Heat forward James and guard Wade laugh during the closing minutes against the Mavericks in Dallas, Texas

Five things we learned watching the NBA on Christmas

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The NBA gave five Christmas day presents to the fans… which were really more like belated birthday gifts disguised as Christmas gifts because we should have opened the NBA season on Nov. 1. But we’ll forgive and move on, like we do with family around the holidays. We’re just glad to have the NBA back.

There were no real moments of enlightenment among the day of sloppy play. But we did learn a few things. Five things.

1. When the Miami Heat runs they are beasts, and they are running a lot more. Sunday Miami had 100 possessions (via Basketball-Reference) — nearly nine more per game than they averaged last year. The result was Showtime in Miami (and a blowout win).

This is what Erik Spoelstra wants to do all season, it’s why he studied the Oregon offense with Chip Kelly this summer. Despite having all those amazing open-floor finishers — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are as good as there are in the league — the Heat played at the 20th fastest pace in the league last season. If they bump that to top-10 pace this season they become a lot better. Which is scary.

2. The Oklahoma City Thunder are comfortable as contenders. The Thunder dealt with the weight of expectations smoothly on Christmas. They looked polished and like they were having fun.

By the way, that is why OKC got Kendrick Perkins — he threw Dwight Howard off his game and when you can single-cover Howard you can shut down the Magic (even if you are the Hawks). Perkins is going to matter against the Grizzlies and Lakers. He makes them better.

3. The Knicks have the potential to be a reasonable defensive team. The Knicks only played defense in spurts, and I think we can expect that all season. They were good early; the third quarter was a disaster. But on the second to last play they did a good job of taking away the Celtics’ preferred shots and leaving it to Marquis Daniels with the three (he missed). Then again, on the last play the Knicks got lucky because Bill Walker picked off his own man (Tyson Chandler) and left Kevin Garnett with a good look. Simply put, the better their defense the farther they go this season.

4. The Clippers are Chris Paul’s team now. This is not Blake Griffin’s team, this is Chris Paul’s team. Paul has the ball in his hands, he took over late. He was 4-of-4 shooting for eight points and four assists in the final six minutes of the game. There is a lot of work for the Clippers to do: Paul and Griffin have to develop more chemistry, Chauncey Billups has to clean up his shot selection, DeAndre Jordan has to not give up so many offensive rebounds chasing blocks. But when you have a guy like Paul who can take over games you win a lot. And the Clippers are going to win a lot this season.

5. The Lakers have some real grit. There were good signs out of a Lakers loss. Well, not if you watched the last four minutes there wasn’t. But in that game we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know about the Bulls (they play great defense and that Derrick Rose guy is impressive).

But the Lakers, minus Andrew Bynum, played good defense and fought back from being down. Josh McRoberts will do the dirty work and their rookie Devin Ebanks shows promise. Thing is, you don’t win an NBA title without some grit and while we don’t expect it out of the Lakers they showed it. That will serve them well.

The question is can they beat the elite teams? That has yet to be proven.

Anthony scores 35, Knicks beat depleted Heat 114-103

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MIAMI (AP) It’s been a long time since the New York Knicks were in this position.

More than three years, to be precise.

Carmelo Anthony matched a season high with 35 points, and the Knicks took advantage of second chances all night to beat the injury-ravaged Miami Heat 114-103 on Tuesday night. At 12-9, New York is three games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season.

“Any time you can put together some wins you feel confident, you feel comfortable, you feel like you’re heading in the right direction, and I really feel we’re doing that,” Anthony said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which has won four straight. The Knicks lost Derrick Rose to back spasms in the third quarter, but still scored 61 points after halftime.

“We just came out in the second half knowing that we have to win the game and that we have to play better,” Porzingis said.

Goran Dragic scored 29 points and Hassan Whiteside finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who fell to 2-8 at home. New York had a 31-13 edge in second-chance points, and outscored Miami 56-36 in the paint.

“Sometimes the ball goes that way,” Whiteside said.

The teams were tied at 68 late in the third quarter, when the Knicks went on a 27-13 run over the next eight minutes to take control. Anthony finished 13 for 27 from the field, and Porzingis and Joakim Noah combined for 22 rebounds.

The Heat had nine players, and might not have any more than that until next week. Justise Winslow missed his 12th consecutive game with a sore left wrist, and James Johnson (right rotator cuff), Dion Waiters (groin), Luke Babbitt (right hip) and Josh Richardson (right ankle) were also sidelined.

None are slated to travel for Miami’s three-game, four-day stretch that starts Wednesday in Atlanta. The Heat are leaving some staff in Miami to work with the injured players.

“They’re getting way more work in than they would get on the road,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

TIP-INS

Knicks: Coach Jeff Hornacek is now 1-5 against Miami. He’s beaten every team he’s faced, and has yet to coach against his former Phoenix club. … The Knicks missed their first 11 3-point tries, then made 7 of their last 14. … New York is over .500 this late in a season for the third time in 12 years. … Not a good sign for Wednesday, when Cleveland visits the Knicks: New York is 0-4 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.

Heat: It was Dragic’s highest-scoring total as a member of the Heat. … Whiteside has led the Heat in rebounds in all 21 games this season. … Miami struggled again from the line, shooting 16 for 27.

