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.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.