The latest on the NHL labor talks

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The latest on the NHL labor talks

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- So much for a two-week break. Just over a week since the last set of failed negotiations, the NHL and the locked-out players' association will return to the bargaining table Monday.Conversations that restarted Friday between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr produced enough positive movement Saturday to set up another face-to-face meeting that the sides hope will lead to an agreement to save the hockey season.NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman suggested to union executive director Donald Fehr this week that the sides take two weeks off from negotiations. The union maintained its desire to keep talking, and now bargaining is back on."We can confirm that we have tentatively agreed to get back together on Monday, either late in the afternoon or early evening," Daly said. "The meeting was requested by the union and it's their agenda. We will see what they have to tell us."Owners and players met for several consecutive days last week in New York, but made little progress. Negotiations ended in an angry exchange last Friday, but bargaining resumed two days later only to break off again in just over an hour.Staying apart never appeared to be a good option, and the NHL now seems to agree.All games through Nov. 30 have already been taken off the schedule, more cancellations are likely within a week, the Winter Classic has been wiped out, the All-Star game is the next big event in jeopardy, and the whole season could be lost, too, in the blink of an eye if a new deal can't be hammered out.The players have stuck to their position that negotiations are the only way to work out differences, and that they are willing to meet any time the NHL wants to.The NHL contends that the union has submitted the same proposal multiple times without moving in the league's direction. The union says it has agreed to come down from receiving 57 percent of hockey-related revenues to a 50-50 split. The league wants that to go into effect in the first year of the agreement, while the union wants to get there gradually.Seven years ago, after the entire 2004-05 season was lost to a lockout, the players' association accepted a salary-cap system for the first time. The union feels it shouldn't have to bear the brunt of the concessions now after league revenues reached a record high of over 3 billion last season.This 63-day lockout has claimed 327 regular-season games, and hope of a new deal and the start of the already-shortened season -- likely of 68 games per team -- on Dec. 1 has started to wane.It is more than just finances preventing a deal. The disagreements over player contract terms have emerged as just as big an impasse.The NHL wants to limit contracts to five years, make rules to prohibit back-diving contracts the league feels circumvent the salary cap, keep players ineligible for unrestricted free agency until they are 28 or have eight years of professional service time, cut entry-level deals to two years, and make salary arbitration after five years.Once those issues are settled, the sides will then have to figure out who will cover the financial damage the lockout will ultimately do to this season.Players missed their third pay day of the season Thursday, and the clock is ticking toward more losses. The 2004-05 season was canceled in February. A lockout in 1995 ended in January, leading to a 48-game schedule.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 25, the Boston Celtics had the perennial title contenders on the ropes with the lead in the fourth quarter only to lose it and the game, 109-103.

On the road at Houston, one of the Western Conference’s top teams, the Celtics led in the fourth quarter and wound up losing their Dec. 5 matchup 107-106 as Al Horford missed what would have been a game-winning lay-up as time expired.

Boston played well in both games, but not well enough to win which unfortunately for the Green Team has been how things have gone when they’ve faced some of the better teams in the NBA this season.

They are hoping to break that trend tonight when they hit the road and face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder (14-9) come in with a slightly better record than the Celtics (13-10).

Boston’s issue isn’t that they can’t play with the better teams.

It’s their finish that needs work.

Boston has lost five of its six games this season against teams that are currently among the top-4 in their respective conferences. 

Losses to San Antonio and Houston only highlight Boston not being able to make the late-game runs needed to win.

Even in their 101-94 loss to Toronto on Friday, it was the Raptors’ ability to make one clutch play after another when it mattered most, that proved to be what was needed to propel them to victory.

“That’s what good teams do; they execute at the end of the game,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “We just have to execute better and get stops at the end of the game. That’s what it comes down to.”

And while the Celtics have a number of returners from last season, every season brings about a different team and with that, a need to learn how to collectively be successful especially down the stretch in close games.

“We’re learning,” Bradley said following the Raptors loss. “We’re moving on to the next game.”

And that would be the Thunder who come in having won six of their last seven games.

Of course when it comes to the Thunder, everything starts with Russell Westbrook who is on everyone’s short list for league MVP.

He is averaging a triple-double this season with 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.8 rebounds per game.

“He’s amazing,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier who will likely spend some time defending Westbrook tonight. “He’s going to be aggressive. We have to try and find a way to stop that. He’s putting up video game stats. It’s tough but we gotta do something.”

The Celtics will likely lean heavily on Marcus Smart and Bradley, a first-team all-NBA defensive selection last season, when it comes to trying to slow down Westbrook.

“Russell’s a good player,” Bradley said. “I look forward to every matchup. If it’s him, whoever it is, I look forward to it. That’s what this league is about.”

It’s also about growth and development of franchises into title contenders, something the Celtics are eager to continue pushing towards tonight.

Horford spent the previous nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, advancing to the playoffs every season.

He saw first-hand how they went from a team that could barely get into the playoffs, into one that produced four all-stars in one season and had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Horford saw the loss to Toronto as an example of a really good team doing what great teams do and that’s finding a way to win regardless of how things are going most of the night.

“We made a run early (against Toronto), they stayed with it, didn’t rattle and eventually got over us,” Horford said. “We’re growing as a group.”