Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose

Previewing NBA’s Christmas Day tip-off

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Time to unwrap the present of an NBA season — and just like the gifts under the tree there may be some assembly required. Condensed training camps and just two preseason games is going to mean some sloppy openers on Christmas day.

But they are games, which are vastly superior to antitrust lawsuits. So let’s see what you’ll be watching on that new 60-inch plasma television (or streaming on your phone and trying to watch when your parents and nosy aunt aren’t watching).

Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, noon ET (TNT): The two teams that will battle it out for the Atlantic Division crown face off to start the season. I think the Knicks will win the war for the division because they will come together as the better offensive team with enough defense, and the Celtics will wear down. However, the battle for Christmas Day may be different with the new-look Knicks trying to figure things out and the Celtics slipping into old, comfortable roles before the wear and tear hits their bodies. If Paul Pierce sits (bruised heel, day-to-day) the Knicks probably have too much firepower.

Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks, 2:30 p.m. ET (ABC): Winning this game does not make up for last June, but the Heat will come out fired up. Dallas is going to be a very good team this season, very versatile, but they are still trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Miami knows what it is doing — attack. Get out and run. While Brendan Haywood is solid he is no Tyson Chandler — Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have less to fear driving the lane in this game.

Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers 5 p.m. ET (ABC): All the talk is about Kobe Bryant and his wrist ligaments — the guy is going to play, do you really have any doubt? The bigger issue for the Lakers is Andrew Bynum will sit the game out on suspension (five games) for flattening J.J. Barea at the end of the Dallas series last playoffs. Without Bynum in the paint to alter shots Derrick Rose and company will get better looks. Plus, the Lakers are trying to figure out their new offense and the best defensive team in the league is a tough place to try and learn things.

Orlando Magic vs. Oklahoma City Thunder 8 p.m. ET (ESPN): What is the over/under on time the announcers spend discussing the Dwight Howard situation? As Atlanta showed in the playoffs last year you can defend and beat the Magic if you have a big man who can at least impede Howard one-on-one. Meet Kendrick Perkins. Plus, that Kevin Durant guy is pretty good.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): Hey Mark Jackson, welcome to the NBA coaching ranks. Draw up a system where you can stop Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with Kwame Brown. Right now the Clippers are having a lot of fun playing and the Warriors have a new system, Stephen Curry is a game-time call and Monta Ellis could get handed a subpoena walking off the court. But watch this because the Clippers are just flat out entertaining.

Terrence Jones scores 36, leads Pelicans past Cavaliers 124-122

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James‘ dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James’ drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Two of Cleveland’s recent losses came against Western Conference leaders Golden State and San Antonio, but two others have come against teams currently outside the playoff picture in the West: New Orleans and Portland.

Kevin Love had 22 points for Cleveland, which could not quite keep pace with a Pelicans squad that tied a season high for 3-pointers with 16 and shot 49.4 percent (43 of 87).

Donatas Moteijunas scored 14 for New Orleans, while Dante Cunningham scored 11. Each hit a pair of 3s.

The Cavs drained 15 3s, eight by Irving, whose step-back jumper from long range had Cleveland within three with 21 seconds to go, but the Cavs got no closer until Love’s anticlimactic 3 in the final second.

Embarrassed in a 29-point loss to NBA-worst Brooklyn at home on Friday, the Pelicans were eager for a chance to redeem themselves with a competitive showing against the defending champs. That did not appear likely when New Orleans announced less than an hour before tip-off that Davis would be unable to play because of his right leg bruise lingering from a collision with the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.

Coach Alvin Gentry inserted Jones for Davis as the starting center, and he responded with arguably the most dynamic half of play in the fifth-year veteran’s career. He hit all eight of his shots in the first half, scoring 22 points on an array of jumpers – including two 3s – weaving drives and feisty put-backs.

Holiday, meanwhile, got into an equally prolific rhythm, hitting three 3s and highlighting several impressive drives to the hoop with a two-handed dunk. Holiday’s pullup jumper from just inside the 3-point line with 6 seconds left in the second quarter gave him 22 points and New Orleans a 22-point lead, and Holiday pumped his fist while one of the biggest crowds of the season went wild.

In the last second of the half, James executed a long inbound pass to Love, who converted a quick-release layup to make it 70-50.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Coach Tyronn Lue was assessed a technical foul by official Leroy Richardson after the coach chastised Richardson for a late whistle giving Moteijunas free throws following a missed layup. … The Cavs won the teams’ only other meeting this season, 90-82 in Cleveland on Jan. 2. … Irving slung in what would have been a sensational, off-balance, one-handed shot from about 30 feet, but it didn’t count because it came too late after Irving was fouled by Tyreke Evans as the pair pursued a loose ball near mid-court.

Pelicans: New Orleans improved to 2-2 without Davis in the lineup. … G E'Twaun Moore, who is 6-foot-4, delighted the crowd by rejecting the 6-8 James near the basket in the first half. … New Orleans shot 60.5 percent (26 of 43) in the first half.=

 

Heat’s Dion Waiters drains game-winning three to knock off Warriors (VIDEO)

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Last week Golden State crushed Cleveland, Oklahoma City, and Houston.

But none of those teams had Dion Waiters.

The final three of Waiters’ 33 points came on a deep pull-up three with 0.6 seconds left to give Miami a 105-102 upset of the Warriors. Waiters shot 13-of-20 overall and 6-of-8 from three.

This was a night the Warriors just could not get the three ball to fall, shooting 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) from deep. This ended Golden State’s seven-game win streak and extended the Miami win streak to four.

Joakim Noah with as ugly a free throw as you’ll see. And he knows it. (VIDEO)

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Joakim Noah used to be a good free throw shooter, he’s hit 70 percent for his career. But he’s shooting just 42.9 percent this season.

And no miss was uglier than the one Monday night against the Pacers.

The best part of this airball was Noah’s reaction — he knew it was bad the second he let it go.

If you want to draw parallels with the Knicks’ season, go for it.

Stephen Curry finds Kevin Durant for tomahawks slam in transition (VIDEO)

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The Warriors in transition can be beautiful basketball.

And if you don’t stop the guy with the ball from getting a straight line to the hoop, there will be highlights. In the first half Monday night, the Heat did a good job making Stephen Curry give up the ball in transition (not letting him just pull up for a three), but he found Kevin Durant, who found a lane to the basket, and… highlight tomahawk dunk.

It was a two-point game at the half between the Heat and Warriors, after what was a second quarter both teams probably want to forget.