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Monday Morning Point Guard

Oh, so you're telling me you can win a title without Shaq? We'll see about that. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

The most highly-anticipated game of the regular season didn't disappoint on Christmas Day, with the Los Angeles Lakers unleashing six months of pent up frustrations on the Boston Celtics and Pau Gasol proving that he wasn't "Gasoft" -- at least for last three minutes of the fourth quarter --in a 92-83 win.

The game meant much more to the Lakers than it did to the defending champion Celtics, but the game proved that if these teams are really on a collision course for June -- of course, Cleveland may have something to say about that -- it should be an intriguing and entertaining rematch. Until then, there is plenty to look forward to in the New Year. Here are five storylines to keep an eye out for in 2009:

1. When, if Ever, Will Gilbert Arenas Return?
With the Washington Wizards in the midst of their worst season in 41 years -- and on pace to win just 15 games -- the future is all that matters to the franchise. And with Ricky Rubio and Blake Griffin seen as the top prospects for the 2009 NBA Draft, the future truly revolves around the health of the $111 million man who has spent the first two months nattily dressed in a suit and an ascot.

There have been rumblings that Arenas may not return this season with the Wizards languishing, but if he gets healthy before April, then Arenas needs to hit the floor, like Elton Brand did the final eight games last season in Los Angeles. Of course, Brand returned in order to make money in free agency, but Arenas is getting paid to play now, not watch courtside. A source close to Arenas said he should be back in late January, "before the all-star break." The Wizards need to know what Arenas can give them in order to know what direction to take the franchise.

2. Will Anyone Challenge the Lakers In the West?
In the most thrilling conference race ever, with eight teams winning 50 games, the Lakers won the Western Conference by just one game last season. This season, the Lakers have dominated conference foes, going 17-1 against the West, compared to just 8-4 against the East.

The Lakers have a five-game lead over San Antonio, which typically owns odd-numbered years. Teams that were expected to compete for conference supremacy have been sputtering because of injuries (San Antonio, Houston and Utah) or inconsistency (New Orleans), while the Lakers have spent this season chasing the Boston Celtics. Boston has Cleveland and Orlando pushing it in the East, but some team needs to step up in the West to keep the Lakers from getting bored.

3. Will Philadelphia or Toronto Get It Together?
The Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors made the biggest offseason moves in the Eastern Conference, with the 76ers signing Elton Brand and the Raptors traded for Jermaine O'Neal. So far, those moves have resulted in disappointment and two coaches getting canned.

Brand is currently out with a dislocated shoulder, but O'Neal turned back the clock about five years in a recent win over the Sacramento Kings. If the season ended today, both teams would miss the playoffs. But there is plenty of time for Brand to heal, and for O'Neal to provide the interior presence the Raptors expected. That still might not be enough.

4. Will LeBron James Be Denied Again?
LeBron James has been putting up MVP-caliber numbers the past three seasons, but with the Cleveland Cavaliers unable to win their division, James has never finished better than second, as he did in 2005-06. James is averaging 27.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists and appears to be a lock to finally win the award with the Cavaliers off to the NBA's second-best record at 26-4 and holding a commanding lead over the Detroit Pistons in the Central Division.

5. Can Oklahoma City Reach 70 Losses?
Boston and Cleveland are both on pace to win 70 games, which would put them in elite company with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won a record 72. But the Oklahoma City Blunder, um, Thunder has the chance to become the sixth team in NBA history to lose 70 games.

At 3-28 after their loss to the Wizards on Saturday, the Thunder is on pace to win just eight games, which would break the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers record of just nine wins. Only four teams -- the 1997-98 Denver Nuggets, the 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks, the 1993-94 Dallas Mavericks, and the 1970-71 Cleveland Cavaliers -- have had worse records after 31 games than Oklahoma City. See what you're missing, Seattle?

By Michael Lee  |  December 29, 2008; 8:57 AM ET
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Next: MMPG: Team of the Week


Glad to see the title, "Monday Morning Point Guard". We need a point guard in Washington and the Wiz sure don't have one.

Which is a big problem that I don't see fixed in this draft. You've got talented young kids like Brandon Jennings and Ricky Rubio but Derrick Rose and OJ Mayo they're not.

The Brand trade seems to have worked out like so many -- take a player who excels in one system, transplant him to its polar opposite, and complain when it doesn't seem to work. You know where Elton Brand would have done better? In Washington. He could pitch his tent down low and let Butler and Jamison draw the defense away from him.

Gilbert may not be a 'true' PG, whatever that is, but he definitely creates scoring opportunities for others as well as himself. If he's more than a shadow of himself, this team could improve fairly rapidly. But when he came back last year, it didn't help that much.

Posted by: Samson151 | December 29, 2008 9:20 AM | Report abuse

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