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Coal or Candy: 10 Christmas gifts for good players and bad NBA teams

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It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: Annoying TV jingles that make you a brand adversary rather than a loyalist. Plus, NBA basketball!

Yes, Christmas truly does belong to the NBA in the sports world. We all should be ready for Monday’s slate of games, all of which should provide for an interesting way to ignore your extended family (no promises for that Timberwolves-Lakers game).

This also means that we should be making our list, and checking it twice to see who has been naughty and who has been nice during this young NBA season. Let’s get our trusty quill out and head to the scroll to see what NBA teams and players will be asking for come December 25.

A clean bill of health for Joel Embiid

At this point, it seems as though there’s a faction of fans — mostly outside of Philly, it would stand to reason — that want “The Process” to fail. That means actively rooting against Embiid (which he predicted, naturally). I don’t think the 76ers need Embiid long-term to succeed. They have a great core that can grow, and continued diligent draft decisions, trades, and free agent signings should get them where they need to go. But why wouldn’t you want to see Embiid play?

A resolution on officiating from the NBA

Originally, when this article was planned I had this written down on my list as “some explanation for what’s going on” but we sort of got that from the NBPA an NBRA. We don’t know what’s going to come of the two associations sitting down to talk, or even if they will announce anything if they come to some sort of resolution. But we should start hoping to see some kind of change soon. Guys can’t be getting tossed on one technical foul.

Playing time for Jahlil Okafor

As of writing, Okafor has played in just one game for the Brooklyn Nets after being traded to the team from the 76ers in early December. The talk — outside of Okafor and his former coaching staff going back-and-forth — has been that Okafor needs to get into game shape and learn the new system in Brooklyn. Still, this feels weird and has to be more than we’re being let on. One of the best ways to get into game shape would be to play in games, and it’s not like Brooklyn could do any worse. They’re on a four-game losing streak and aren’t a playoff team.

Confidence in beating the Warriors for the Houston Rockets

Houston GM Daryl Morey says the team is obsessed with beating Golden State, and as we’ve seen in the past, the best way to gain confidence is to beat them over and over again. The Rockets already beat the Warriors in the first game of the year, and they play twice more in 2018 before the playoffs. Still, will that be enough to bolster them before what everyone is assuming will be a Western Conference showdown?

Shooting confidence for Lonzo Ball

The guy did block James Harden the other day, but he’s still shooting just 34 percent from the field. No, his shooting form isn’t going to get corrected over the course of the season. Most coaches wouldn’t try to do that, and it’s doubtful his father even lets anyone suggest as much next summer. But his long release is secondary to his clear reluctance to even let it fly. That’s a good thing for most rookies, but Ball is crucial to his team’s success and he’s not exactly Boston-era Rajon Rondo on defense. Let it fly, young buck.

A gameplan for the Oklahoma City Thunder

Watching the Thunder is weird enough, but looking at their stats really confirms the tale of the video. Oklahoma City is 26th in the NBA in terms of pace, which feels right considering the ball-stopping nature of their offensive weapons. It’s also a huge step back from last season, when the team finished 9th thanks to Russell Westbrook running at full speed at all times. They’re also No. 2 in defensive rating, another surprise. But it hasn’t yielded them returns. They’ve recently jumped into a playoff spot, and that could be them settling. But any confidence of them in the playoffs would be misplaced at this moment.

Some kind of promise to pursue a team for Seattle fans

There’s a memorandum of understanding for remodeling Key Arena, which is good for the city overall. It will probably net them an NHL team, and a better arena was what former SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz was going for back before the team moved to Oklahoma City. It’s unlikely any NBA team ever calls Key Arena home, but if the Oak View Group at least makes an effort to feign a pursuit of a team it would be a step in the right direction. Seattle is too great a basketball city to have no NBA squad.

More Michael Beasley for Knicks fans

Beasley went HAM on Thursday night, scoring 32 points in a winning effort over the Boston Celtics. He’s been a double-digit scorer for the entirety of December, save for two games. Beasley has also been a key bench player for New York, but that’s not why he’s interesting. B-Easy is still just 28 years old, and getting more fun game out of the former No. 2 overall pick is exactly what basketball twitter needs in the middle of these long, winter weeks.

A playoff spot for the Pacers

Seriously, how great is this Pacers story? They get their legs swept out from under them by Paul George, and when the time came to trade him, Indiana somehow makes out like a bandit. Victor Oladipo looks much different, which is a relief for those of us who were down on the former No. 2 overall pick from 2013. The team currently sits at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, and all of us are hoping they make it to the finish line both for the longevity of the Pacers and to make things interesting come spring.

A Lakers jersey for LeBron James

Like, maybe just as a white elephant gift (but also maybe for real).

