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


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.

Russell Westbrook sinks dagger on Celtics, then dances. But nothing like Oladipo.


The fans in Boston were treated Friday night to what the nation will see in prime time on Christmas Day — Russell Westbrook going off. Westbrook had 45 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds to lift the Thunder past the Celtics.

And when Westbrook sank the dagger with :44 seconds left he did a little shimmy dance.

But that wasn’t near as good as Victor Oladipo‘s dance on the bench. He looks ready for a production of “Hairspray.”

Draymond Green to play with Warriors Friday in Detroit (and against Cavs)


Draymond Green left the Golden State Warriors, missing their game Thursday night in Brooklyn (and it showed in the first half when the team struggled defensively) because his son — Draymond Jamal Green Jr. — was born that same day. The team told Green to take his time and come back when he was ready.

He’s ready.

Green will be back in the lineup Friday night when the Warriors take on the Pistons in Detroit, as Green himself let the world know on social media. Here’s the story via CSNBayARea.com.

Late Thursday night, the Warriors forward took to social media to let everybody know he was en route to Detroit.

Via Snapchat, Draymond posted a video of a private plane waiting for him with the caption: “Wheels up to the mitten.” He also looked into the camera and said: “Back to the grind.”

Obviously, this also means he’ll be available for the Christmas Day game against the Cavaliers.

Rajon Rondo admits Bulls “not going to be probably the most athletic team out there”


The Chicago Bulls are a .500 team, 14-14. They should be a little better than that record-wise, they have a top-10 defense and a good enough offense, they just tend to have bad fourth quarters, and it’s cost them (as it did against the Wizards Wednesday night, when the Bulls shot 7-of-24 for the quarter and lost the game by 10).

Part of the problem in that loss — the Wizards turned those misses into transition buckets the other way. That’s easier to do when you have John Wall, arguably the fastest player end-to-end with the ball in his hands in the game (Russell Westbrook is in that conversation).

Rajon Rondo was honest about the other half of that — the Bulls are not the most athletic team in the league. They are vulnerable to athletic teams they let get out and run. The Bulls need to get by more on high IQ plays and veteran instincts, something he discussed with K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

“We’re not going to be probably the most athletic team out there on the floor every night,” Rajon Rondo said after Thursday’s practice. “Out of 30 teams, we might be bottom three or four in athleticism. But we can make that up with intelligence. We can make that up with game-plan discipline. We have to do the little things, the intangibles to get back in transition in the fourth quarter.”

Also, just making some shots so the other team has to take the ball out of the basket helps.

The Bulls front office talked about getting more athletic in the wake of the Derrick Rose trade last summer, but this team is not that. It can still win a lot of games, but come the playoffs that lack of athleticism could be an issue depending on the matchup.

In the short term, the Bulls need to keep executing to make sure they make the playoffs. Right now they are in the middle of the clump of teams in the East — only 2.5 games separate the four and 11 seeds in that conference. The little things (and health) will determine who even gets into the dance.

Bucks’ Khris Middleton still plans return late in season, to play in playoffs

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The Bucks remain on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but they show flashes of great promise. Take their recent home-and-home against the Cavaliers — LeBron James took them seriously enough to play on the second night of that back-to-back despite logging 47 minutes the first night. The Cavs won both, but the games were hard fought. After the second night, James said this to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

“The next several years they could be really, really good,” James said.

The Bucks are long and defend. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, plus a good core of role players. What they miss right now is their glue guy.

They miss Khris Middleton, their starter on the wing who tore his hamstring before the season in a workout. Middleton can defend multiple positions, averaged 18.2 points a game last season and shot 39.6 percent from three, has the handles to run the pick-and-roll, and is the guy who can give the Buck whatever they need on a given night, in a given matchup.

Middleton told reporters that he’s making progress and plans to be back late this season, as reported by the Journal-Sentinel.

“I’m making good progress within the last couple weeks but I’ve still got a long way to go,” Middleton said before the Bucks played the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

“A hamstring is definitely nothing to play with. There are chronic hamstring injuries where guys think it is fine and they go out there and try to run and pull it again. That’s something I definitely don’t want to go through.”

Middleton said the earliest he thought he could return was around the all-star break in mid-February, which would give him a chance to play the final two months of the regular season.

Even if he missed that deadline but got to play the last month of the season, that would make the Bucks a far more dangerous playoff team.

Providing they make it. Right now they are in that big clump in the middle of the East — Charlotte is the current four seed but just 2.5 games ahead of 11-seed Detroit. The East is wide open, and teams that get healthy (or stay healthy) and going to be the teams that make the playoffs.