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Three things we learned on Christmas: Can we just skip ahead to Warriors/Cavs Finals?

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I hope Santa (or Hanukkah Harry, or the creepy but well-meaning gift-giving myth of your choice) was good to you this year. More importantly, I hope you got to spend time with family and loved ones, and savor what is good in this world for the holiday. As for the NBA, here are the takeaways from Sunday.

1) If it’s going to be like this again, can we just skip ahead to the Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals? With all due respect to the fine folks in Toronto, San Antonio, wherever Los Angeles Clippers fans live, or other places where fans may harbor long-shot NBA Finals dreams — we know what matchup we want to see again in June. Warriors vs. Cavaliers. Yes, again. And can we petition Adam Silver to make that Finals best of 11? 13?

Christmas Day’s NBA Finals rematch/preview felt familiar: the Cavaliers can still crank up the defense, disrupt the Warriors, come from behind and beat them. It was different from last June, and yet the same. Kevin Durant was dropping 36 and reminding everyone not to leave his name out of “best player on the planet” discussions. However, in the end, there was still too much LeBron James, the Cavaliers defense can still disrupt the Warriors’ rhythm with the game on the line (particularly Stephen Curry, who shot 4-of-11 on the night), and there was Kyrie Irving hitting the big shot that decides it all (despite great defense from Klay Thompson).

There were so many things that came together to decide this game. Richard Jefferson was turning back the clock with a fourth quarter dunk over Thompson that sparked a 14-3 run by Cleveland. The Warriors were struggling to hit the shots they rely on in the fourth quarter — Golden State shot 7-of-8 in the paint in the fourth quarter but 1-of-11 outside it. There were three turnovers by Draymond Green in the fourth (and there was his first-quarter near meltdown after what should have been a no call went against him and got him his second foul). The Cavaliers were grabbing the offensive rebound on 32.7 percent of their missed shots. And Warriors’ fans, was Durant tripped by Jefferson on the final play? Yes. But don’t blame the officials, that’s not why you lost — if you don’t blow a 14-point fourth quarter lead then you don’t need to get that call to win.

Golden State has been the best team in the NBA most of this season. Sunday the Cavaliers reminded everyone that — just like last year — all those wins does not an NBA title make. LeBron and the Cavaliers can go stride-for-stride with these Warriors and beat them in a seven-game series. And it looks like they will get the chance to do that again come June.

2) Seriously, just rewatch the last couple minutes of Warriors at Cavaliers. On a loop. That should be all the Christmas presents you need. The end of this game was just so much fun.

3) Elsewhere on Christmas, the Celtics are playing better and Russell Westbrook is still putting on a show. While the Warriors/Cavs was the game of the day, it wasn’t the only game. Here are quick notes on the other four:

• Boston has won 5-of-6 and look like a team figuring it out after a slow start to the season. Isaiah Thomas had 27 points, Al Horford had a strong all-around game including a key blocked shot late, and the Celtics beat the Knicks 119-114. Boston held on despite a Kristaps Porzingis-led 16-3 run late by the Knicks that made it a game — the Unicorn reminded everyone just what a special player he is going to be. And is now, for that matter. But right now, Boston is the third best team in the East (and closing in on Toronto fast).

• Russell Westbrook is an unstoppable force of nature, and Lord knows the Timberwolves defense isn’t going to slow him. You knew it was going to be a bad night for the Timberwolves when Steven Adams was out-hustling Karl-Anthony Towns down the court all game long. Westbrook had 37 points and 15 assists in a 112-100 win.

LaMarcus Aldridge would like to remind everyone he is very good at basketball. Maybe he and a bunch of the Spurs — Pau Gasol, certainly Tony Parker — are a step slower than they used to be, but they know how to play the game. Aldridge started the game on a personal 8-0 run, and he and Kawhi Leonard combined for 58 on 22-for-34 shooting for the game, which was more than the Bulls could match and San Antonio got the 119-100 win.

• The Clippers without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are not very good. As in, not good enough to even beat the Lakers, with the hosts getting the 111-102 (this was officially a Lakers’ home game). Nick Young had 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting to lead the Lakers offense.

Kawhi Leonard scores 25 as Spurs dismantle ailing Cavaliers, 103-74

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Cavaliers star LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

His status was not immediately known.

Cleveland has been out of sync recently, losing three of five, and those struggles only got worse against San Antonio. The Spurs led by as many as 33 points to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday.

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of its second rout in the past two weeks.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt and remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. He left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout.

James finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

The Spurs held the Cavaliers scoreless for three minutes after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was issued a technical foul during a timeout with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

Leonard hit a right-handed runner as the second quarter closed to give the Spurs a 64-40 lead.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers. . Cleveland F Kyle Korver missed his third straight game with a sore left foot, and the team plans to sit him for several games to see if rest and treatment helps. Korver will sit out Thursday in Chicago and Friday at home against Philadelphia before being re-evaluated, a team spokesman said. The shooting specialist missed seven games earlier this month with an inflamed tendon in his foot. . G Iman Shumpert missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee. . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O’Neal has 28,596 career points. . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding its opponents to an average of less than 100 points for the 22nd straight season. . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

 

Russell Westbrook dominates final minutes, hits game winner for Thunder (VIDEO)

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This game looked over. The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to take the loss.

Then Russell Westbrook happened.

He scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, then capped it off hitting the game winner for the Thunder (video above). For the game-winner, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender, a smart play when you have a guy this talented.

It was the kind of game that the Westbrook for MVP crowd will point to — he had 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and he absolutely dominated the final minutes of the game (he shot 5-of-9 down the stretch).

This was Westbrook’s 37th triple-double of the season, and the Thunder are 30-7 when he does reaches that mark. Westbrook takes heat in some quarters for “empty stats” or trying to pad his numbers, but the fact is the Thunder are 11-24 when he doesn’t put up the huge numbers and carry the offense. If you’re going to define “MVP” by value to his team, it’s hard not to choose Westbrook this season, this team is toast without him.

Paul Millsap out at least three more games with knee issue, Hawks 0-8 without him

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The Atlanta Hawks have come apart at the worst time. They have lost seven in a row and have fallen from comfortably in the playoffs to tied for the 5-6-7 seed in the East, just 2.5 games out of falling out of the playoffs altogether.

It has all happened with Paul Millsap out, and that is going to continue for about a week more the team announced Monday.

Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap has been diagnosed with left knee synovitis and has undergone a non-surgical procedure at Emory (Orthopaedics & Spine Center in Atlanta). He will be listed as out for the next three games and his status will be updated as appropriate.

Synovitis is when the synovial membrane — which encases joints and helps lubricate them with synovial fluid — becomes inflamed. It’s usually a sign of another issue causing the inflammation.

The Hawks problem is they are 0-8 this season when Millsap is out.

It still feels unlikely Atlanta will fall all the way out of the playoffs (they have a slightly easier schedule than everyone they’re competing against for the slot), but they are more likely than Indiana or Milwaukee to slip. Also, the odds of them finishing with the seven or eight seed seem high, and that likely means a quick one-and-done visit to the postseason.

After that would come some real questions in Atlanta about how much they want to pay Millsap to keep him as a free agent (it’s going to have to be near max money and for five years, or he will look hard at his other options).

Reports: Kings’ owner reaches out to Sam Hinkie; team quickly denies any interest

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Sacramento Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive’s handling of his team makes President Donald Trump look patient and measured. It’s been less than two seasons since Vlade Divac was handed the reins of the Sacramento Kings, and apparently, that means the Kings are overdue for a change.

Ranadive is getting pressure to make a change because the Kings are seen around the league as a poorly run front office (that other teams try to take advantage of), and as part of that process he is reaching out to former Sixers’ GM Sam Hinkie, according to multiple reports. Yes, the controversial man behind “the process.” Zach Lowe and Marc Stein of ESPN have broken the story.

The Sacramento Kings have expressed exploratory interest in former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie, according to league sources.

‎Sources told ESPN.com that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive sought and received permission directly from Sixers counterpart Josh Harris to speak with Hinkie.

Sources say Hinkie has long intrigued Ranadive, whose franchise has been thrust into a rebuilding mode not unlike Philadelphia’s status under Hinkie in the wake of trading DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports adds these details.

The Kings quickly came out and denied the story.

After the denials they would trade DeMarcus Cousins and all the misdirection around the hiring of George Karl, it’s tough to take the Kings fully at face value here.

Hinkie is currently under a non-compete clause as part of his buyout agreement with the Sixers. He can take a job starting this summer.

We’ve got questions.

Question No. 1: If it is available, does Hinkie really want this job? Wojnarowski says he may not be interested. If he’s being brought in to rebuild the Kings from the ground up, that is a long process. Any GM, not just Hinkie, is going to need five years (at least) to have the planted seeds start to bear fruit. As mentioned above, Ranadive has been anything but patient. Hinkie may be willing to wait for another situation that seems a better fit.

Question No. 2: Did Ranadive decide “I need to get the guy that ripped me off on that Nik Stauskas trade?”

Question No. 3: Are the Kings serious about sticking with Vlade Divac, or is Hinkie also going to talk to other potential GMs? There would be guys interested, but they’d want a lot of assurances (read: five years guaranteed and a lot of money).

Question No. 4: What other teams have interest in Hinkie? The ESPN report says other teams have reached out, does this include places were we expecting front office changes such as Orlando? Hinkie in a situation where he already had pieces (like Orlando) and was in the next phase of rebuilding could be interesting.

Question No. 5: Did Divac have any idea this was coming? After that Cousins trade he had to know something could be up, but he said fans should give him two years and the team would be in a better spot or he would step down. But did anyone, including Divac, think Ranadive would be that patient?