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.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

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Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

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Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

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“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.

Jason Kidd says Giannis Antetokounmpo offered to save his job minutes before firing

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The stagnant Milwaukee Bucks shook things up by firing head coach Jason Kidd  Monday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was not happy with the news. So much he called up Kidd and offered to help save his job, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Antetokounmpo is understandably close to Kidd — he’s been the coach who helped transform the Greek Freak into an NBA superstar. Kidd is on his way to the Hall of Fame as a player, and as a coach had the vision to put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands as a point guard. Antetokounmpo trusted Kidd.

However, the Bucks’ growth has been stagnant — this is a team where the players talked about being a 50-win, top-four team in the East with a strong defense, instead they are a team on the way to around .500, barely hanging onto a playoff spot, with the point differential of a team that wins 36 games. They are not taking a step forward, and the Bucks — with the approval of ownership, which was very close to Kidd at one time — approving the move.

There was nothing Antetokounmpo could have done. It’s life in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he has to like it.