Was LeBron James justified to complain about Miami Heat’s Christmas road game?

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The Miami Heat beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, extending Miami’s win streak to six games, an active NBA best.

The Heat should feel good.

The Heat do feel good.

But there was still a little griping before Miami’s Christmas title with the Lakers, played in Los Angeles.

Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

Truth be told, LeBron James didn’t really want to be here. None of them did. It never made much sense, a viewpoint that Dwyane Wade—among others—made clear to Adam Silver last month, when the commissioner-in-waiting visited the Miami Heat. Silver promised the players that, if they won another championship, they would be home for the next Christmas.

“Great incentive, huh?” James quipped prior to Miami’s mostly uneven but occasionally electric 101-95 win against the Los Angeles Lakers. “Growing up, I thought that was a rule. I don’t know if it was a rule, but I just thought that was like given. I don’t remember ever, besides, I guess, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen M.J. play on the road on Christmas. Maybe in the Garden, maybe.”

“I always thought if you win a championship, you kind of get some perks,” James said. “But we’ve been on the road, we’ve definitely been on the road. But it’s alright. Whatever.”

I’d never heard of the defending NBA champion being entitled to a home game on Christmas before reading this, but recent history supports LeBron’s claim.

The previous four defending champions – including LeBron’s Heat in 2012 – played at home on Christmas.

But before that, there was hardly a definitive Christmas schedule for the defending champion.

Since the league began scheduling Christmas games in 1947, defending champions have been more likely to not play at all on Christmas than play at home. Here are the splits:

  • Home: 23
  • Road: 20
  • None: 24

The defending champion usually playing on Christmas is just a recent phenomenon. Between 1978 and 1987, no defending champion played on Christmas. Since then, the splits favor more home games, but hardly definitively:

  • Home: 13
  • Road: 8
  • None: 5

Here’s the Christmas location for every defending champion in league history (click to enlarge):

image

 

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Trying to find a way to give LeBron the benefit of the doubt proves difficult. Not even back-to-back defending champs, like the Heat, get a guaranteed home Christmas game.

The 1998 Chicago Bulls – featuring Michael Jordan, whom LeBron cited – had just won back-to-back-to-back titles, and they didn’t even get a Dec. 25 game. In 1995, the Houston Rockets were defending champions, and they had to play on the road, as did the Detroit Pistons in 1990 and Lakers in 1988.

LeBron is correct that defending champions get perks. This just isn’t one of them.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.