Before you bust out the celebratory champagne and start singing "Auld Lang Syne," you might want to treat yourself to one of the absolute best point guard matchups the NBA has to offer.
Well, maybe. We'll see.
The New Orleans Hornets are coming to Boston, where they'll take on the Celtics in a New Year's Eve showdown at 3 p.m. ET. That means that one of the league's best point guards, Chris Paul, will take the TD Garden floor in a marquee matchup with the defending East champions.
And if we're lucky, we'll see another of the game's best, Rajon Rondo, matched up with him.
Rondo has been out for the last six games with a badly sprained right ankle, and he's watched the Celtics go 4-2 in his absence. The 24-year-old guard is very close to a return, but the team remains concerned about swelling in the ankle, and it's currently unclear whether that return will come Friday against the Hornets.
The Celtics had better hope it does. Having a healthy Rondo going toe to toe with Paul is the key to finishing 2010 with a victory.
Especially with Kevin Garnett out of the picture, missing for two weeks with a strained leg muscle, they need Rondo to step up and become the defensive anchor. This is the matchup where they need him most.
Paul does a little bit of everything for the Hornets. He's an incredible passer. He has the speed and the athleticism to get to the basket for layups with ease. He's even become an increasingly dangerous jump-shooting threat in recent years. While injuries and off-court drama have distracted the basketball world from his greatness, Paul is probably the best point guard in the NBA today. He might even be the best we've seen since Magic Johnson retired.
The Celtics can't outplay Paul without Rondo. They need his defensive effort, for one thing, and on the other end, they need Rondo as a playmaker. No one gambles for steals quite like Paul — he's smart, he's lightning-quick, and he's dazzlingly successful. The Celtics have to maintain their ball movement while keeping turnovers down. It's impossible, unless Rondo comes back healthy and does his thing.
The Hornets are nothing more than a fringe playoff team. Their rotation is deep but not especially scary beyond Paul and David West, who has a sprained ankle and might not even play against the Celtics. The Hornets aren't world-beaters, but in the right matchup, they can beat teams simply by letting CP3 take over.
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