 10th straight double-double, shot a season-worst .313 (5 for 16) from the charity strike. Possessing a higher field goal percentage (.617) than free throw percentage (.602), the Magic center might have teams start devising a ‘Hack-a-Howard’ quite similar to that of Shaquille O’Neal when he terrorized opponents in the purple and gold.
The Celtics, who after an amazing start are on pace to just tie the Chicago Bulls’ magical 72-10 season, have had their performance downplayed by critics who say they’ve had an easy early schedule. The win improved their home record to 14-1 and also avenged their first loss of the season in Orlando on November 18. The two meet for a third and final time during the regular season in Orlando on January 27. I got my money still that Orlando will take this one on their home court. Hey, let’s not forget ESPN’s prediction of the Bulls as the Eastern Conference champions. At 9-16, only New York (8-19) and Miami (8-19) are below them in the Eastern Conference.
Talks of Kevin Garnett as NBA MVP might be cooling, as his numbers have gone down in accordance with playing over five minutes less a game. (And yes, talks of Steve Nash three-peating have begun.)
Of Boston’s three losses, they have two 2-point losses and an overtime loss to the other three best teams in the East (Orlando, Cleveland and Detroit). They are 9-1 in December and have won all nine games by double digits. Their next game against one of these three teams is January 5 at Detroit.
Kobe Bryant becomes the youngest player to score 20,000 points, beating Wilt Chamberlain to it by 12 days and joining Chamberlain and Michael Jordan as the only players to reach the milestone before the age of 30. That’s great company right there. Bryant scored 39 points in the Lakers’ 95-90 win over the Knicks Sunday, and all talk is about Kobe’s current contentment with the team winning, as the Lakers improved to 17-10, good for sixth best in the Western Conference. Let’s see how they fare in the first three games of their upcoming home stand, where they open on Tuesday against Phoenix, followed by Utah and Boston.
Which segues into my player spotlight for the month: Andrew Bynum. The third-year kid just looks like a completely different ball player this season, his nimble feet a result of losing weight in the offseason. That, in addition to the mentoring by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, has really made his game well-rounded on both ends of the floor and more importantly, is doing it consistently. His current averages of 12 and 10 don’t do him justice but are an indication of his ability to record a double-double night in and night out. A quick look at last season with this year’s:
06-07 – 21.9 MIN, .558 FG%, 1.6 BLK, 5.9 REB, 7.8 PTS
07-08 – 28.2 MIN, .606 FG%, 2.1 BLK, 10.1 REB, 11.9 PTS
Bynum is a reliable starting center in the NBA now and a solid one at that. He can utilize both hands on the offensive side while showing flashes of paint dominance and a block machine on the defensive end. He’s even improved in the month of December from the first month, numbers worth noting. I’ve got money he finishes the season with much better figures than his current averages.
November – 26.3 MIN, .593 FG%, 1.5 BLK, 2.5 OREB, 10.7 REB, 11.4 PTS
December – 32.2 MIN, .643 FG%, 3.2 BLK, 3.8 OREB, 9.7 REB, 13.6 PTS
A maturing Andrew Bynum is the reason why Bryant’s (26.3) not scoring at least 32 points a night nor shooting as much as he did the last couple of seasons. But believe me, that’s a good thing. From 2000-2002, when then-Number 8 won three consecutive titles with O’Neal as his big man, Bryant had season averages of 28.5, 25.2 and 30.0 points, respectively.
This season, Bynum can really make his mark as the team’s center of the future in his first solid season while gaining some important postseason experience. Let’s not forget he’s only 20-years-old and has seemingly an eternity to reach the high ceiling expected of him. We could be seeing the making of Kobe’s new big man and an integral part in the hopes of bringing a championship back to Los Angeles. Maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to not give him up for 34-year-old Jason Kidd.