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?

Marreese Speights opts out of Clippers contract

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The Clippers are unraveling.

Of course, whether they can re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the big questions. But they also must deal with smaller matters in free agency – like Marreese Speights.

Speights will opt out, his agent tweeted:

The Clippers will hold Speights’ Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), allowing them to give him a starting salary up to $2,540,346 without using cap space or the mid-level exception.

The 29-year-old Speights, a stretch five who takes charges, fits the modern NBA. He could probably get more if he seeks it.

The Clippers won’t have cap space unless they lose Paul and Griffin, and at that point, re-signing a veteran like Speights is of little use. So, it would likely require the taxpayer mid-level exception or Speights taking a discount to keep him.

Luc Mbah a Moute can and likely will also opt out, and he’ll fall in the same Non-Bird situation. The Clippers would likely prioritize their mid-level exception for him – if it’s enough for either player.

Keeping Paul and Griffin is of the utmost importance, but that’s not the Clippers’ only challenge. Even if they keep those two stars, assembling even a decent supporting cast will difficult. Possibly losing J.J. Redick is the main issue there, but handling Speights’ and Mbah a Moute’s roster spots will also be pivotal.

Warriors struggle to get Zaza Pachulia’s 2017 NBA Finals hat on his big head (video)

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Zaza Pachulia became the villain of the Western Conference finals when he injured Kawhi Leonard and torpedoed the Spurs chances of upsetting the Warriors.

But his teammates stood by him – then shared this fun moment with him after Golden State won the West.

Reporter asks Spanish-speaking Manu Ginobili whether he just announced retirement (video)

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Manu Ginobili received an emotional sendoff in the Spurs’ season-ending – and maybe Ginobili’s career-ending – loss to the Warriors last night.

The postgame press conference featured a lighthearted moment when, after the Argentinian guard answered a couple questions in Spanish, an American reporter – not wanting to miss big news – asked whether Ginobili had just announced his retirement.

No, Ginobili assured the reporter. He says he plans to take a few weeks to consider his options.

Warriors make most dominant playoff run ever to NBA Finals

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Moses Malone famously predicted the 76ers team would go “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” in the 1983 playoffs, sweeping all three rounds in four games. Philadelphia didn’t quite do it – sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five then sweeping the Lakers for the title.

Thirty-four years later, an NBA team went “”Fo’, Fo’, Fo'” for the first time.

Golden State swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs in four-game series. But with an extra playoff round, the Warriors’ 12-0 run merely gets them to the Finals.

It’s the ninth undefeated run to the Finals, third since the league adopted four playoff rounds in 1984 and first since the first round became best-of-seven. The Lakers went 11-0 in the playoffs en route to the Finals in 2001 and 1989.

By winning an extra game and outscoring opponents by 16.3 points per game, Golden State now claims the most dominant postseason run to the NBA Finals ever.

Here are the top paths to the Finals, with Finals results, by playoff…

Record (point difference per game in parentheses):

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Point difference per game (record in parentheses):

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This doesn’t guarantee Golden State a championship. The Cavaliers (10-1, +11.9) are on track for an elite run to the Finals themselves, and they have LeBron James.

But the Warriors put ridiculous expectations on themselves by signing Kevin Durant to join a 73-win team featuring Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. I’m unsure a Golden State title this year will be properly appreciated, but so far, the Warriors are doing all they can to clear a bar set unreasonably high.