Christmas is traditionally a time for family, gift-giving and eggnog guzzling. But not my Christmas. Not this year. With an exceptional slate of NBA games, featuring the league’s most eligible bachelorettes noteworthy franchises, this was the type of day when you fake some indigestion and sneak away to watch some basketball.
If only I was so lucky.
I had only suffered through a sloppy first half between the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls before the arrival of my little cousin, who came wielding his favorite Christmas gift. A DVD of the classical musical, Annie.
How do you say no to a little kid who wants to spend his Christmas watching his new favorite movie? I’m no Grinch, so I surrendered the television and my grand basketball-watching plans to my cousin.
Rather than obsessing over transition offenses, I spent my Christmas engrossed in show tunes. As the old saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men usually end in watching a musical about orphans.
But this doesn’t mean I didn’t follow the games or miss out on the ugly sweater party the NBA tried to pass off as holiday uniforms. While I’ll still be breaking down the best and worst from the Christmas day games, in honor of my cousin, this installment will be Annie-themed.
Enjoy, and happy holidays!
I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here: Houston Rockets
Is it possible for anyone to be happier with his offseason decisions than Dwight Howard? Gone are the days on constant scrutiny and amateur body-language doctors. Gone are the bright lights of Los Angeles and specter of Kobe Bryant. Mr. Howard, welcome to Houston.
Watching the highlights of Howard’s game on Christmas day, it’s season to remember why so many teams fawned over him during his free agency this past summer. 15 points. 20 rebounds. 2 blocks, just for emphasis. All this, against the reigning Western Conference champion Spurs. And the Rockets made it look easy.
Howard’s averaging a double-double, but then again he’s done that every season of his career. His numbers are slightly down from the 20+ PPG he averaged in Orlando, but this could be the best season of Howard’s career. Not because of his stats, but because this is likely his best shot at a championship.
Howard has never had a pure scorer like James Harden, who’s averaging 24 PPG, to go along with 5.5 APG and 4.7 RPG. Howard isn’t being looked to as the answer as he was in Orlando. He’s not being looked to as the team’s future, as he was in Los Angeles. Howard is just another piece in the puzzle. An important piece, but a piece none the less.
But if we can bring back the amateur body-language doctor, my official opinion is that Howard sure looks happy.
Gone are the inside sources claiming Howard is tearing a team apart. Gone are the overly staged photos trying to feign a cohesive locker room. Howard doesn’t have to try, because he’s genuinely happy.
Houston is currently tied for 4th in a stacked Western Conference with a 21-11 record. But with a sharp-shooting Harden and a rejuvenated Howard, it’s tough to pick against this Rockets team. I think he’s gunna like it here.
Maybe: Oklahoma City Thunder
When it comes down to it, what else can we say about the Thunder? Maybe.
When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are on the floor, there is no better duo in the league. Every time I watch the Thunder play, I’m genuinely surprised they don’t score on every possession. When Durant pulls up for a three or Westbrook drives to the lane, I just expect them to make the shot. The ball is still hanging in the air, but I’m already onto the next possession. The shot is going to fall. It always does.
But with Westbrook now out until at least the All Star break, the Robin to Durant’s Batman is missing. As we saw in last year’s playoffs, Durant can carry the Thunder, but not all the way. That’s no knock on Durant, but rather praise for Westbrook. He’s too important a piece to be missing and expect glory in OKC.
For the foreseeable future, I’ll be watching the Thunder for one reason, to see Durant carry this team and in doing so, chase the league scoring title. When Westbrook returns, the Thunder will still be in contention for a top spot in the West. That’s a certainty.
But can the Thunder win the West if Westbrook can’t return at 100 percent? Maybe.
Tomorrow: Chicago Bulls
Is there any NBA team we will be asking “What if?” about more the Chicago Bull of the last three seasons? Watching the Bulls play on Christmas solidified in my mind what everyone has already said about this team, nobody plays harder.
Chicago is a team comprised of role players. Boozer. Noah. Deng. Butler. Gibson. Hinrich. Every one of these guys can step up any night and change a game. The problem is you don’t want to be counting on these guys every night.
With Derrick Rose out for the season, the Bulls be competing for a championship without their star point guard. Which makes this the third season the Bulls were one Derrick Rose short of a championship caliber team.
Rose was the glue that held these role players together. Even returning this season “healthy,” Rose was a shell of his former self. He left averaging 15.9 PPG and 4.3 APG. The three regular seasons before his injury, he put up more than 20 PPG and 7 APG.
So now we’re just left asking, “What if?” With a healthy Rose in 2012, the Bulls were the favorite to win the East and the championship too. The Bulls kept the core of their roster intact since, meaning they’ve been just a healthy Rose away from three-straight years of a championship-caliber roster.
But there is no solace in hypotheticals. Rose hasn’t been healthy. He only managed 10 games this season and who knows what we can expect down the road. Even if Rose is deemed “healthy” again, will he ever return to the player that served as the glue for a dominant Bulls team? Or will he always be a little less than what he was, leaving us only with more “What ifs?”
Who knows. We’ll just have to wait for tomorrow.
Hard Knock Life: Brooklyn Nets
Let’s be honest, there is no such thing as a clean break. After you separate from a significant other, you’re bound to find yourself wrapped around a gallon of Chunky Monkey, stalking your ex’s Facebook page. So, from time to time, I will wander over to the YES network and check on my Nets and write about that experience here.
Now the most important part about a healthy life post breakup is doing everything you can to win the breakup. Being as I’m not a multi-million dollar NBA franchise, but rather a 20-something who lives with his mother and bears a striking resemblance to McLovin, it’s hard for me to pull out the win in the breakup. That was, until the Nets imploded.
I nearly titled this section Tomorrow, because the Nets are surely looking ahead to better days. But the problem is, the Nets gave away their entire future to win this season. That’s not an exaggeration. Here are the Nets’ bleak draft outlook for the up coming seasons.
The Nets won’t have a pick at all in 2014, no first rounders in 2016 and 2018, and picks that can be swapped in 2015 and 2017. With the Nets giving away everything, this strategy will only look justifiable if Brooklyn wins it all this year. The Nets’ season was already coming off the rails. Then Brook Lopez went down.
After playing in all 82 games during the first three years of his career, Lopez has failed to top 17 games played in two of his last three seasons. At only 25 years of age, a big talent like Lopez could be the cornerstone of an NBA franchise. But with persistent injury problems knocking Lopez out for prolonged periods of time, the Nets’ supposed franchise player is looking like a big liability.
Lopez’s injury nearly kills the Nets chances of this year. The Nets will now have to depend heavily on an aging Kevin Garnett, who has missed at least 10 games during every season he spent in Boston, excluding the strike-shorted season. Paul Pierce also looks to be showing his age, as his minutes per game are down to 29.7 in Brooklyn, while he average right around 34 minutes per game during his last 4 seasons in Boston.
The Nets are currently 10-20 and only alive in the playoff hunt because of the utter lack of talent in the East. But it’s impossible to image Brooklyn defeating either the Heat or Pacers in a seven game series, if it’s lucky to make post season play at all.
When this season comes to a close, Pierce and Garnett are likely leaving. The Nets draft picks are already gone. And their chances of winning it all this year are quickly fleeting.
It’s a hard knock life being a Nets fan. And I don’t miss it for a minute.