The Official Thanksgiving Wrap

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The Official Thanksgiving Wrap

Welcome back, everyone.

I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving, and made it through the holiday weekend in one piece. I hope that youre still on speaking terms with your family; that you werent stranded in too many awkward conversations with old high school acquaintances; and that youve recovered from those five minutes of throwing the football before your shoulder went into shock.

At the very least, I hope you had a better Thanksgiving than Mark Sanchez. (Unless youve got a thing for slamming your face into sweaty, 300-pound butt cheeks. In that case: No judgment. Just keep doing what you do.)

But either way, heres the question: Where do we go from here?

Answer: From here, we get a little crazy.

While the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving slowly crawl along like every post-Michael Scott episode of The Office, this next month will fly by faster than an hour-long Homeland and with almost as much drama and chaos. Its going to be wild. In the movie of our lives, this next month is just a montage of the entire country anxiously burning through bank accounts, swearing in traffic and generally running around like the cast of the Walking Dead.

Next thing you know, its Christmas. Then Kwanza, followed by New Years and then . . .

Well, then theres nothing.

Just like that. Another year starts, and the world pretty much stops. Its back to life at The Office (as the Nard Dog breaks into a five minute bit thats barely funny for five seconds). Only now, life is complemented by mounds of snow, patches of black ice and days that turn into nights sometime around 3:30.

This is ridiculous! youll scream, while simultaneously digging out your car and contemplating suicide at 5 a.m. on a Monday morning. Wasnt it just Thanksgiving? Yup. It was. But thats what happens. The blink of an eye. Every. Single. Year.

But while the final five weeks of 2012 are about to play out in fast forward, theyll also serve as a definitive stretch for all four major professional sports leagues.

In the NHL, the next month will determine whether the NHL even exists. In baseball, teams will put the finishing touches on their offseason, and officially set the table for 2013. In the NBA, the next month will bring the death of the small sample size and take the league into its second trimester (even if its not showing). Finally, in the NFL, these next five weeks are the regular season. On January 1, the playoff schedule will be finalized. (Same for the Ryan Familys annual trip to Hedonism II.)

So, before everything gets out of hand, lets take a quick breath and re-evaluate what transpired in the world of sports over the holiday weekend, and lets do it with an old fashioned game of: What We Learned Over Thanksgiving Break

IN THE NBA, we learned that . . .
The Celtics still have it: Im not so concerned with Wednesdays loss to the Spurs or overly excited about last nights victory in Orlando, but Friday nights win over the Thunder was the single most important game of the Celtics young season. It was their first win against a legitimate contender; the first piece of visual evidence that they have what it takes to hang with the best. Its a game that fans, players and coaches can use to build confidence, and stay focused on how good this team can be when everythings in order. (AKA, the defense clicks, the bench lives up to expectations, KGs loose, Rondo comes to play, Pierce is relentless, Jason Terrys a stone cold scorer and Jeff Green has a five-alarm fire burning in his spandex.)

In some ways, I guess wins like Friday make the losses to Detroit and Milwaukee (and battles with the Wizards) even more frustrating. But really, what are you going to do? Thats just life in the NBA, especially for a team whose four leading scorers are a 36-year-old center, a 35-year-old shooting guard, a 35-year-old small forward and a point guard whos not always locked in. No matter what, I guarantee there will continue to be nights when the Celtics dont show up against less-talented teams and leave you wondering if theyll even escape the first round, never mind make another run at Miami.

But with every win like Friday, we wont wonder quite as much. And eventually, at least hopefully, well re-discover that all-important comfort and confidence of being able to look at the Celtics and truly believe: Regardless of what happens over these 82 games, if they can just stay healthy for the playoffs, anything is possible.

The Cs can make another statement on Wednesday, when they host the Nets. After what happened a few weeks ago in Brooklyn, you know theyll want revenge, to re-establish themselves in the Atlantic, and equal a season high with their third straight win.

But for a REAL, OKC-like statement, Im looking at December 15 in San Antonio. A rematch with the Spurs. Granted, the game comes on the second night of a back-to-back, so maybe we shouldnt expect too much. Still, its one of few chances that the Cs will have to really flex their muscles between now and 2013. (Faaaaar more importantly, its also the night that Rondos scheduled to break Magic Johnsons record for consecutive games with 10 or more assists.)

The Lakers are still a mess: After going 4-1 under Bernie Zen Master 2.0 Bickerstaff, the Lakers are 2-2 since Mike DAntoni limped onto the sidelines. But off the court, their status is far below .500.

