NBA Christmas Day: Naughty and Nice

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With five games on the slate yesterday, we ran down what happened in Baseline To Baseline and broke down Heat-Lakers.  Here’s who left candy in your stocking and who left coal.

 

Who’s was nice:

Monta Ellis: When Ellis is on, he’s an inferno. And the Blazers yesterday were powerless to stop him. With 39 points, he was en fuego, and for a Blazers team that plays pretty good defense but struggles on offense, that’s th equivalent of a death sentence. If Ellis can take the next step and not only be a leader in points per game but in terms of getting his team to play consistently, the Warriors have the talent to make a second-half run. But for a night at least, they’ll be happy with Ellis’ ability to create his own shot, which is nearly second to none in this league.

Kevin Durant: Well, say hey, KD. Durant had been good this season. He really had. But yesterday may have been the game that gets him back on track to being considered one of the true greats in this league. 44 points, with a barrage of those lift-up jumpers, as well as moves to get him to the line where he was 12-15. 21 points in the 3rd, and it was a whole different ballgame for both teams.

The Knicks Defense: I know. We were shocked, too.  The Knicks held the Bulls without a field goal for over eight minutes in the fourth quarter and ran away with a huge win, their second win over the Bulls this season. The Knicks rotated well, cajoled the Bulls into playing their tempo, and stayed consistent with their double-teams, moving Derrick Rose further and further baseline which made his drives harder. Cutting off Carlos Boozer on the pick and roll, and suddenly the Bulls’ offense was a fish out of water. That’s a formula the Knicks could use in the playoffs. Geez, it looks like the Knicks may make the playoffs. How things can change in a year.

LeBron James: Wow. It was one of those games where you remember the total and complete impact James can have on the game. He got away from the drive-and-jump-pass nonsense he’s done all season, and went back to slinging perimeter passes, working out of the pick and roll, and most importantly, pushing the ball in transition. The Heat ran the Lakers out of the building, and James was a huge part of that, making defensive stops, snaring the rebound, and then pushing the fast break. His touch passing with Wade in transition is simply as electrifying as we thought it could be. James had his most MVP-like performance against LA, and was the biggest reason they walked out with a big win.

Who was naughty:

Al Harrington: The Thunder are a good defensive team, and have some length and athleticism to challenge stretch fours. But Harrington was off all day. He finished with 9 points and 6 turnovers, and it was his disappearing act that left the Nuggets without a final chamber left to fire.

Paul Pierce’s 4th Quarter: Pierce was brilliant for three quarters of basketball in Orlando, and looked like the rottweiler clamping its jaws down on the poodle and shaking for all its worth. But then the fourth quarter came, and Orlando started to send doubles at him consistently, including a very active one from Hedo Turkoglu, and Pierce vanished. That fourth quarter is his time, and the Celtics depend on him to produce then, especially when Ray Allen is having a bad day like he was yesterday. Pierce wasn’t having a bad day, he was having a great day, and the Magic just took him out of it. Not a great holiday for the Truth.

Pau Gasol: Someone apparently forgot to tell Gasol that the Heat are weak inside and can’t guard him. Gasol finished with 17 points on 17 shots and was outworked at both ends of the floor by fellow yogurt specialist Chris Bosh. Gasol is the best big man in the game today and simply didn’t effect enough force on either end. He allowed buckets and didn’t create them. with Bryant trying to shoulder the load again, Gasol needed to come through. Instead he faltered, and LA walks out with their second straight blasting on Christmas Day. Bah humbug.

Cleveland OKs last chunk of financing to upgrade Cavs’ arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials have committed the final chunk of financing for $140 million in upgrades planned at the Cavaliers’ home arena.

The makeover of Quicken Loans Arena would include more space for dining and gathering.

The cost of renovations to the concert and sports venue is being split by the city, the team, Cuyahoga County, and a convention and visitors bureau. The final total is expected to be roughly double the initial $140 million price tag, mostly because of interest over the next two decades.

Cleveland’s share is an estimated $88 million over 11 years, starting in 2024. Mayor Frank Jackson signed off on that Tuesday.

The county already approved the deal and agreed to sell bonds for the project.

The team committed to extend its lease at the arena to 2034. It is expected the team will make a bid to host the NBA All-Star game once renovations are complete.

Did Russell Westbrook really block a teammates shot to get ball back during Game 5?

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Well, this video plays right into the hands of the anti-Westbrook crowd.

