5-on-5: Celtics-Magic on Christmas
ESPN and ABC are serving up a five-course banquet of basketball on Christmas Day: Heat-Knicks, ESPN, 12 ET; Celtics-Magic, ABC, 2:30 ET; Cavs-Lakers, ABC, 5 ET; Clippers-Suns, ESPN, 8 ET; and Nuggets-Blazers, ESPN, 10:30 ET.
For this quintuple-header, we're playing 5-on-5: That's five writers on five questions on five games on Christmas Day.
1. Whom would you rather have for the next 10 years:
Rondo or D12?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: 100 percent Rajon Rondo if you're talking about the rap group D12. But in the event you're talking about the strongest man and best defender in the NBA who is virtually unstoppable when he catches it around the rim, I'll take Dwight Howard. Size matters in this league.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: Are you serious? I am a huge Rondo fan and think he's a perennial All-Star in the making, but this isn't even close. Dwight Howard is the best big man in the league, and he's still about only 65 percent of the player he can be. He pretty much makes you a playoff team by himself. Rondo, as good as he is, doesn't.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Howard. Guards, especially fast ones who struggle shooting like Rondo, tend to peak in their early-to-mid 20s and lose a lot of their value by the time they get into their 30s. Bigs don't have that problem, because no matter how old they get, they're still big. Additionally, Howard is already a much better player than Rondo.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: I'll go with the big fella on this one, as much as I admire Rondo's game. There are only two or three big men in the NBA who can be as dominant on a nightly basis as Howard, and it's impossible to trade for one (unless you are Mitch Kupchak).
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I like Rondo even more than the Celtics do, but the tie pretty much always goes to the 7-footer with me. Especially when the 7-footer can do as much damage as Howard.
2. Whose Big Three is better right now?
Abbott: At their best, both teams actually have Big Fours, with Rondo and Jameer Nelson (when he's healthy). Boston's is the best in the whole NBA until proven otherwise.
Broussard: Boston's. Mainly because the Celtics have proved they have not only the ability but also the mental toughness and fortitude to win a title.
Hollinger: A better question might be, "Who is Boston's Big Three?" I believe Rondo has supplanted Ray Allen. Regardless, I'd have to take Boston's because it's defending so much better than the Magic. Orlando was the league's top-rated defense a season ago but has slipped to 12th this season; it's indicative of a general malaise that's infected the Magic in the early part of the season.
Sheridan: Boston's. (And for the record, I believe Rondo has replaced Ray Allen in the Celtics' Big Three.) The deciding factor? Accomplishments. And the fact that, in my humble opinion, Vince Carter peaked as a player nine years ago at the Sydney Olympics.
Stein: I'm a big experience/continuity guy. And Boston's star trio have the edges there. My preference is always to assume (or at least hope for) good health, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce especially -- when healthy -- are the most proven commodities in this conversation. So Boston's threesome is the choice.
3. Better bench: Magic or Celtics?
Abbott: The Magic are deeper. Ryan Anderson can really play and, as a shooter, fits their system perfectly. Marcin Gortat could start for most teams, J.J. Redick has his moments, Matt Barnes and Jason Williams could both start, Brandon Bass provides some shot-blocking and muscle and sometimes even noted defender Mickael Pietrus comes off the bench.
Broussard: This is a tough one, but I'll go with Boston, again largely because the C's have proved they have what it takes to excel in big moments.
Hollinger: Magic, hands down. Boston's bravado about having a better bench than its championship team now looks ridiculous -- Eddie House, Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine are the same, and although Rasheed Wallace is an upgrade over P.J. Brown, there's no James Posey, no Leon Powe and (for now) no Glen Davis. Meanwhile, Orlando's bench basically carried it through the first third of the season.
Sheridan: Magic. Gortat, Bass and Anderson would be starters on half the teams in the NBA, J-Will and Anthony Johnson are battle-tested and Redick is better and tougher than people think. Boston? Sheed and a healthy Glen Davis are pluses, but Marquis Daniels has been so-so at best, and Eddie House always runs too hot and cold. Not much else there.
Stein: Orlando has the best bench in the league. The Magic have an astounding 12 guys who legitimately deserve NBA minutes. No one else in the NBA has that kind of depth.
4. Your take on Orlando's Hedo-out, Vince-in maneuver?
Abbott: It's early yet, but so far, so mediocre. The best play the Magic had was Hedo and Dwight in the pick-and-roll. Now that's gone. And the defense isn't as good anymore, which may nor may not be related.
Broussard: Carter is a better player, but Turkoglu was a better fit in Orlando. The Magic are more versatile this season, but they're no longer the matchup nightmare they were for so many clubs, particularly Cleveland. But honestly, we won't have the final verdict on this move until the postseason.
Hollinger: Unless you're going to argue that Hedo was a vital cog in the defense, I don't see how you can argue against it. Turkoglu had a poor regular season in '08-09 and hasn't been any better in Toronto; how much stock are we supposed to put in a two-week stretch in May, as impressive as it was?
Sheridan: I thought Hedo was a better fit, and the Magic should have found a way to keep him. (Lowballing him with their initial offer wasn't the way to go.) Let's see how Carter handles it when the ball goes through him in April and May.
Stein: Vince isn't the playmaker Hedo is, true, but still does damage in a variety of ways. And by spending on Gortat and Bass instead of using that money to bring back Hedo, Orlando has lots of options at two key frontcourt spots and desirable trade pieces to make another deal if needed. The positives far outweigh the negatives.
5. If they meet again in May, who will win?
Abbott: Boston is back to being the best defensive team in the league, a title it has wrestled from the Magic, who are just barely clinging to the top 10. So far this season, the Celtics are the best team in the league.
Broussard: Celtics win. Mentally tougher.
Hollinger: Orlando. Despite the Magic's injuries and inconsistency, they won the first meeting. Although Boston is playing better right now, I still think the Magic will have more weapons in May. Plus, they'll be in a better position to compete with a full season of playing together under the belt.
Sheridan: If we have both teams at full strength, I see the series going seven games and the Celtics winning -- whether at home or on the road. I'll also predict Paul Pierce as the MVP of that series.
Stein: I really do see Orlando as the most complete team residing in the East's top three, but Rasheed Wallace tormented Howard as a Piston and suddenly would have the help of KG and Kendrick Perkins if the Celts are healthy at playoff time. That makes it hard to pick the Magic in a Boston-Orlando series, as much as I want to.
5-on-5: Heat-Knicks | Celtics-Magic | Cavs-Lakers | Clippers-Suns | Nuggets-Blazers