Rivalry game: Celtics-Lakers always a big deal

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Rivalry game: Celtics-Lakers always a big deal

TORONTO This season's first matchup between the Celtics and the Lakers doesn't quite have the same sizzle as it has in past years.

But that won't stop players from being a little more amped up for this game than most.

Jason Terry who is a neophyte to the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, can't hold back his ear-to-ear grin in talking about Thursday's matchup.

"This is a rivalry; this is what I came to be a Boston Celtic for," Terry said. "Games like this, playing against teams like this. Miami, Lakers, Knicks, Brooklyn, that's what I was brought here for. I just can't wait until we get to (tonight). I'm fired up! This is one that you mark on your calendar."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledges that outsiders might not see this as a marquee game, and there's a reason for that.

"It's probably both of our faults," Rivers said. "Neither one of us has the record that either one of us thought. So nobody's talking about it. Blame us, both teams.

"But it's still the Lakers and the Celtics," he added.

Despite both teams' struggles, each has started to play some of their best basketball of the season.

Boston (25-23) comes in having won five straight while the Lakers (23-26) have won three in a row and six of their last seven games.

However, Los Angeles will have to try and find a way to make up for the loss of Pau Gasol who suffered a tear of the plantar fascia on his right foot. The Lakers have yet to give a timetable for his return, but he's expected to miss at least a month.

"They've been dealing with a lot of adversity," Rivers said. "And it's not through injury and now it is with Pau out and Dwight (Howard)."

In addition to Gasol's injury, the Lakers have played the last three games -- all wins -- without Dwight Howard who aggravated a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder.

But there's no feelings of pity on the part of the Celtics who have had their own issues to deal with this season.

Boston has won five straight, all coming with four-time all-star Rajon Rondo (torn right ACL) out for the season. Less than a week after his season-ending injury, the C's lose Jared Sullinger (back surgery) for the season as well.

Their records in many ways, reflect how both are working through a transition period that has been rocky, to say the least.

"You look at both franchises, there's been a lot of change, a lot of moves," Kevin Garnett said. "Chemistry, it's a mother. It's something that you just can't take for granted. These two franchises are a prime example of that."

That may be true. But for veterans like Paul Pierce, it's still Boston versus the Lakers. And that in itself makes this game a big deal -- a very big deal.

"Everybody is always excited to watch Boston and L.A. no matter what the records are, no matter what it is," Pierce said.

Hayward and Stevens reunite for their first All-Star appearances

Hayward and Stevens reunite for their first All-Star appearances

NEW ORLEANS –  For years, Gordon Hayward dreamed of this day, of being able to step on the floor and be among the top players in the NBA.

But in all those scenarios that raced through his mind, the idea that his first journey towards official stardom in the NBA – being named an all-star – would come at the same time that Brad Stevens would make his all-star coaching debut too?

“It’s really cool,” Hayward said. “If I were to sit here and say we’d both be at this position seven years ago, eight years ago when I was sitting down with him for a recruiting visit, there’s no way I would have believed you. It’s pretty special that we’re both here.”

Indeed, both Stevens and Hayward have arrived by taking somewhat atypical journeys. 

For Hayward, his emergence during the NCAA Tournament showcased a big-time talent at a mid-major schools whose skills, in the eyes of many, could translate well at the next level. 

“None of us knew how good Gordon could be at this level,” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com about Hayward. “But he was more athletic than we thought after working him out. And you knew he could shoot, but he can handle the ball a little better, too. And that’s how a lot of us saw him; a good player who had some things going for him early that probably translated better at this level than the average fan might realize.”

Stevens, who led Butler to a pair of national runner-up finishes, recruited Hayward at a time when he was a highly regarded tennis prospect.

He was good enough to where there was a point when Hayward thought about giving up basketball altogether to focus solely on playing tennis. 

“In high school, I was 5-foot-10 as a freshman and I wanted to play a college sport,” Hayward said. “There’s not too many 5-10 basketball players that make it, let alone play college but then make it to the NBA. I thought I might have a better chance at playing tennis in college. That’s when I almost decided to go with this full-time.”

Hayward was in the middle of working on a speech to tell his high school basketball coach that he was going to quit the team to focus on tennis full-time. 

And then he had what turned into a life-changing conversation with his mother. 

“I came up to her, and was talking to her about it. And when I was going to do it, she told me to stick out the year,” Hayward recalled.

She reminded him of all the time he put in to become a better basketball player, and why he wouldn’t want to just throw all that to the side for a sport that they both knew he loved. 

“I hit a growth spurt at the end of the year, and gradually got better and better,” he said. 

That growth, both in terms of his game and the attention that came with that improvement, has led him to being an NBA all-star, an undeniable acknowledgement that he is among the best in the NBA. And making it all that much sweeter is that he’s getting to enjoy it for the first time with Stevens, a man whose role in Hayward’s life and ascension to this point should not be understated. While Hayward acknowledges the role Stevens played in his steady improvement as a player, the role Stevens played in his life was even more significant in his growth as a person. 

The two don’t talk nearly as often as they did during their Butler days or shortly after Hayward was off to the NBA and Stevens was still in the college ranks. 

But there is an undeniable bond that will forever link these two with one another, a bond that becomes all that much tighter with them making the unlikely journey from being more than just big-time talents at the mid-major level. They are now among the best in their respective roles, achieving the kind of success so few believed was possible a few years ago. 

While Stevens acknowledges how unique and cool it is to be here with Hayward, he quickly shifts the focus to what he has always believed to be the keys to success: team and player, in that order.

“For him to get a chance to be among the elite players in the game is a special opportunity that was earned,” Stevens said. “It’s earned with your individual success and what your team is able to do. Their team is having such great success. I’m happy that he gets a chance to experience this, and that they look like a team that’s going to make a deep run in the playoffs.”

To hear those words is not at all surprising to Hayward. 

“He’s such a good coach and such a great guy and mentor to me,” Hayward said. “I’m happy we’re here.”

Glen Robinson wins NBA All-Sar Slam Dunk Contest

Glen Robinson wins NBA All-Sar Slam Dunk Contest

Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score - and the title - on his final dunk.

"I know I'm a jumper. Like I said, I'm a guy that stays out of the way, but when it's time to shine, that's my thing," Robinson said. "I knew all along I had some things planned and I just wanted to show the world."

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingisof the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

"I thought I would go up against Derrick in the finals," Robinson said. "I've seen the things that he can do. That guy can jump."

Robinson's first dunk was one of his best. He leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slammed it home. He said 2000 dunk champ Vince Carter was one of his primary influences, along with Michael Jordan, of course.

"Vince Carter did one of his best dunks first, and it kind of intimidated people. That's what I wanted to go out and do," Robinson said. "Who knows if it worked, but they missed some of their dunks and it gave me a little more room."

Afterward, he couldn't take his hands off of the trophy - a gold basketball - and made it sound as if that would remain the case through the weekend.

"I know I'm not letting go of her right there," he said. "She's following me everywhere I go. It's Mardi Gras. We're going to have a good time."

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner, who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said.

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report