The gift-giving guide for NBA Christmas Sunday

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Wait, so we’re going to have actual, real-life games on Sunday? Like, for real? With defense and actual coordinated playsets (as opposed the summer exhibitions) and everything?

BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER.

And since ’tis the season and all, we thought it would be good to put together what the teams playing in Sunday’s season openers really want under the tree.

Miami Heat: A Chemistry Set

It’s amazing that everyone acts like the Heat were the greatest disappointment last year. Teams who finished ahead of the Heat: the Mavericks. That’s it. By two games. Still, the same questions haunt the Heat in regards to chemistry and how they will fit together. The Heat need to find those keys that will enable them to play more cohesively as a team in order to win on Sunday. The Mavericks aren’t the same team they were last year, but they’ll still have more cohesion than most teams. The Heat have added Shane Battier but against the Mavericks they need more than individual abilities. The same problems the Heat had in the Finals will be present, down to how to guard Dirk and how to keep men out on the shooters. But if they can improve their chemical combos, revenge might be theirs even on a day when the Mavericks will raise their banner.

Los Angeles Lakers: A Self-Help book by Phil Jackson

The Lakers need some spiritual guidance. They’re having a rough month. Busted on a trade for Chris Paul, lost Lamar Odom to bad feelings, thin in the frontcourt, Bynum on suspension, Kobe Bryant injured and facing divorce. Mike Brown may wind up a better overall coach than Phil Jackson in terms of in-game adjustments, tactical design, and you, know, doing things during the game, but there’s no question Jackson was the master of motivation. The Lakers need some spiritual and mental healing, and Jackson could provide it. He understands this team, even if he lost it last season. The Lakers are facing a Bulls team that has advantages at multiple positions. They need to find their center, not their actual center, he’s suspended, if they want to start off 1-0.

Boston Celtics: A nice new shiny whirlpool

My first thought was Ben Gay, but that seemed mean. Instead, this team just needs to try and stay as healthy as possible with their age and injuries, especially facing what is going to be a meaner, tougher Knicks team with Tyson Chandler. Even with the Knicks’ defensive non-existence outside of Tyson Chandler, there are some big mean players on that squad. It’s going to be a battle for the Celtics all season and they need what they can get to stay healthy right off the bat.

Orlando Magic: Super-glue.

The Magic are trying to keep Dwight Howard. They’re facing starting off the year against a young contending team featuring multiple stars that has drafted well and made no serious gaffes in personnel management. So they could use something to try and hold Superman to their roster. Plus, against the Thnder, who are one of the most active teams in the NBA defensively, they could use it to limit their turnovers.

Los Angeles Clippers: “Precious memories” scrapbook

You only debut the best team in franchise history once.  The Clippers are ready to unleash the CP3-Blake Griffin combo on the world, and the Golden State Warriors are a suitably terrible defensive team to allow them to run roughsod. A loss would be the ultimate buzzkill. But most likely this is the start of one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. They should just enjoy the ride.

New York Knicks: Temporary tattoos.

The Knicks need to change the perception of their attitude. They need to become a tougher defensive squad. But since they’re mostly made up of poor defensive players and they’re facing of the biggest bully teams in the NBA, they need to do some window dressing. I’m thinking some fake barbed wire or an anchor with “Mom” on it. The Knicks are going to have to get tough buckets. It’ll be a stiff first test for Tyson Chandler who is charged with changing the whotenter. le culture for the Knicks. But at least the Celtics are thin down low, with Kevin Garnett expected to play significant minutes at center. If the Knicks are going to make a statement, they have to believe they are tough enough. You know, pretend.

Chicago Bulls: A new bulletin board

The Bulls are the latest team to post the best regular season record and advance to the Conference Finals while boasting the MVP to claim that they are disrespected. The Bulls feed off of doubt, and with most people not putting Derrick Rose in the running for MVP, nor putting the Bulls in the Finals, they can use a bigger bulletin board to put all their motivational material, especially since they’re so favored on Christmas. The Lakers are in disarray, so it might be easy for the Bulls to get complacent… much like they became after blowing out the Heat in Game 1 of the ECF last season. The Bulls need their edge and to approach the game Sunday with the same level of “why not us?” that helped them to such a great season last year, including a big win over the Lakers.

Golden State Warriors: A 2013 Calendar

This is a team in transition. 2012 doesn’t even help them. Better to look ahead to a full year and get them something to look forward to when the team looks dramatically different. Mark Jackson wants a tough, defensive, veteran team, and this is a young, offensive, inexperienced team. So it’s going to be rough going, especially against a Clippers team that looks ready to go. It’s best to keep an eye on the long-term, the big picture, the hope of 2013.

Oklahoma City Thunder: A Spalding basketball. 

See, because they need two for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, you see. More overrated: the Durant v. Westbrook struggle, or the characterization of that struggle as overhyped? It’s so meta. The reality is that Westbrook isn’t a pure creator, and Durant isn’t great at creating space for himself in key situations. That’s been the lost element throughout this debate. Durant struggles in creating separation, Westbrook blows past everyone. Durant rarely comes off a screen clean for a catch-and-shoot, Westbrook is able to create offense on his own. This is going to continue to be an issue until they resolve that. But in the meantime, maybe they can just both shoot at the same time. Westbrook with layups and pull-up jumpers and Durant with heavily-guarded, fading away 35-footers.

Dallas Mavericks: Nothing.

They get to raise the banner of a championship. What can be better than that?

Sixers’ Ben Simmons fully cleared to play basketball

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Finally, some good news on the health front for Philadelphia.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick a year ago, has been fully cleared for basketball activities about a month before training camp opens, reports Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times.

Simmons was healthy enough to dominate a random pickup game in Australia against a bunch of 5’10” guys this week. We’re desperate enough for good signs that we will take that as one.

Also, Markelle Fultz is expected to be fully healthy for training camp after his ankle sprain.

So much for the good news. There is no updates on the status of Joel Embiid, which is concerning only in that all health news about Embiid feels concerning.

The source said center Joel Embiid hasn’t been cleared for fullcourt scrimmaging “as of yet.” Embiid, who is from Cameroon, worked with children as part of the NBA Africa Game earlier this month, but didn’t play in the Aug. 5 game.

For the sake of the game, we need the Sixers healthy this season and starting to show us how a team with so much promise and potential starts to pay off. Please let us see it. The Basketball Gods need to smile more fortune and the feet and ankles of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Report: Cavaliers called Warriors about Kyrie Irving-Klay Thompson trade

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The Warriors rejected a Klay ThompsonPaul George trade offer from the Pacers.

What about Thompson for Kyrie Irving, who’s younger than George and locked up for an additional season (the same amount of time as Thompson for a similar price)?

Apparently, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman inquired before sending Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

It would be hard to believe that Altman could have landed a better trade than the Boston one. He did call the uninterested Warriors about Klay Thompson, a source said.

I’m not sure what this trade would’ve accomplished for either team.

The Warriors obviously already have a point guard in Stephen Curry. Though Irving isn’t the best distributor, his handles and defense push him to point guard. Curry and Irving would have been a tough fit together. Golden State knows Curry and Thompson are a championship-caliber pairing.

Thompson would have been a big upgrade at shooting guard in Cleveland, but the Cavs would have been woefully undermanned at point guard. Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder wouldn’t cut it. At least the Cavaliers have decent options at shooting guard with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver.

The Warriors would’ve never said yes, which is fortunate for the Cavs. They did better in their trade with Boston, anyway. Thomas can step in at point guard while Crowder still provides much-needed wing depth – plus Zizic and that sweet, sweet Nets pick.

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.