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

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.