Westbrook, Warriors, and Cavaliers: 3 things to watch on Christmas (VIDEO)

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Christmas Day is upon us and that means it’s time to hope there’s as much loot as possible in your stocking and that you’re left alone to do what everyone wants to do on a day like this: watch basketball.

In fact, there’s a full slate of games on Christmas in the NBA, including the one everyone is anticipating in a rematch of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

I have three things I want to see in particular on Christmas as I try to avoid my one uncle who always seems to drink too much eggnog and talk my ear off saying look, Dane, I know it’s your job and everything but the NBA was absolutely better in the ’90s because of hand-checking, OK?

I’m just hoping underneath the tree this year is a pair of much-needed ear muffs.

Russell Westbrook vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves Defense

Russell Westbrook is an absolute monster. I think we all know that by now as the Oklahoma City Thunder guard is averaging at triple-double. No, the Thunder offense isn’t remarkable outside of Westbrook — ranked just 15th of 30 — but the Timberwolves defense is bottom 5 and that should be fun to watch no matter what.

What else do you want to see on Sunday other than a man trying to ruin someone else’s Christmas by dunking every single one of his 44 points?

Plus, Karl-Anthony Towns!

Christmas Carmelo Anthony vs. the Boston Celtics

Here isCarmelo Anthony’s point totals from his last four Christmas Day games: 34, 34, 37, 32.

It’s easy to say that I want to watch this game because of the offensive firepower between the Celtics and Carmelo, so I will. The New York Knicks in each of those four games have a record of 1-3, but Boston has the 14th-ranked defense in the NBA. The Celtics are also bringing a Top 10 offense headed by Isiah Thomas.

The only thing about this one is that it might be too much scoring too early in the morning for me to enjoy this one. I’m going to be in a robe on my parents’ couch while Carmelo and Thomas might combine for 70 before I’ve had a bagel.

Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers II: Electric Boogaloo

This is what we all came to see. It’s what I’ll be watching at 11:30 AM PST here on the West Coast through bites of whatever syrupy, waffle-and-whipped cream dessert thing we have Christmas morning I’ll unconvincingly tell my girlfriend is actually just a light brunch.

Kevin Durant — as you may remember — was on the Thunder last season and now (gasp!) has joined forces with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to try and slay the dragon that is LeBron James and his band of merry men (read: J.R. Smith).

Narratives aside, this is likely to be the best actual basketball game of the day from an execution and competition standpoint, and very well could be a 2017 NBA Finals preview.

So we’ll see you on Sunday, phone in hand and checking scores as you try to seem grateful for the third Slap Chop you’ve unwrapped in as many years while sneaking peeks at the TV.

And hey, the best thing about that 11:30 AM Warriors – Cavaliers game?

It’s still too early for eggnog.

Full schedule:

Knicks vs. Celtics | 9:00 AM PST on ESPN
Warriors vs. Cavaliers | 11:30 AM PST on ABC
Bulls vs. Spurs | 2:00 PM PST on ABC
Timberwolves vs. Thunder | 5:00 PM PST on ESPN
Clippers vs. Lakers | 7:30 PM PST on ESPN

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

Meek Mill gets out of jail, takes helicopter to 76ers-Heat, rings bell pregame

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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had been one of the most notable NBA players leading the charge for the #FreeMeekMill movement. The rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan, has been incarcerated for violating the terms of his probation multiple times.

At the heart of the movement to free Meek Mill is the idea of comparative justice, that he has been unfairly targeted because of his race as an absorber of punishment from the penal system despite it being a decade since he committed his crime. People from Embiid to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made their voices heard on the subject.

Today, Meek Mill was released from prison and was sent a special gift: the opportunity to fly via helicopter, provided by 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin, to Game 5 between the Sixers and Miami Heat.

When he arrived at the game, the rapper rung the ceremonial bell before tip-off.

Not a couple of hours fresh out of the joint.