The knock on Russell Westbrook‘s season-long triple double and MVP candidacy is that he is chasing stats, padding his numbers at the expense of efficiency and making the Thunder a better team. Basically, he’s looking out for himself and to heck with his teammates.

Which leads to this fourth-quarter video from Game 5.

It sure looks like Westbrook blocks Jerami Grant‘s shot to get the rebound (we only have the one camera angle here).

I would argue that this was just Westbrook being uber aggressive — the only way he ever plays — and he was going hard for the rebound and not noticing it was his teammate about to get the ball. Westbrook just wants the ball and gets it. But he also wants to win and would not have taken the ball out of Grant’s hands had he seen who it was in time to react.

Game 5 — where the Rockets eliminated the Thunder — was a microcosm of the Westbrook debate. Westbrook finished with 47 points on 15-of-34 shooting, but was 2-of-11 in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City was +12 in the 41:52 that Westbrook played, but was -18 in the 6:07 he sat. You can read whatever you want into those numbers.

Much like the video above.

Former Pacers’ star Danny Granger on Paul George: “you can’t fault him if he leaves Indiana”

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There was a time when Paul George was an up-and-coming but raw young player on an Indiana team led by Danny Granger. It was when Granger went down injured that George was thrust into a larger role, where he thrived in the trial by fire.

Granger knows what it’s like to be the star player of the Pacers, and he knows George, so on Bill Reiter asked Granger his thoughts during an episode of CBS’ “Reiter Than You” and Granger’s answer was not what Pacers fans wanted to hear.

“You look at him in that press conference (after losing to Cleveland) and his face and the dejection on it – the guy wants to win. Money don’t make everybody happy, but winning and success and your craft, that does fill a void that a lot of these players have. So you can’t fault him if he leaves Indiana, I’ll tell you that.”

Oh, Pacers fans will fault him. Even if he’s traded.

Pacers’ decision maker Larry Bird isn’t going to do anything until he sees if George makes an All-NBA Team, because if he does Indiana can offer him the new “designated player” contract this summer worth around $80 million more guaranteed than any other team can offer. George will not walk away from that.

However, if, as expected, George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Bird is going to have to revisit the idea of trading George, who can be a free agent in 2018 — and the sense around the league is he will walk away at that point if the Pacers are not contenders. (There are a lot of Lakers’ rumors there, but whether George would leave a team where he is dragging lesser players to a low playoff seed and a first-round exit in Indiana for the same situation in his old hometown is up for debate.)

Bird isn’t going to deal George for pennies on the dollar at this point — think the Kings’ trading DeMarcus Cousins — but if some team comes through with a legitimate quality offer of young players that can help jump start the rebuild in Indiana, he may have to jump at it.

Either way, Granger is right that you can’t blame George for wanting to move on, but plenty of fans will anyway.

Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley keep trading insults in postgame press conferences

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Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley were having their war of words during Tuesday night’s close-out game that ended the Thunder season, and they both picked up technical fouls for it.

The two continued that postgame speaking to the media.

Westbrook was up first, and he was asked what happened between him and Beverley (see the video above).

“He was talking about he was first team all-defense, but I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about because I had 42 at the time, I don’t know, maybe he was dreaming or some s—.”

You know the media was going to ask Beverley about that.

“He said no can guard me I’ve got 40 points, I’m like, that’s nice but you took 34 shots to get it.”

So, no Christmas card exchange for those two.

For the record, Westbrook finished the game with 47 points on 15-of-34 shooting, but he was 2-of-11 in the fourth quarter as he started to wear down. The Thunder were +12 in the 41:52 that Westbrook played, but were -18 in the 6:07 he sat to get rest. The game was almost a Rorschach test for what you think of Westbrook on the season — he wasn’t terribly efficient, but he carried OKC as far as he could, that just wasn’t as far as James Harden could take a superior Rockets’ team. If you were in the Harden (or Kawhi Leonard) for MVP camp, you can point to the inefficiency and the end result. If you’re team Westbrook you can point to the raw numbers and what happened in the limited time he sat.

Also, Beverley is going to make an NBA All-Defensive team. If he doesn’t make the first team, that’s more about the time he missed due to injury (and a good field of guards who can defend) than his play.

Beverley has the advantage now of being able to turn his attention to how to defend Tony Parker (or maybe Mike Conley), as the Rockets are advancing to the next round.