Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, chances are you’re going to be in front of a television on Christmas Day, spending time with family and friends.
And, because you’re a regular reader of NBA websites, you’re likely to be the smartest NBA Dude/Dudette in the room. With a half a day’s worth of games slated for Friday, there will be plenty of time to steal away a look or three at the league’s five scheduled games.
Chances are, you’ll also be asked to describe the fortunes of the ten teams involved. We’re here to help with that.
(All times Eastern, Santas.)
New Orleans at Miami, Noon.
Pelicans: “No, everyone’s back – we’re just not sure if that’s a good thing.”
The Pelicans are absolutely chock full of players that nobody knows what to do with. Center Omer Asik is skilled, as is Tyreke Evans, but neither seems equipped for the 2016 NBA that awaits them. Evans’ style of ball domination is often welcomed by opposing defenses, and Asik’s defensive work is basically lost on this generation – he’s going to be the guy explaining lossless audio files to the kid with earbuds in on Friday. Then he’ll probably get into why it’s OK to turn the ball over on exactly a quarter of the possessions he uses up.
The Pelicans have dealt with a serious batch of injuries and an incredibly rough schedule to start 2015-16, and there is still an outside chance this team could rebound (not offensively rebound, they’re terrible at that despite starting two giants up front in Asik and Anthony Davis; to say nothing about the lack of low post action) to make the playoffs. Still, it’s worth wondering if this team, even at its best and healthiest, needs a complete reboot around Davis.
Heat: “No, they’re still really good. They just need a LeBron-type.”
They didn’t come out of nowhere – once the Heat dealt for Goran Dragic last February NBA fans were salivating at the thought of this team’s five-man starting unit. Toss in rookie Justice Winslow and the return of Josh McRoberts and you’ve got a stew going. Center Hassan Whiteside has proved reliable; at least for fantasy basketball fans. He isn’t exactly a stat-hound, this doesn’t appear to be a selfish guy, but he still plays a style of ball that was clearly forged by acting as the most athletic and talented player on international teams and minor league outfits. Chasing every block like a ninth grader going up against 10-year olds doesn’t always work in the NBA.
Still, the team has emerged as perhaps the East’s best threat to stop LeBron James’ Cavaliers. Luol Deng has a long history of being asked to chase James around, and Winslow seems like the league’s next great LeBron Stopper; but as Deng will tell you a great defender can take in all the platitudes in the world and still have to stare at a box score postgame that highlights James’ 30 points and 11 rebounds after a loss. Tell ‘em the Heat play bodacious defense now. Actually say “bodacious,” it’ll remind Uncle Hiram of Steely Dan.
Chicago at Oklahoma City, 2:30 PM.
Bulls: “It’s worse than you think. Way worse.”
Chicago fired coach Tom Thibodeau because his offense was from 1988 and he played lineups that worked terribly together on defense. The team’s front office clearly had the hots for new coach Fred Hoiberg well before 2014-15; in a way that made Jerry Krause and Tim Floyd’s pen pal game seem almost distant by comparison. Team leader Jimmy Butler was right to criticize Hoiberg for not holding other supposed team leaders’ feet to the fire, but completely wrong to do it in front of the media. The team’s front office immediately then sold out Butler to that same media. The team is now way, way better on defense and way, way worse on offense under Hoiberg, almost as if they want us to laugh at the funeral.
Literally everyone is wrong here. The game is on national TV, though, so the Bulls will probably win by 12.
Merry Christmas Eve everybody! From OKC wishing all of you happy holidays! How are you all celebrating?
— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) December 24, 2015
Thunder: “This is some Kareem and Magic stuff you’re watching. Maybe even better.”
The Thunder remains top-heavy. Anthony Roberson starts and Kyle Singler … listen, we had to watch Kyle Singler guard LeBron James earlier this month.
This might not matter. Given the “if healthy” caveat, this is perhaps the only squad in the West that can knock off Golden State and/or (because it might have to happen) San Antonio in the playoffs. Kevin Durant appears to be showing no ill effects stemming from the frightening foot fractures he suffered in 2014, and the same can also be said of Russell Westbrook’s past knee ailments. This is a duo for the ages: Magic never even got to play with Kareem in his prime.
Cleveland at Golden State, 5:30 PM.
Cavaliers: “This could be the beginning of a massive, massive run.”
The NBA creates narratives like no other league, for mostly better and sometimes worse, and even the Cavs will admit that this is not only “just another game,” but a chance for a liftoff. Guard Kyrie Irving is back from his fractured leg, he has two games under his belt, and the Cavs could use Christmas as the same starting point that a lot of fair-weather NBA fans do – time to get real with things. This might have been the case even if the team’s scheduled opponent wasn’t the darlings of the sports world, and the team that didn’t have to play the Cleveland’s full roster last June. Remind everyone at the dinner table that the Cavs were up 2-1 in that series when it was announced that Irving would have to sit for the remainder of the Finals.
When LeBron James returned from a needed sabbatical midway through last January, the Cavaliers went on a tear: Cleveland finished the season on a 34-9 burn, while posting outrageous offensive stats. The Cavs aren’t clicking as they should just yet, despite the return of Irving and Kevin Love’s killer post game. Still, this is your NBA stereotype. Cleveland’s season starts on Christmas.
