With the basketballs bouncing
And everyone telling you that Towns is here..
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
With those centre court greetings and former Champions meetings
When the Dubs come to call..
It’s the hap-happiest season of all.
And Poster Dunks for toasting
And 3s from out in the snow;
There’ll be Angry Russ drives
And tales of the glories of the
Christmas games long, long ago.
There’ll be Pop mistletoeing
And Laker Girls will be flowing
When Clippers are near…
It’s the best Basketball Day of them all!
Celtic Pride for toasting
And D-Wade with the ball…
Boston at New York
Marcus Smart offers so much for the Celts. Toughness, elite defence (both on the ball and off), flopping and a spark of unpredictability to Brad Stevens’ world. But his jump shot is still holding back his effectiveness. When your numbers improve to 35.7% from the field and 27.2% from 3, you’re not a very good shooter. This gives New York the ability to clog lanes on more dynamic players for 30min a night.
For the Knicks, Noah offers the same poor percentages, but is having a very limited impact elsewhere. His contract is generously looking like an Albatross, and his minutes are dwindling as a result.
Speaking of more effective players, Isaiah Thomas has been on a tear as of late. His 44 points on 16 shots was an awesome display of efficiency. He has been the engine spurring a Boston revival, and his averages of 31 points and 7 assists on 51.6% shooting over his last 5 games (4 wins) demonstrate a simple truth: How goes Isaiah, goes Boston. For the Knicks to have a shot at stopping their Atlantic division rivals, this must be Point Of Emphasis #1.
Just as Thomas drives the Celtics, Porzingis is looking as much as a focal point as anyone on this Knicks roster. Not just his offence (which has been very good), but his defence is becoming more important as Coach Hornacek moves Pingaz to the 5 more. He is giving up just 45% shooting within 6ft of the rim, 15 points worse than the league average. Against a drive heavy attack and with Noah not offering much so far, Porzingis is the Keystone to the Knick defence. So far this year he has answered the call.
Golden State at Cleveland
Both teams don’t really have much on the negative so far. Both are atop their respective conferences, both are comfortable front runners to combine for Mach III of their finals series. Draymond hasn’t kicked anyone for a while. But JR Smith missing the next 12 weeks is not great, especially when he missed most of training camp and the Cavs are relatively thin at guard. Bet he’s glad he held out and got that money now though. Smith is enduring his worst shooting season
since ever and is the only returning rotation player not performing at the same level as last season. Given the level the Warriors are playing at, every weapon missing makes it that much tougher for LeBron and Co. to keep up with or slow down the Dubs juggernaut.
On the Dubs side, the wildcard is JaVale McGee. The goofy centre has been surprisingly good this year, helping to reaffirm the importance of ‘culture’ and ‘fit’ when discussing a player’s career (hardly a breaking news story). But when McGee can’t recognise his own commissioner, you wonder about his ability to perform in high stress situations. OK, he was joking, but this is likely to be the highest pressure game McGee has played in. It will be fascinating to see how he stands up to the scrutiny against a switched on Cavs unit.
LeBron is still good enough to beat a team by himself. Even without JR Smith, the Cavs can plug in Liggins, Shumpert or Dunleavy at the 2. From there, Lou should run a steady diet of 3-1, 3-4 or even 3-5 PNRs into a switch, send James into the post (or iso if a C is guarding him) and watch everything bend to his will. That was the recipe in the Finals last year, and the Warriors might not be much better suited to deal with James down low. James is basically mirroring his numbers from last year, but he is averaging 2 more assists per game. If he ratchets his intensity level to Playof LeBron, the Cavs should have a very good shot at extending the win streak to 10.
Standing in the way of win #10 is the #GOATee line-up. The Warrior 5 of Green, Durant, Iguodala, Thompson and Curry is averaging a net rating differential of 29.6, 3rd best in the league for 5 man groups that have played more than 100min. As a comparison, the Cavs line-up of James, Irving, Love, Smith and Thompson has a differential of plus 9. Given the Dubs propensity for small ball and the Cavs already playing without Smith, this looks to be a huge advantage. The Warriors are clicking on both sides of the ball, ranking second in offensive and defensive efficiency. Durant has fit in seamlessly and is the playing the best ball of his career. The Dubs will have revenge on their mind. Don’t be surprised if the route is on in this one.
Chicago at San Antonio
Rondo continues to disappoint. His suspensions have been discussed already, but the fit is looking as awkward as it did on paper. Against a superior defence like San Antonio, spacing becomes more important and Rondo’s inability to finish from range or in close is the sort of weakness San Antonio exploit.
The L-Train has once again been solid for the Spurs. But when you’re the biggest Free Agent acquisition in the history of an organisation, solid feels a little underwhelming. Other than making 3s again, his shooting numbers are down on last year across the board, and his PER is down 5 points. The Spurs are still good with an average Aldridge, but to be great they need LMA to be great. A strong showing against a physical Bulls front court would be a positive step.
As poor as Rondo has been, Butler has been that good. His offence has found another level, and his D is as stingy as ever. The fact that Butler has increased his PER to 25.7 despite playing in some very cramped confines is beyond impressive. The match up between Butler and Leonard will likely determine the match, and for Chicago to have a chance, Jimmy has to get Buckets.
For the Spurs, Patty Mills has been an unsung hero. His shooting has been imperative for a team that doesn’t take a lot of 3s, and his comfort level has never been higher. He has been playing down the stretch in close games, and it will be interesting to see if Pop is happy to guard Wade with either Parker or Mills if it gets close down the stretch. The Bulls would be wise to game plan for Mills’ shooting, but stopping him this season is easier said than done.
Minnesota at Oklahoma City
Ahhh Ricky. Why oh why can’t you shoot? The pressure his 28% 3pt shooting puts on his young team takes away from all the good he can do on the court. Ricky is not a threat off the dribble, making no unassisted 3s this year. Considering Westbrook is at his best when roaming and gambling on defence, Rubio’s (in)ability to punish the defence will go a long way in determining the outcome.
For OKC, the absence of Oladipo is a major loss. ‘Dipo has been playing well, and is a member in 3 of the only 5 lineups that have a positive net rating (min 20 minutes played). With the Wolves reliance on their starting 5, one less attacker means less fouls and less effort to expend on D for Wiggins and LaVine. And even though everyone loves Angry Russ going “me against the world”, the Wolves have 3 players who can go supernova as well. Every weapon is likely to be needed.
Towns is freaking awesome, and comfortably the best player on his team. His 3pt shot has eluded him so far and the runaway 2016 ROY has faced much more attention in his 2nd season, dragging down his efficiency somewhat. However, his teammates have been very spotty and his PER has remained identical to last year. If OKC bottle KAT up, don’t expect a Wolves win.
Westbrook has been the most impressive player this season. Does he hunt for rebounds sometimes? Yes. Does he know how he is tracking for TDs? Surely. Is he averaging a freaking 30/10/10 TD with a PER of 30?! No-one is nicer than Westbrook at the moment, and the defensively challenged Wolves don’t seem positioned to offer much resistance.
Los Angeles at Los Angeles
Different season, same story for the Clippers. Blake Griffin is injured and not back for 6 weeks. Never one to be outdone, CP3 decided he needed to be hurt too. Although his pulled hamstring doesn’t seem that serious, the Clippers are just not designed to function without both Griffin and Paul. If Paul doesn’t make it back for this game, the Lakers should feel confident about their chances for a W.
D’Angelo Russell is having a Jekyll and Hyde type season. In 8 wins, Russell averages 19/3/4 on 46% shooting. In 12 losses he is averaging 12/3/5 on 35% shooting. Lately, the Lakers have been losing, and Russell has been playing poorly. The Lakers need to win battle of the guards against the Clips, especially if Paul is out. Russell must be a central figure in the Laker attack for them to win.
DJ looks like he will be entering the game as the best player of the floor. Who would have ever thought that would be said? DJ sports a +14.5 net rating differential, has upped his FT% to 54 percent and is holding down the paint on his own. DJ should have a huge advantage over the bigs LAL can throw at him, although it will be interesting to see how he goes without Paul and Griffin setting him up for the second straight game. The Clips need more than 7 points from him if they want to win.
Despite the Lakers’ slide in the standings, Lou Williams has enjoyed a career stretch. Facing off against his Spirit Animal in Jamal Crawford, Williams needs to at least equal his output for the Lakers to have a shot. Fortunately, Sweet Lou has been averaging 22 points per in December, and could be in line for another big performance against the Clippers’ second and third string guards. If Williams is quiet, that could spell trouble for the Purple and Gold.