Christmas night NBA grades: Durant is on the nice list, the Nets get a lump of coal

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while trying to get that “Christmas Jammies” song out of your head….

source:   Brooklyn Nets not named Deron Williams. If you want to blame everyone in a Brooklyn uniform (ugly, Christmas Day sleeved uniform) for that disaster of a loss, I can’t blame you. They were awful. But I lift some of the blame off Deron Williams — when he tweaked his ankle and left the game in the third quarter it was a five point game, 57-52 Bulls. By the time he got back on the court in the fourth quarter the Nets were down 21. You look at the Bulls and you see a team with the heart to play hard with its stars (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng) out for the night, the Nets lack that. They lack a lot of things, but depth and heart are a big part of it.

source:   Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. Frankly, it was hard to get too excited about the Thunder’s blowout win over the Knicks because it pretty much followed the script we expected once word came down Carmelo Anthony was out. I was hoping for an old school Durant/Anthony shootout but what we got still Durant putting on a show — he was 5-of-5 for 13 points in the first quarter to begin with. Durant was doing it all — step back threes, finishing dunks in transition, basically scoring at will on his way to 29 points. And he got to rest the fourth because he was playing the Knicks.

source:   Los Angeles Lakers. Moral victories suck. And it sucks for Lakers fans that they are going to get a lot of them this year. But after watching the first two games of Christmas Day where teams from New York responded to adversity by just rolling over, the way the Lakers responded was refreshing. Nick Young came in off the bench in full Swaggy P mode in the second half and finished with 20 points, Jodie Meeks added 17. Los Angeles wouldn’t let Miami run away and hide in this one, and that’s a good sign for a team looking for positives after Kobe went down with another injury. And by the way, Mike D’Antoni is doing a pretty good coaching job with this team this season.

source:   James Harden, Houston Rockets. Houston had raced out to a 17-point lead but unlike the early games in the day you knew San Antonio wasn’t just going to roll over. The Spurs chipped away and got it down to five points with 8:17 in the fourth quarter — then James Harden happened. He hit his first four shots, scored 11 straight points and had 16 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. Harden shut down any Spurs comebacks. The Rockets looked like a potential contender in this game and for that two come true two things have to happen: 1) They have to play like this consistently; 2) James Harden needs to be their closer, their go to guy in the fourth. Like he was on Christmas Day.

source:  Officials Bill Kennedy, Gary Zielinski, and Scott Twardoski. I generally have a policy — you can’t blame an official’s bad call for the loss. And the Clippers can’t blame them the referees in this 105-103 loss to the Warriors because both Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford had their chances at the end and just couldn’t make the plays (or in this case of when Klay Thompson blocked CP3, the Warriors made the better ones). And it’s not just the end, the Clippers lost a lead and that’s not on the refs. That said,  the referees seriously hampered the Clippers chances — and robbed the fans wanting to see an entertaining game play out — when they ejected Blake Griffin for two technical fouls in under two minutes. In both cases — and elbow above the shoulders from Draymond Green and a little tussle under the basket with Andrew Bogut — Griffin had a flagrant foul committed against him, yet in both cases he got a technical too and was tossed for the second one. (Honestly, that second one was at most a double foul, neither Bogot nor Griffin deserved more.) This game was a bit more chippy than your average December regular season matchup but that’s what made it fun. This came off as the officials trying to get control of a game that wasn’t really out of control. They didn’t need to do it and the altered the game with their actions and poor decisions.

Joel Embiid upgrades himself from 69% to 81%: ‘Shoutout to Jalen Rose’

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A story in three parts:

1. After posting 46-15-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, frequently injured 76ers center Joe Embiid declared himself to be 69%:

2. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called that joke “unprofessional:”

3. Embiid upgraded his status to 81% with a “shoutout to Jalen Rose:”

In case you didn’t get the joke.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!