ON PHIL

Spoelstra was asked to respond to Knicks President Phil Jackson’s comments last month about the way the Heat had to handle LeBron James when he played in Miami. Spoelstra laughed it off. “I honestly just think he gets bored and likes to throw stuff out there to get everybody all fired up,” Spoelstra said. James and the Cavaliers visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

TALL ORDER

Hilarity briefly ensued in the second quarter when the 7-foot-3 Porzingis had a jump ball against Miami’s Tyler Johnson, who might be generously listed at 6-foot-4. Shocking: Porzingis won the tap.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Host Cleveland on Wednesday, preceding a five-game West Coast trip.

Heat: Visit Atlanta on Wednesday, followed by visits to Cleveland and Chicago.

Pistons beat Bulls 102-91 for fourth win in 5 games

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Tobias Harris scored 22 points and the Detroit Pistons beat the Chicago Bulls 102-91 on Tuesday night.

Andre Drummond added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons, who won for the fourth time in five games.

Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and Dwyane Wade added 19 points and seven assists for Chicago, which lost its third straight. The Bulls were playing their fourth game in five nights and struggled in the fourth quarter.

Drummond dominated early, scoring 10 points on three dunks and two tips. Even when he went to the bench with foul trouble, the Pistons put together an 11-0 run to lead 36-21 early in the second quarter.

Rajon Rondo had 10 points in his return to the Chicago lineup.

Detroit maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second period, but Chicago rallied after Reggie Jackson picked up his third foul. The Pistons were ahead 51-44 at the half, thanks to a 16-6 edge on points off turnovers. Drummond had 14 in the half, while Butler had 16 for the Bulls.

Chicago was within 51-50 in the first two minutes of the third, and took a 72-71 lead into the fourth. Butler and Taj Gibson both had eight points in the period, while Drummond didn’t score for Detroit.

Darrun Hillard’s 3-pointer capped Detroit’s 12-3 run to start the fourth, giving the Pistons an 83-75 lead with 7:28 to play. The Pistons pulled away down the stretch against the weary Bulls.

TIP-INS

Bulls: Rondo missed Monday’s loss to Portland due to a team suspension.

Pistons: Due to his foul problems, Jackson only played 10 minutes in the first half. He’s still on limited minutes after missing the season’s first 21 games with knee tendinitis, and played eight minutes in the second half. Ish Smith played the entire fourth quarter.

UP NEXT

Bulls: Visit the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.

Pistons: Host the San Antonio Spurs and Pau Gasol on Thursday.

Phil Jackson admits to smoking marijuana after back surgery

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06:  (L-R) Assistant coach Brian Shaw, head coach Phil Jackson and assistant coach Frank Hamblen of the Los Angeles Lakers sit on the bench in the second half against the Boston Celtics Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted to trying medicinal marijuana after a serious back injury sidelined him for part of the 2015-16 NBA season. There has been much discussion about Kerr’s comments, including support from players Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Now, New York Knicks impresario Phil Jackson is saying that he, too, used marijuana to dull his pain after surgery.

Speaking on CBS Sports’ “We Need to Talk” Jackson said that after a back injury in the late ’60s with the Knicks, he used it as a pain medication.

[When I was recovering from back surgery], I was smoking marijuana during that period of time,” Jackson said. “I think it was a distraction for me as much as a pain reliever. But I never thought of it as ultimately a pain medication for that type of situation … We have tried to stop [marijuana use] in the NBA. I don’t think we have been able to stop it. I think it still goes on and is still a part of the culture in the NBA. It is something that we either have to accommodate or figure out another way to deal with it.

As James Herbert at CBS points out, Jackson has admitted to drug use before — notably marijuana and LSD — and has wrongly been painted as a “hippie” because of it.

Still, the more people in the NBA talk about marijuana both recreationally and medicinally the closer we get to change from the league on it.

Whether that day ever comes, who knows, but having important voices like Kerr and Jackson speaking on it only extends the discussion.

Chriss on Draymond Green’s kick: “It’s just something that needs to be addressed”

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Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was at it again last week, kicking Phoenix Suns rookie Marquese Chriss in the hand with an unnecessary, unnatural motion that is sure to draw league eyes once again.

Chriss, who officials decided was not fouled on the play, told reporters on Monday that he felt Green’s actions were extemporaneous and that the NBA needed to do their due diligence.

From AZ Central:

“It’s kind of funny that it happens so much,” Chriss said of Green’s kicks, like Thursday’s boot to James Harden’s head. “I was frustrated at the time but just move on from it. It happens. It’s easy to avoid. In hindsight, you don’t have to kick your leg up in the air as frequently as it’s happening. It’s just something that needs to be addressed.”

The Suns rookie was feeling the results of Green’s kick a few days after it happened, and the photo on Twitter of Chriss’ pinkie was pretty gross.

Via Paul Coro:

Yikes!

Green drew a flagrant for kicking Houston Rockets star James Harden last week as well, and then two days later kicked Chriss.

Hopefully the league can find a way to put a stop to this. They already knocked Green out of Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, a move which perhaps spurred the Warriors to blow a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At this point, it’s an unnecessary mark on Green’s stellar NBA career and story, a characterization that will follow him the rest of his career even if he becomes a champion again.

It’s disappointing if you enjoy the way Green masters the rest of the game, and as Chriss says, it’s up to the league to decide what to do next.