Warriors: “This is the best offensive team you’re ever going to see. I know I said that about the Suns a decade ago, but I’m way older now and you can trust me on this.”
It isn’t just Stephen Curry pulling up for those Dan Majerle (mention Majerle, dad will like that) styled 26-footers. This is about transition points. Lay-ins. Movement and cutting and power forwards running the break and outside of perhaps turning the ball over too much, there isn’t anything this offense does poorly. Remind the family that, even with head coach Steve Kerr still out of commission, the Warriors are shooting a Steve Kerr-like 42 percent from the three-point line as a team.
The Warriors would have to go 36-8 to earn the best record of all time. Remind the folks that the emphasis is on “earn,” and these Warriors should be rightfully placed amongst the greats. This already is a legendary, brilliant team that doesn’t just turn it on for the last two minutes of a game. They’re usually ahead by 18 at that point, so they don’t have to.
San Antonio at Houston, 8:30 PM.
Spurs: “Yeah, same guys. They’re super fun to watch now, though.”
Once you’re done bleating about the Warriors – about how Dennis Johnson or Ron Harper couldn’t stay in front of Steph Curry and about how Kareem couldn’t have handled the team’s small lineup – your credibility has to be on point. Some punk cousin with a new gift will swipe a finger and chime in about how the Spurs actually have the best point differential in the NBA, and they’ll be right. Yes, blowouts tend to blow up these things and the Philadelphia game was inhumane, but point differential is usually the best way of assessing how NBA squads will fare when winter melts into spring.
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Change the narrative, and remind everyone that outside of last year’s Warriors, the 2014 Spurs were probably the most fun watching basketball since [insert dad’s favorite era that he probably slept through anyway here]. New addition LaMarcus Aldridge was understandably uneasy to start, but the team began the season dominating defensively, and since you last saw each other on Thanksgiving they’ve become a fearsome outfit on offense.
(Also, one or two members of your family likely once judged Latrell Sprewell and Allen Iverson based solely on their hairstyles. Don’t remind them of that when they laud Kawhi Leonard’s fundamentals. It’s not worth it. Just be warmed by the fact that you were the right one, back in 1998.)
Rockets: “Better, but who knows what that means?”
The Rockets have also played better basketball since Thanksgiving, but mostly due to a soft schedule. When discussing the firing of former coach and dinner table favorite Kevin McHale, it’s just fine to use the “you can’t fire the players” cliché because, frankly, who would want to fire James Harden (though he’d have to wear a hair net for that beard in my kitchen)? The move hasn’t done much to change the team’s style of play under interim J.B. Bickerstaff (he’ll enter Friday with an 11-8 record), and the team could either be in a world of trouble or pull off what could be an amazing run.
This Spurs matchup is one of two with San Antonio in an eight day span, and one of 11 straight games the Rockets will have played against playoff contenders. The team did well to start that run, downing both the Clippers and an improved Hornets squad in Houston, but they lost in Orlando on Wednesday as the team’s defense deserted them yet again.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 PM.
Lakers: “This is the worst defensive team in the league, by a lot. Kobe’s better now, though.”
When the complaints arise about having to watch a 5-24 team, remind the family that they sit through Detroit Lions games every Thanksgiving, and nobody kvetches about that. If they ask you what “kvetch” means, it might be time to treat yourself to some of that mulled wine that’s been sitting over there.
Mocking the Lakers is routine, at this point, but this truly a miserable defensive outfit in ways that far outpace the rest of the league. Phil Jackson was complaining about Kobe Bryant’s lack of defense all the way back in 2002, before that niece of yours was even born, and Kobe has certainly gotten no better at it after three consecutive years of seeing his season cut short by injury. He and Nick Young will probably wear some obscure sneaker that someone will give a “niiice” to, and Kobe has played better of late – 20.4 points on 45 percent shooting over his last eight games.
This will likely be the last time you’ll get to complain about Kobe Bean Bryant’s shot selection while in the company of extended family. Enjoy it, ya Grinch.
Clippers: “No, it’s OK. Everyone else hates them too.”
By this point in the evening, you’re a little tired. Your correct point about how the NBA has never been better at shooting the ball was refuted by someone who pointed out that three-point percentages have declined, and your whole argument about usage and how the amount of attempts actually leads to a better … ah, forget it. You’re even boring yourself at this point.
You can settle on the Clippers. The team’s offense has fallen off – they barely get easy shots around the rim save for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s throwdowns – and the decline of Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce makes you a little sad. Still, Blake and DeAndre will get a lob or two even with Roy Hibbert on the court, Chris Paul will play the heel that you and dad get to hiss at and Steve Ballmer will remind you of the time all of you went onto eBaumsworld.com to watch that one video when you came home for the holidays during junior year.
The point, for those of us that have been watching since October, and for those just now hopping on, is to enjoy these sorts of silly things. For the latter members of the tribe, welcome aboard – you’re going to have a lot of fun over the rest of the 2015-16 season, and we’re happy to have you back.
And, to everyone, Merry Christmas and happy holidays.
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