This was highlighted on Friday night, after an embarrassing loss to the Grizzlies, when DAntoni was asked why he didnt play Pau Gasol down the stretch: I was thinking I'd like to win this game, he said. That's what I was thinking.

First of all, this quote only makes me angrier about how psychotic every one in Boston (or maybe just the media) was at the beginning of Bobby Valentines tenure. Can you imagine if Bobby V. had said something like this? Tony Massarotti would have literally defecated himself on air. (Damn, now Im kind of pissed that we missed out). But the point is that these things happen. Its not the end of the world. This is how coaches establish control when theyre thrown into a tumultuous, high-pressure situation.

But for now, its also another sign that the Lakers still have a ways to go before realizing anything close to their potential. Mike Brown might be gone, but the drama isnt going anywhere . . . as Phil Jackson takes another sip of Peyote cocktail and loses himself in the madness.

Bynums still in flux: From a Celtics perspective, Andrew Bynums on-going knee issues are nothing but good news. From a comedy perspective, theyre great news (Theres nothing funnier than a sidelined superstar who goes on bowling on surgically repaired knees and shows up for games looking a like a cross between Mr. Glass and Maya Angelou.) But from a humanunbiased basketball perspective, the whole thing is pretty sad. In fact, with the recent report that the Sixers have erased any timetable for Bynums return, I dont need any more updates on Andrew Bynum until the news is at least somewhat less depressing. Its enough already. Same goes for Antoine Walker and Brandon Roy.

The Knicks are still rolling: Despite a recent two-game slide, the Knicks beat the Pistons last night to improve to 9-3 overall, 5-0 at MSG and 6-0 within the Eastern Conference. Through 12 games, theyre also the NBAs most efficient offense.

Believe it or not, New York and Boston dont meet for the first time this year until January 7, and at that point, Ill be surprised if the Knicks are still flying so high. The reason? Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. We really think these two can play together? They have worse chemistry than Lindsay Lohan and the entire cast of Liz & Dick. (Come on, you know you watched.)

Amare should be back some time later next month, and don't surprised to see the Knicks hit the same kind of funk they did last winter when Carmelo killed Linsanity.

IN THE NFL, we learned that . . .

The AFC is over: For the last few weeks, its been clear that the Pats and Texans will both defend their 2011 division titles. But very recently thanks to the Norv Turner Effect in San Diego and with the Steelers relegated to a quarterback whos so old that hes thrown six career touchdown passes to Herman Moore the Ravens and Broncos have also pretty much clinched the division crown.

Want to hear something crazy?

Short of a monumental disaster aka assuming the Pats, Texans, Ravens and Broncos all hold on this will be the first time in AFC history that every previous division champ came back to defend its title. Its never happened in consecutive years. (The last time it happened in the NFC was in 1996, when the Cowboys, Packers and Niners had a collective repeat, but that was back when there were only three divisions.)

As for the last two AFC playoff spots? Unless the Dolphins pull off an upset this week against the Pats, its a three-team race between the Colts, Bengals and Steelers. And right now, sizing up the schedules, theres a good chance that Pittsburgh ends up on the outside looking in. Especially since were about two weeks away from Mike Tomlin rolling out an offense led Vinny Testaverde, Bam Morris and Art Monk.

The Saints are dead: Youve got to give them credit, and it was a lot of fun to watch them try and pull off the impossible, but with yesterdays loss to San Francisco its time to close the book on the 2012 New Orleans Saints. Well remember them for their historically hilarious defense, Drew Brees consecutive touchdown streak and the time Roger Goodell was banned from Jonathan Vilmas barbecue joint.
The Jets are dead, buried and halfway decomposed: I dont have an advertising degree, but wouldnt this be the perfect time for Pepsi to start re-airing last years Jets commercial?

1. It would be the funniest thing on TV.

2. It would get people talking about Pepsi Max.

3. It would save them all sorts of money. Minus whatever it costs to superimpose an image of Tim Tebow sitting shirtless in the locker room with his face stuffed into a towel.

The Chargers need a fresh start: And I dont just mean they need to fire AJ Smith and throw Norv Turner into the Pacific Ocean. I mean they need to just leave San Diego and start up somewhere new. Obviously, Chargers owner Alex Spanos has eyes on LA, but who knows when that will be a reality. And who knows what other opportunities might be out there. But its reached critical mass in San Diego. The Media Relations staff is in LaLa land. The front office has destroyed any sense of faith and excitement surrounding the team. And anyway, the fans already know its just a matter of time before Spanos splits town, so what do they even care?

Fourth and 29.

