Sports from the Basement

What we learned on NBA Christmas Day 2014

Every Christmas families across the world gather together to celebrate one of the biggest sports days of the year (and Jesus’ birth too). NBA Christmas Day 2014 featured five games, but taught us a lot about the league, the stars of the league, and fashion. In true holiday fashion, let’s discuss the 12 things we learned on NBA Christmas Day 2014.

  1. Paul Pierce can’t guard small forwards anymore. We learned this last year when he moved to the 4 for Brooklyn and their “small ball” lineup. Carmelo is one of the great offensive talents in the game today, but there was a time when Pierce was stopping LeBron in crunch time of the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, Anthony has his way within the lane, driving, dishing, and hitting jump shots with ease. Pierce was brought to Washington to add some experience, and while his defensive rating is 93.3 (that’s points allowed per 100 possessions while he’s on the court – for reference that’s 20th best in the league), today we saw that he’s not the lock-down defender he used to be.
  2. 6568326233_e4e6c97cc7_oWe’re likely to see Carmelo Anthony get “shut down” before the end of the season. Jon Barry mentioned this during the broadcast, and I didn’t buy into it at first. As I watched the game, though, I began to see why it could happen. The Knicks are 5-26, and there’s not really any reason to play him if he’s sore or even the slightest bit injured. At this point, the Knicks are rebuilding, and the draft is a key way to get there. They won’t have their 2nd round pick this year as of now, but their first rounder will be key to their rebuilding efforts, along with the multitude of short or expiring contracts and general youth.
  3. The Thunder can win without Durant. It’s true, they have enough firepower with Westbrook and an Ibaka/Adams combination to win games. In order to get past the first round, though, they will need Durant – and he should certainly be available by then. OKC have to resist the urge to rush him back now, instead giving him time to get right. Besides, any extra time will just make him more angry and ready to come out burning against the rest of the league.
  4. Duncan is getting old. He just looks off. He’s still “the big fundamental”, but he looks off. Yes, I know he dunked over three Thunder defenders but he’s not applying pressure on defense, and he’s not moving without the ball as he used to. We’ll see if this becomes more of an issue.
  5. LeBron has emotions. It’s good to see. He’s become such a marketing-driven consumer-generated “thing” that it’s nice to see him have a little emotion about being back in Miami. Going “home” to Cleveland may have been a marketing move, but it’s a good one, and he’s certainly not hated the way he was as recently as six months ago.
  6. The Heat need Bosh. They can win games, but they need a big man – and more importantly a quiet leader. Wade is the alpha dog – the bark, letting everyone know he’s still playing and making spectacular plays down the lane. Bosh is the subtle one, though – screening to allow those drives and ready to take the ball at the last minute and hit the mid-range jumper. The Heat need him if they’re going to be a realistic contender in the East.
  7. There’s something else going on with Kobe. He has played in 15 Christmas games (most ever) and he sits because he’s “sore”? Something else is going on. Is it possible that he’s more hurt than we’re hearing? Is it possible he’s being “suspended” for his remarks towards Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak at the practice a week or so ago? Either way, there’s no way he is ok with sitting on Christmas day, and there will have to be some fallback from this.
  8. Rose is back, but it’s Jimmy Bulter that makes the Bulls so dangerous. Jimmy is having the breakout year he knew he would have. Coming into the season, he believed that he was better than the extension the Bulls offered, and bet on himself. So far this season, he’s been right – and will likely get max-contract offers from multiple clubs this summer. In a league that values shooting guards for their ability to drive (not shoot), Butler does both with ease, and has no problem being second fiddle to a team of personalities.
  9. Pau Gasol is the most underrated superstar in the league. 13 years in (with 2 rings), many thought that Pau was out of gas. Shaq and Charles debated it, Endo and I debated it, and the slow decline of his stats over the last couple of years made everyone think that this might just be a Chicago swan song (like Garnet in Brooklyn, for example). Instead, Pau has been a huge player on a team that is the most talented in the league, and (if healthy) the likely favorites of the Eastern Conference, if not the whole NBA. Pau, for what it’s worth, is the yang to Noah’s ying – grabbing the boards and put-backs that Noah is setting up, and avoiding altercations with the other team’s most vicious big man. He’s quiet, but he’s as important to this team as any member of any team in the league.
  10. Stephan Curry is magnificent. He just is. He started the game with a three and a mid-range jumper in “transition” that were in the basket before the other team knew they had been shot. He might be the best shooter we’ll ever see, and his release is the fastest on record. Is he the best point-guard in the NBA? likely not. Is he the MVP? maybe, but doubtful. He is beautiful, though, and watching him is a pleasure.
  11. The Clippers are highly flawed. So many good players – yet they just don’t seem to play as a team. “Lob City” has gone by the wayside, but for what – quasi-Iso offense where it seems the play is merely “who will get the shot” and there’s no motion or movement? The Clippers have a great story – and a management and owner anyone can root for. They’re stacked, from their coaching staff to their facilities, to their lineup. They just don’t seem to have it, though – posers of sorts, even when they win games.
  12. “Motion” offenses only work if people hit shots. The Warriors proved this in royal fashion in the fourth quarter. Shooting 26%, they had great ball movement, great shooters, and open shots – but they didn’t fall. We’ve seen other teams come to the same conclusion – yet we always value that movement over isolation ball (where the featured player might get a second chance with a foul). When we find a team that combines both approaches (the Spurs last year were a great example) it’s scary – but the Warriors aren’t there yet.


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