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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.

Watch DeMarcus Cousins’ historic 44/24/10 night

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The last time somebody did this — scored more than 40 points, had more than 20 rebounds, and dished out more than 10 assists in a game — “Poseidon Adventure” was in the theaters and Elton John had just released “Rocket Man.” It was Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he was still playing in Milwaukee.

Monday night, DeMarcus Cousins did it.

Cousins scored 44 points, had 24 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in the Pelicans’ double OT win against Chicago. These were not meaningless points, Cousins picked up seven of them in the second overtime.

Cousins has had a monster first half of the season and earned his first All-Star Game start this year.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

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Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

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Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

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“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.