Only you, Norv.

IN BASEBALL, we learned that . . .Johnny Gomes signed with the Red Sox: On one hand, it feel a little dirty to see the Sox come to terms with a guy whos best known around here for beating up Coco Crisp at Fenway Park. On the other hand, theres something nice about welcoming a guy whos known for beating up anyone. So hes a fiery a------? Great, the Sox could use a few players like that. Whether Gomes actually produces is another story, but for 5M a year youd like to think hell finish somewhere around 20 home runs.

Napoli wants four years: Recent reports indicate that Mike Napolis holding out for a four-year deal with Boston . . . and that sounds about right. But its also never going to happen. Youll see Larry Lucchino sitting front row at an Odd Future concert before youll see the Sox give Napoli a four-year deal. Or so Id like to think. But on the bright side, its hard to imagine anyone will, and that point, I doubt there will be a team thats willing to go higher on a three-year deal than the Sox.

Unless theyre serious about bringing on Nick Swisher to play first base, or paying big bucks for Adam LaRoche or crazy enough to think they can get by with a Mauro GomezJerry SandsCarlos Quintana platoon.

AND FINALLY, IN THE NHL, we learned that . . .

Gary Bettman canceled the latest round of negotiations so that he could pick his daughter up from freshman field hockey practice: No, that didn't happen. But nothing would surprise you at this point. Certainly not the sight of Bettman pissing away another season, and driving a poison-tipped stake into the heart of NHL relevance.

Happy Holidays, Gary.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Stars, studs and duds: Olynyk finding his stride off Celtics bench

Stars, studs and duds: Olynyk finding his stride off Celtics bench

BOSTON – It’s easy to forget that Kelly Olynyk went several months without doing anything basketball-related as he was on the mend from shoulder surgery.

His return had its share of ups and downs, but it seems the 7-foot center has found his stride and he’s making opponents pay for it.

For the second time in as many games, Olynyk came up big for the Celtics as Boston continued on its winning ways with a 108-98 win over Charlotte.

Olynyk, who scored a season-high 26 points in Boston’s win at Atlanta on Friday, had an efficient 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting against the Hornets on Monday.

Assertive. Aggressive. Contract year.

It doesn’t matter how you describe what or why Olynyk is ballin’ so hard lately.

The point is he’s doing it a better job of recognizing opportunities to make plays and executing whatever role he’s being asked to play.

“Just feeling good with the second unit,” Olynyk said. “I’m just trying to be aggressive and help the starters out.”

In the past, teams have mixed up their defensive coverages on Olynyk which frequently left him being guarded by a quicker but smaller player, or a big man with limited mobility.

Often Olynyk settled for long range shots and 3’s, regardless of the defender.

But as we’ve seen the last couple of games, he has hurt teams with his scoring around the rim which has in turn opened things up for his teammates or himself.

“We need him to play like that all the time,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “When he’s aggressive, looking for his shot, shooting open shots, even getting in there getting rebounds, offensive put-backs, that only helps us as a unit. And he’s done a great job of that the past couple games. We need that from him.”

And as he gets further removed from his offseason surgery, opportunities for him to be an impactful player for Boston will only grow.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday’s game.

 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics win, and Isaiah Thomas has another offensive flurry in the fourth quarter. So what else is new? He led all scorers with 35 points which included 17 in the fourth quarter.

Kemba Walker

He’s still playing at a level that puts him in the All-Star conversation, but it’s not going to happen with the Hornets continuing to struggle. They’ve lost five in a row now despite Walker’s 24 points on Monday.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

Boston is playing more inside-out basketball of late, and that’s opening things up for both Horford and his teammates. Against the Hornets he had 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting along with six rebounds and four assists.

Kelly Olynyk

For the second straight game, Olynyk had a strong, impactful performance for the Celtics utilizing his strengths as a perimeter threat and a 7-footer who can take advantage of smaller defenders around the rim. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with nine rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Marvin Williams

He was the only other Hornet besides Kemba Walker who really impacted the game significantly. Williams had 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting which included 3-for-6 shooting from 3-point range.

Jae Crowder

The 6-foot-6 Crowder continues to have a sneaky-good season for the Celtics, particularly with his 3-point shooting which ranks among the league leaders. On Monday he had 15 points which included a trio of 3-pointers to go with seven rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.

 

DUDS

Nicolas Batum

Avery Bradley put most of his effort and attention into defending Batum and man, did it ever pay off. Batum grabbed 10 rebounds, but wound up missing nine of his 11 shots from the field to finish with just four points.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL.