Celtics

Haggerty: If NHL lockout hits courts, unknown awaits

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Haggerty: If NHL lockout hits courts, unknown awaits

Maybe this legal gambit will work out fantastically and end the lockout. Or maybe it will be the final nail hammered into the 2012-13 NHL regular season's coffin.

Those are the kind of wide-ranging legal opinions being tossed out as both the NHL and NHLPA weigh their arguments in case the lockout heads to court.

Legal experts can opine and give their educated takes on how things will play out if it does get to that point, but the truth is that nobody really knows. The NBA settled before things got to that point. And though the NFLPA decertified during last years lockout, the circumstances were different.

Both the NHL and NHLPA would probably like to avoid court. That would open up the possibility of a giant labor defeat for the NHL if the players win. Or, if the league wins, it could mean the voiding of all current contracts. Neither of those options are good ones for the long-term health and well-being of the NHL.

Heres what we do know: The NHLPA is currently holding an electronic vote among their 700 plus members on whether to give the Executive Committee permission to potentially file a disclaimer of interest that would essentially dissolve the union. The results of the vote should be known by Thursday, and then the NHLPA Executive Committee would have until Jan. 2 to decide on their action.

The players feel like they have done their part. They made the last offer and moved toward the NHL in CBA length, player contract rights and transitional rules. From day one, it hasn't ever felt like a negotiation to members of the NHLPA, and that certainly hasnt changed with the lockout hitting Day No. 93 on Tuesday.

The one message weve come away with over these last few months is that the league has no desire to negotiate, said a source on the players side of the table. In most negotiations both sides will give a reason why theyre standing pat on certain issues. Theyll tell you why they need something. With the NHL all you hear them say at the table is 'because thats what we need' when you try to find out what their thinking is. They dont want to have give-and-take to negotiations, and that can be difficult to deal with.

The lockout will hit Day No. 100, by the way, on Christmas Day. So theres a nice little yuletide kick in the Santa pants for hockey fans.

NHL owners, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly feel like they are done. The league has made their final offer with a 10-year CBA, a 300 million make whole provision to offset the 5050 split, five-year limits on personal player contracts and strict transitional rules with no escrow cap. Theyve repeatedly said it was the best offer they had to make, and its in the take it or leave it mode if its even still on the table. They also believe the NHLPA disclaimer of interest is a charade meant to create negotiating leverage.

Both the NHL and NHLPA feel like theyve done all they can do, and both sides are simply waiting for the other to end the stalemate.

Thats what everybody wants to hear, right?

At this point there are no winners. The owners and league are universally viewed as the entity responsible for both the lockout itself and the hard feelings that have characterized it. But the players are also taking a major hit, especially in Canada where the economy is feeling the bite of hockeys absence. Many hardcore Canadian hockey fans seem to view this as simply a battle of millionaires versus billionaires," and they've swung their support to the NHL owners, something players are keenly aware of.

The middle ground is still there for both sides, and they could hammer out a workable CBA within a few hours if thats what the NHL and NHLPA wanted. A conversation this week could make all of this moot, but sometimes the most difficult part of negotiations is when both sides sense the finish line is near.

Now it becomes about perceptions of winners and losers, and keeping promises that were made before this began in September. Realistically the NHL and NHLPA have until at least mid-January to finally agree on a CBA preceding a 48-game shortened hockey season. So neither side is in last ditch mode quite yet.

But if the union dissolves, lawsuits ensue, and the lockout moves to the federal court system, odds are that everyone loses. Then things could get awfully dark for the world of hockey. Once things are out of the hands of the players and owners, just about anything could happen.

That the situation could possibly get any murkier and gloomier than it has already become is a scary thought.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Hawks in Atlanta. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”