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.

Rockets survive gut punch from Warriors, even Western Conference Finals at 2-2

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The Houston Rockets can only win against the Golden State Warriors in one way: ugly.

During their Game 2 blowout against the defending champions, Houston’s 22-point victory was ugly for the Warriors. In Tuesday’s Game 4 win, it was ugly for the Rockets despite the 95-92 score in their favor.

Golden State came out of the gates hot, scoring the first 12 points of the game as it was clear that the Warriors were drawing off of the home crowd back in Oakland. Houston eventually settled, coming back with a massive 34-point second quarter. Mike D’Antoni, using an abbreviated rotation, found a way to up his team’s defense on the Warriors, clamping down on Golden State from the 3-point line.

The Rockets took a 53-46 lead into the half, and needed to brace for the coming changes from Steve Kerr’s squad.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors answered with a 34 point quarter of their own to open the second half. Golden State found their range from 3-point land as — guess who — Stephen Curry started to go nuclear. Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points but shot a woeful 37.5 percent from the field, started to slow even as he got open looks off jumpers above smaller defenders.

Then came the fourth quarter.

Houston remained resolute, and full of energy as PJ Tucker and Chris Paul jumped for loose balls and battled for rebounds. Meanwhile, Golden State appeared to slowly run out of gas. Steve Kerr said as much after the game, intimating that his own shortened lineup without Andre Iguodala could have played a role.

D’Antoni, who obviously had a game plan to better defend Durant, then focused his attention toward Curry. The Warriors point guard finished the game shooting 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter, including a miss on the final shot of the game.

Curry scored 28 points with six rebounds and two assists. Durant added 12 rebounds and three assists to his scoring total. Draymond Green contributed 11 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists.

For Houston it was Harden who led the way with 30 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Paul had 27 points to go with four assists and two rebounds. PJ Tucker, who scored just four points, grabbed a whopping 16 boards. Clint Capela was much the same, scoring eight points while grabbing 13 rebounds.

This season’s Western Conference fighters has been both puzzling and Expected. Well the variants of victory margin has been much greater than any of us anticipated for both sides, the fact that the coaches on each bench are trying to out dual each other each game Runs with the idea we have of some of the best playoff series in NBA history. In fact, the back-and-forth battle between two teams as they trade winds is perhaps what makes be later rounds of the NBA playoffs so worth watching.

Houston’s victory was gritty, and defensive, and not much to look at. True to his persona, after the final horn Rockets point guard Paul called it, “A fun game.”

While we finally got ourselves a close conference finals game out West, the question now turns to what the teams will do for Game 5 back in Houston. Will this series become more competitive? Or will Houston and Golden State continue the back-and-forth, big-margin victories we’ve seen thus far?

No matter what, there’s no doubt the Rockets will be trying to recapture the defensive aura they held in Game 4 as Golden State tries to find a way to break through it.

Report: Suns could have traded for Kristaps Porzingis last season

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I’m going to need New York Knicks fans to read this one with their eyes closed. Ready? Here we go.

The Phoenix Suns recently won the right to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. That means they will be adding a player like Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton, or Marvin Bagley to their young roster. Last season, Phoenix selected fourth and picked Josh Jackson. It’s a rebuilding process, to be sure.

But a new report says that if Phoenix would have decided to instead trade the pick they used on Jackson, they could have had Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis.

Seriously.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Phoenix had an opportunity to put together a package that would have sent Porzingis to Arizona. That anything the Suns had, plus the No. 4 pick, would have made that happen is just another testament to why Phil Jackson had to go in New York.

Via the Ryen Russillo show:

The Knicks actually hit on Porzingis, and although he may be out for the entire year next season, he’s a keeper to build around, not to trade. On the other side of things, why the Suns didn’t include that pick and pull the trigger is a head scratcher, although we don’t know the full details of the proposed package.

No doubt New York fans are glad the Suns didn’t decide to accept the offer without that pick.

Watch James Harden dunk all over Draymond Green (VIDEO)

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Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals started off hot for the Golden State Warriors. The defending champs scored the first 12 points of the game, but the Houston Rockets rallied before the half was over to take the lead, 53-46, at the break.

One of the biggest highlight plays from Houston came courtesy of James Harden late in the second quarter.

The play came with 6:06 left to play in the half and with the Rockets pushing on the Warriors in transition. Harden found himself with the ball at the top of the key and with an open lane. That forced Draymond Green to slide over as a help defender, and the result was a thunderous dunk for Harden over the Golden State defensive stalwart.

We’ll forget that Chris Paul probably either travelled or double-dribbled before Harden got the ball on the play.

Golden State leads the series, 2-1.