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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.

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

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Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.

Lakers saw what happened to Jazz, Clippers, say they will not let up vs. Nuggets

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — With one comeback after another in the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets showed themselves to be a team that falls down but doesn’t stay down.

The Los Angeles Lakers noticed.

They watched the Nuggets repeatedly rally from big deficits against Utah and then the Los Angeles Clippers – and, obviously, are aware that the Jazz and the Clippers are no longer in the NBA bubble because of Denver’s comeback abilities.

So the Lakers knew that when it was their turn to face Denver, there would be no letting up no matter what the scoreboard said.

Game 2 is Sunday night. The Lakers know the job is far from over.

“No lead is safe with this team, in the game or in the series,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said. “They have proven that they are a second-half team, where they come out and just destroy teams in the second half and prove that even if they are down a series, they are a team that’s going to be resilient and keep fighting no matter what the score is, what the situation is.

“When we have a lead, we have to lock in even more.”

The Lakers did that in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, turning an 11-point halftime lead into a 27-point bulge in the second half before easing to a 126-114 victory.

“That’s a historic type of resilient team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve got to understand that, both with the series lead 1-0 right now and wherever it goes, but also within games.”

Denver reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009 by becoming the first team in NBA history to erase two 3-1 deficits in one postseason. The Nuggets trailed by 15 points in Game 5 against Utah in their first game facing elimination, then were down 16, 19, and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers.

The Nuggets are the first team with three 15-point comebacks while facing elimination in one postseason since play-by-play began being recorded digitally in 1997.

“This is an opponent we all greatly respect,” Vogel said. “Save for the comebacks, we respect what they are capable of doing on both ends of the floor.”

It won’t matter how resilient the Nuggets are if they don’t make things tougher for the Lakers defensively.

Davis shredded them so easily on his way to 37 points that the Lakers didn’t even need much scoring from LeBron James, who took only 11 shots and had 15 points and 12 assists. Los Angeles got plenty of opportunities in transition and in the paint, which were areas of emphasis for Denver.

“We were giving up layups after we scored baskets ourselves. So that indicates to me that our sense of urgency to get back was not anywhere remotely close to where it needed to be tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game.

When the Nuggets do get back, they need to do a better job of defending without fouling. They sent the Lakers to the line 24 times in the second quarter – Denver shot only 28 for the entire game – and both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had to go to the bench with three fouls in the period.

“We’ve just got to be better,” Murray said. “We’ve just got to be on point. We’ve got to talk more, talk earlier, point, whatever we’ve got to do.”

This is the first time in this postseason the Lakers will take the lead into Game 2, having dropped their opening games against both Portland and Houston. They didn’t lose again in either series.

Going into Sunday, the Lakers will have the second-best record in the postseason at 9-2, trailing only Miami. It’s a big turnaround for the Lakers, who struggled at times during the seeding games in the bubble – but, as James’ teams tend to do in the postseason, are hitting their best stride when the games matter most.

Denver is also used to playing from behind – much further behind. So even though things looked bad Friday, the Nuggets have been in much worse spots in the bubble and found their way out of them.

“We have proven it time and time again that we can learn from our losses and figure out what we need to do better going into the next game and give ourselves a much better chance to win,” Malone said.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).