Santa puts five games under your tree (or on your new flat screen) for Christmas

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Phil Jackson and LeBron James may not like having to work — you don’t hear police and emergency room doctors complaining — but Christmas is a bounty for NBA fans. Presents, turkey AND ham, family and five basketball games. Perfect.

Let’s break the games down.

Bulls vs. Knicks (Noon ET, ESPN): This may well be the most entertaining game of the day. The Knicks don’t play much defense do Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose are going to get theirs. With Joakim Noah out, the Bulls have nobody who can slow Amar’e Stoudemire and he is probably going to go off with feeds from Raymond Felton. Both teams are going to score over 100, the tempo will be up and it’s always fun when Madison Square Garden is rocking.

Prediction: Spike Lee gets interviewed and the Bulls win 116-107.

Celtics vs. Magic (2:30 pm ET, ABC): Which Magic team shows up? If it is the one that pushed the tempo and handled the Spurs on Thursday night, this is going to be interesting. That said, the Magic are still feeling their way with the new lineup including Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson – the offensive sets are pretty rudimentary — and that could be trouble against the best defense in the league. However, no Rajon Rondo for the Celtics which means a lot of Nate Robinson, who tends to shoot first and ask questions later, whether he is not or not. Shaq against Dwight Howard could decide this one.

Prediction: Boston extends the winning streak to 15 but it isn’t pretty, 95-90.

Heat vs. Lakers (5 pm ET, ABC): This is going to be fun, the Shaq vs. Kobe showdown… wait, this is not those Heat and Lakers on Christmas? I was so used to that for so many years.

First things first, you can bet Dwyane Wade will be ready to go for this one (he did not play Thursday night). This game will have some spectacular talents — LeBron James, Wade, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom — but it will really be about team defense. Good defensive teams have taken the Lakers out of the triangle and then Kobe tends to run pick-and-rolls, which the Heat defend very well. The Lakers with Andrew Bynum back protect the paint better and can force teams to take a lot of long jump shots, which is a trap the Heat often fall into (and often get away with because they have shooters). Whichever team establishes its game — the Lakers moving off the ball and going through Gasol more, the Heat penetrating and running — will win.

Prediction: Jack Nicholson will go home happy because Kobe closes on the big stage like nobody else, Lakers 93-91.

Nuggets vs. Thunder (8 pm ET, ESPN): No Carmelo Anthony in this one for the Nuggets. The bigger problem for Denver is that Kevin Durant has gotten his groove back in recent weeks and is combining forces with Russell Westbrook in a way that should make the rest of the league a little worried. More than a little, really.

Prediction: Maybe the least entertaining game of the day, Thunder 101-88.

Trail Blazers vs. Warriors (10:30 pm ET, ESPN): Brandon Roy will not play for Portland, which means a lot of Andre Miller. Stephen Curry is a game time decision for Golden State, but less of him is more Monta Ellis. This should be a fun way to close out Christmas Day — look for LaMarcus Aldridge to explode on what passes for interior defense in the Bay Area. Ellis will answer with amazing shot after amazing shot.

Prediction: Just like you at this point in the night the game will be a little sloppy, but the Warriors control the pace and pull it out 108-99.

Did Lakers help keep LeBron James in Cleveland with trade?

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When the trade went down between the Lakers and Cavaliers before the deadline — sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye plus Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick (top-five protected) — it caught the NBA by surprise.

The first reaction for a lot of people to the deal? This opens up as much as $70 million in cap space for the Lakers this summer (depending on other moves with players such as Julius Randle). Los Angeles could sign two max players — LeBron James and Paul George. Why would Cleveland help Los Angeles open up room to steal LeBron.

The Cavaliers didn’t see it that way — they knew they had to make a major shakeup or LeBron was gone. At that point, does it matter where? So in a series of moves, Cleveland GM Koby Altman radically remade the roster around LeBron. The goal was to energize them back into being the team to beat in the East, and from there make it hard for him to leave as a free agent. Since the trades, the Cavaliers are 2-0 and LeBron has clearly been reinvigorated, plus they will add Kevin Love back in a few weeks.

Altman’s plan seems to be working, one executive told Mark Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

I had heard from sources for a while LeBron to the Lakers was not likely (Paul George is another story, that door remains open). As Spears notes, the Lakers did not have an All-Star in Sunday’s game. Even if LeBron and PG13 went to Los Angeles, that team was third or fourth best in the West next season. LeBron is in full on legacy mode and wants to win rings. Los Angeles is not the place to do it.

Houston is interesting (and it’s still a team I hear some execs think has a real shot), but the gutting or role players on that roster to make it work would be a concern. Maybe a dark horse such as Philadelphia can emerge. However, if LeBron can lead this newly-energized Cavaliers team to the Finals again (his eighth consecutive trip there), they get a high draft pick with the Brooklyn pick, then LeBron gets a commitment from Altman and owner Dan Gilbert to keep spending and being aggressive, where is he going to be closer to a title than at home?

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.

Tiago Splitter announces retirement

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Tiago Splitter was so effective in his role for the Spurs during their playoff run to the 2014 title – 19.1 PER, .239 win shares per 48 minutes, +7.5 box plus-minus. It gets forgotten, because he twice lost his starting job that postseason.

Limited by a late start in the NBA and injuries, Splitter’s prime was short and ill-timed. He was a traditional center just as those were going out of style.

But for moments in the right matchups, he provided a major boost to a championship team. That was the peak of a seven-year NBA career.

HoopsHype:

Tiago Splitter announced his retirement at the age of 33 in an interview with SporTV.

Splitter just couldn’t get healthy. He missed 150 games over the last three years with the Spurs, Hawks and 76ers.

Drafted No. 28 in 2007, Splitter remained overseas for a few years and built hype and intrigue. He signed with San Antonio and started alongside Tim Duncan for a couple years. The Spurs later dumped him on Atlanta to clear space for LaMarcus Aldridge – a sign of Splitter’s success. He earned about $47 million in his NBA career.