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.

Newspaper editor on Michael Jordan article: ‘What other photo could be more suitable than the infamous Crying Jordan meme’

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Jordan to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame speaks during an induction ceremony on September 11, 2009 in Springfield, Massachusetts. 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 Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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A Malawian newspaper, writing about Michael Jordan’s statement on race, used the Crying Jordan photo accompany the article.

How did that happen?

A page designer who didn’t understand the meme? A joke never fixed before printing? A staff-wide ignorance of the photo’s cultural relevance?

Justin Block of The Huffington Post:

As it turns out, the newspaper is called The Nation, or The Malawi Nation. When reached for comment on Thursday afternoon, The Nation Senior News Analyst Joy Ndovi stated that using the Michael Jordan Crying meme was intentional, and said Sports Editor Garry Chirwa picked the photo.

Chirwa told us that when he read the story, he felt that the emotions packed within Jordan’s quote, “I could no longer keep silent,” were represented in the Michael Jordan Crying meme.

“I just imagined him crying,” Chirwa wrote via WhatsApp.

Ndovi echoed Chirwa’s sentiments:

The article on Jordan reacting to the violence in U.S. was just the perfect one for the meme to be used. It depicts the emotional state of the former NBA star. Though it might seem unconventional, what other photo could be more suitable than the infamous Crying Jordan meme?

I can think of a few.

Amar’e Stoudemire: ‘My heart was in two places – Phoenix and New York. I just went where I was wanted’

New York Knicks v Phoenix Suns
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Before signing with the Knicks to retire, Amar’e Stoudemire reportedly wanted to sign with the Suns this year and last.

He essentially confirmed both accounts.

Stoudemire, via Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:

“The last two years, we made phone calls to Phoenix but I wasn’t getting any positive response,” Stoudemire told azcentral sports on Thursday. “That would’ve been the perfect way to go out. I didn’t want to beg Phoenix. My heart was in two places – Phoenix and New York. I just went where I was wanted.”

According to the report, Stoudemire wanted to play for Phoenix next season — not just retire as a Sun. If that’s the case, I see why the team passed. The Suns have 15 players (the regular-season roster limit), are rebuilding and already have Tyson Chandler as a veteran big.

But if Stoudemire wanted sign an unguaranteed deal with the Suns then retire as a ceremonial move, it’s a little harder to explain Phoenix’s reluctance. Perhaps, the Suns were caught off guard by such a request. Nobody in memory had done something like that in the NBA. The gesture is far more common in football and baseball.

Either way, Stoudemire retiring as a Knick wasn’t designed to show a long-standing bitterness toward the Suns.

A recent bitterness toward the Suns? Maybe.

Karl-Anthony Towns dunks on poor kid (video)

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns celebrates after hitting the game-winning shot in an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Saturday, April 9, 2016. The Timberwolves won 106-105. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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Karl-Anthony Towns has replaced Anthony Davis as the consensus MVP-in-waiting.

Are you ready, NBA?

Here’s a sneak preview of the Timberwolves center’s future:

Craig Sager to skip Rio Olympics to fight leukemia

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Legendary TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager talks with Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Sager is on a one game assignment for ESPN. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Craig Sager’s fight with leukemia will prevent the basketball sideline reporter form covering the Rio Olympics for NBC.

NBC said Thursday in a statement that the 65-year-old Sager is preparing for a third bone marrow transplant at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Sager was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2014 and announced in March that he was no longer in remission.

The Rio Games would have been Sager’s fifth Olympics.

Sager has worked for Turner Sports for 34 years. At the ESPY Awards this month, Vice President Joe Biden presented Sager with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.