Christmas Day represents the unofficial start of the NBA for the casual viewer of basketball. It provides an opportunity for people to escape uncomfortable political talk with relatives and stare at the TV for hours. The last few seasons have had some Christmas Day clunkers. Last season’s Warriors-Cavs rematch was an ugly brick fest that was far from the electrifying Finals series that ensued in June. This year’s matchup was much closer to that series, and the other games were much more exciting than Christmas Day’s past. Here are the three takeaways worth noting after these slate of games.
- Warriors-Cavs was worth the wait
Since the end of the last June’s Finals, when the entire sports world had their jaw hit the floor when the seemingly invincible Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, the basketball world has waited with bated breath for the rematch of these two teams. Everyone wanted to see how the Cavs would matchup with the revamped version of the Death Lineup with Kevin Durant stepping in for Harrison Barnes. The game itself was everything a fan could hope for and more. The addition of Durant made the Cavs switch everything strategy-wise on defense and made it more difficult to implement. Durant scored 36 points in his typical silky smooth way. LeBron James found his long lost jumper and splashed home four three-pointers en route to 31 of his own points. After building a 14-point lead the Dubs saw that lead evaporate emphatically on a LeBron and-one dunk. Kyrie Irving hit an unreal turn around jumper with 3.4 seconds to go and the game ended in controversy as Kevin Durant tripped as he caught the ensuing inbound after being bumped by Richard Jefferson. This game cemented these two teams as a cut above the rest of the league, and the intensity of every possession in the fourth quarter reflected that. The trilogy of their Finals matchup may be inevitable, and if it is anything like this game it will be absolutely epic.
- The Russell Westbrook show is appointment television
Russell Westbrook is on a seek and destroy mission in OKC. Those who want to accuse him of stat hunting and being self-serving are ignoring one important thing: the guy is borderline superhuman. He is a supernova trying to drag a team of spare parts to a middle of the pack in the Western Conference, and it is must-see-TV every time he is on a national network. Westbrook plays with an unmatched fury and his usage rate is through the roof. Averaging a triple-double is a holy grail in basketball, the equivalent of hitting .400 in baseball or setting the rushing record in football. Westbrook is currently averaging a triple-double, and regardless of whether or not he ends up achieving it, watching him try and do it is one of the most entertaining things that will happen on a basketball court this year.
- Bulls regressing to the mean
After a red-hot start to the season the Chicago Bulls have come crashing back to Earth. Rajon Rondo has predictably been a clunky fit on the court, while also providing fireworks off the court. Christmas Day was a microcosm of what has been a frustrating sequence for the Bulls. They have struggled to find the right mix of frontcourt players to pair with the Jimmy Butler-Dwyane Wade pairing in the backcourt. Sticking two traditional bigs with those two has bogged the offense down due to a lack of space for Butler or Wade to operate and score. This has led Fred Hoiberg to put Nikola Mirotic or Doug McDermott in a frontcourt spot to provide shooting to space the floor with. While it opens the floor up offensively, defensively those lineups have been roasted. The Spurs picked the Bulls apart defensively, specifically LaMarcus Aldridge who ate the Bulls alive to the tune of 33 points on 15/20 from the floor. The Bulls were pegged by some as a potential threat to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference, but with their present frontcourt issues it is hard to imagine them putting up much of a fight against Cleveland.