Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six

The gift-giving guide for NBA Christmas Sunday


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?


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?

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the NBA.com player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.