Our Basketball Panel Talks Christmas Day Games
Is Warriors-Cavs going to be worth the hype as a Finals rematch?
C.J. Hampshire: The Warriors haven’t lost at home. They have their hyper-kinetic style of play. The Cavs are now at full strength even if Kyrie Isn’t 100%. The Cavs want this more than the Warriors. The Warriors want to win. They want to continue the theme of being the best show and the best team in the NBA. But they are not going to have the edge. LeBron will. This is his game.
Mallory Stith-Wheat: The set-up has been perfect. The Cavs haven’t had what anyone would call a dominant season. There have been too many inconsistencies that they will blame on their injuries but they have taken games off. They have coasted. The Cavs are less interested in being a team for history sake then just winning the damn thing. But in Oakland, the Warriors will have their attention. The Cavs are the last team to win there.
Brendan Gillespie: The game is all about the Cavs and LeBron. They still have a lot of question marks. We know all there is to know about the Warriors. They are a machine. But the Cavs have yet to distinguish themselves in any one area other than LeBron is their fourth quarter savior. Kevin Love started out great but now he’s back to where he was last year, sidekick number three. Their offense goes through lulls as if they have fallen asleep. Blatt is jacking around Mo Williams who was supposed to be insurance but they are finding out what seven teams already knew. He can’t guard anyone. This still is LeBron and company. That’s why it is intriguing. Which Cavs team will show up?
Julian Billick: We know which Warriors team is going to show up. Curry already laid it out there. He’s the best player in the league. Obviously, the Warriors faithful think that too and so do the metrics geeks but the eye test? Not so much. He still falls behind Durant and LeBron. He has limitations on defense. He can’t get a stop on his own like Durant and LeBron. LeBron, always needing something to prove, has his motivation for a game in December. Then he can take a mental vacation for a month and gear up for the stretch drive.
Who wins? I’m leaning Cavs, how about you?
C.J.: The Warriors are as close to perfect as you can get but they have not been perfect. Even when they tried to ramp up the Milwaukee revenge game they trailed until the 4th quarter. They still have zero answer for LeBron. The Cavs defense is special. I say the Cavs. A six point win.
Mallory: It’s a tossup. But I’ll go with the defending champs in a close game. I think Curry will be able to get his shot off late. I’m not sold on the Cavaliers “others” being tough enough to grind it through and win in Oracle without a superhuman effort from LeBron. I don’t think he is going to kill himself to win this game. To beat the Warriors you have to be able to score. How did Milwaukee beat the Warriors? By scoring on the inside with Greg Monroe. Over and over again. The Cavs don’t have a Greg Monroe. Warriors by three.
Julian: The Cavs. The team that was beaten in the Finals has six months to let that pain linger. All season the Cavs have had to hear about the Warriors and their streak and their mowing down opponents. The Cavs know what’s at stake here. They beat the Warriors in Oracle before. I think they will do it again. I don’t think it will be close. The Cavs are still a good defensive team and what no one talks about is the Warriors give up a hella lot of points. Cleveland by 8.
Brendan: Julian’s point is right on. The Cavs have the third best defense in the league. But they haven’t beaten Curry. Do they know how to do it, trap him baseline, check him mid-court, bring the double on the catch- yes?. But can they execute it? Curry is a better player than last year and so is Draymond Green. I haven’t seen anyone beat a rested Warriors bunch so my money is on them. Warriors by five.
In the “B” game the Bulls go to the Thunder. Could this be the Finals game we get if the Warriors and Cavs get knocked out?
C.J.: The Thunder most definitely. It’s a three team race in the West, the Warriors, Thunder and Spurs. Everyone else just go home. The Thunder are going to be hard to beat with all that size up front and Durant and Westbrook. The Bulls though, that’s a team that looks bored. They don’t have the same intensity you see from the other contenders. Charlotte plays harder. With Noah’s injury they’ll slide back. I don’t see them in the Conference Finals.
Mallory: The Bulls feel like a team that has a bunch of new guys and they are learning how to win when the truth is they have everyone that they had last year. The coach isn’t a right fit. Jimmy Butler sounding off didn’t help the cause. They’ll get their 50 wins but they need to find a trade partner for Derrick Rose. As for the Thunder, C.J., is right. They are scary good and no one is talking abut them.
Julian: The Thunder are doing it the right way. Getting better each and every month. Not being talked about. Just going out there and obliterating people. I worry about that bench though. The Lakers were able to be respectable against the Thunder bench until Durant and Westbrook restored order in the third quarter. But those two guys are the closest we have to Kobe-Shaq, MJ-Scottie combo. They are beasts. I’m not feeling the Bulls and I hate what Jimmy Butler did going all rogue on the coach. Could he not have said that to him in private?
Brendan: The Bulls have a lot of problems and the biggest problem is that they don’t seem to like playing together. They rely heavily on their talent and go through the motions. Their team leadership is questionable. They are trying to make the adjustment but they miss Thibs. Management never considered how the Thibs loss would affect their play. I expect the Thunder to wipe the floor with them.
The Clippers never get the marquee game on Christmas Day. They always play the last game of the night when east coast people, already tired from putting toys together and cooking food, are in bed. This year they deserve it. They are mediocre. What’s the problem?
Brendan: Doc Rivers. He’s overrated. He took a team with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to the Finals. Did they repeat? No. He had a 3-2 lead in the Finals two years later. Did they win? No. He had a 13 point lead in game 7 in the Finals and a broken finger and knee Kobe Bryant. Did they win? No. If you want to go way back, he had a 3-1 lead over the Pistons when he was with Orlando and had McGrady and they lost the series. They lost to Houston up 3-1. He’s a media guy, very charismatic and good with the speeches and very emotional but he’s won once. That makes him as good as Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown. Not equal to Greg Popovich.
Mallory: I don’t think the Clippers have the right personnel to take advantage of Chris Paul. Their lack of a small forward is crippling. It puts too much pressure on Redick and Paul on the perimeter. I’m sorry. I don’t buy any team with Wesley Johnson on it.
C.J.: They don’t rebound so they will never be able to compete within the conference with the Thunder dominating on the boards and the Warriors. This year it’s not happening. With the extra money coming in next year they need to make a run at Harrison Barnes and get a rebounder. And they need to check their arrogance at the door.
Julian: Dare I say the most overused phrase: they are the Clippers.
This will be the last Christmas Day game for the Lakers now that Kobe is calling it quits. Who gets a Christmas Day game first, the Lakers or 76ers.
C.J.: Lakers in 2020. The 76ers like never. Send them to the D-league.
Mallory: The Lakers. They’ll end up with a star somewhere down the line in the next decade. I don’t think D’angelo Russell is it or Julius Randle. I like Clarkson, they can build around him. But after Okafor, who on the Sixers is worth mentioning. If they get Ben Simmons who cannot shoot, aren’t they the same team?
Julian: The Lakers. At this point, the Sixers are an embarrassment. They play the Lakers on January 1st. If they lose that game who is going to argue they don’t go 1-81?
Brendan: No one with eyes. But the Nets play them on a second night of a back to back in February. Keep hope alive, Sam Hinkie
photo via llananba