Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks

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.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.