NBA Christmas Slate Full of Gifts

The holidays have become synonymous with family, giving, spreading and cheer and also, for basketball fans, the NBA. Every year the NBA hosts a five game slate on Christmas, and when the schedule is as good as it is this season it serves as a wonderful Holiday gift to basketball junkies everywhere. From individual match-ups to a rematch of the last three NBA finals, the 2017 slate has something for everyone. It will provide a day full of meaningful and fun basketball. Let’s take a look at the match-ups and what to look out for on Monday:

New York vs. Philadelphia

The Christmas day slate kicks off with a game featuring two of the more fun (surprisingly) teams to watch so far this season, as the Knicks and the Sixers face off at Madison Square Garden. Philadelphia has Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid who are one of the most talented duos in the entire league. Embiid’s been day-to-day with some back soreness, but should be good to go for Monday’s contest. Philly is the best rebounding team in the league (48.4/game) and 3rd in assists (26.2/game) which is spurred by the passing of their two young superstars. The Sixers have struggled mightily in the month of December, as they have dropped 9\nine of their last ten contests. Monday represents a good chance for them to get out of their funk and get some positive momentum heading into 2018.

On the other side the Knicks are surging as they have won six of their last ten games, and stand as one of the most improved teams.. While he still has growing (game wise, hopefully for everyone else not height wise) to do, Kristaps Porzingis has at times played at a superstar level so far during this season. Porzingis and Embiid (as long as he plays) is going to be an extremely fun match-up to watch of two of the best young and versatile big men in the league. It also needs to be mentioned that Michael Beasley has been on a tear of late and is one of the most fun guys to watch over the last two weeks, like his 18 point 4th quarter against the Celtics earlier this week. While this is the first game between the two Atlantic division foes, the Knicks have the slight edge, especially if Embiid is not playing at 100%.

Cleveland at Golden State 

The rematch of the last three NBA Finals, and potentially again in 2018, square off for the first time this season on Christmas Day in the Bay (fingers crossed this is the only rhyming within the article). Both teams have been on hot of late. The Warriors have won 11 of their last 12. and the Cavs are winners of 19 of their last 21 games after overcoming a slow start. Both teams will not be at fll strength. The Cavs will be without their top two point guards in Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose, and the Warriors will be down Zaza Pachulia, Shaun Livingston and potentially Draymond Green, although he was given the green light from the Warriors medical staff last night. While it will certainly be a better and hopefully healthier match-up come June, there is still a lot of reasons to watch the game on Xmas afternoon.

For starters LeBron has been as dominant as he has been at any time in his career. He is a leading MVP candidate along with James Harden, and is shooting 57% from the field and 41% from 3. Kevin Love has quietly been having one of the best seasons of his career, and has been huge in his role as the second option for Cleveland. As far as the Warriors are concerned they are back to business as usual. Curry and Durant are both averaging 26.3 points per contest, with Klay Thompson chipping in almost 21 a game. Draymond Green has given them the same versatility on both ends as always, and rookie Jordan Bell has been giving the team great minutes with Pachulia out and injured. The Warriors are the better team and at home, so I expect them to win, but this is the best match-up of teams during the whole Christmas day lineup.

Washington at Boston

John Wall and Kyrie Irving will serve as by far the best point guard match-up on Christmas Day, but the two teams are on opposite ends of the playoff picture a third of the way into the season. While the Celtics have been struggling as of late, losing five of ten, they still hold the best record in the Eastern Conference and stand as the lone viable threat to take out the Cavs out East. The Wizards have not quite been as good as they were thought to be going into the season, but so far they still lead their division. John Wall has struggled with some injury issues thus far, and it has played a huge factor into the Wizards slow start. Marcus Morris will miss the game for the Celtics and is the only player ruled out thus far for Monday evening.

While Wall has struggled both on the court at times, and off the court with injuries this season, Bradley Beal has continued to develop into one of the best shooting guards in the league. Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre both continue to improve and give Washington quality depth out on the wing. Getting Wall healthy and playing back at the level we all know he is capable of is imperative in getting the Wizards trending back up the Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile, the Celtics are trying to right the ship a little bit at home on Christmas. While everyone has been talking about Kyrie Irving and rookie Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown has started to show signs of putting it all together, which is a proposition that should scare everyone in the NBA. Celtics should win this game at home, but Washington desperately needs to add some big wins to their record, which should have them coming in hungry and ready to go.

Houston at Oklahoma City

There is no match-up on Christmas day that features two teams on polar (no Xmas pun intended) opposite ends of the spectrum than Houston and OKC. Houston has the NBA’s best record (25-6), the player leading the MVP race (James Harden) and Chris Paul, who when healthy has still yet to lose a game in a Rockets uniform. Oklahoma City has struggled to find any consistent chemistry between superstars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but a solution may be on the verge of developing as they have started to string some wins. Chris Paul and Clint Capela are day-to-day and could play, while Luc Mbah a Moute is the only player definitely out for Monday’s contest, and the Thunder come in to Monday with a clean bill of health.

While Westbrook has struggled from the field, mightily at times, this season he is still on the verge of averaging another triple-double (23.6 points/9.5 rebounds/9.9 assists per game) and has been punishing rims seemingly every night (Side Note: if you do not already, please do yourself a favor and follow @World_Wide_Wob on Twitter, he posts highlights every single night). Paul George and Carmelo Anthony struggled to get acclimated early, but are starting to find their place within the OKC offense, which can potentially make them a nightmare match-up in the Western Conference playoffs. While the Rockets have dropped their last two contests, they have been off to an incredible start and look every bit a contender out West. James Harden has been playing at an MVP level, Chris Paul is unbeaten when healthy this season and Eric Gordon has been a great piece both in the starting lineup and coming off of the bench. Clint Capela continues to improve and offers Mike D’antoni something that he has never previously had on a contender, a rim protector. This may end up being the most exciting game of the entire day.

Minnesota at LA Lakers

Monday’s lineup rounds up with a game between one of the most improved teams in the league and one of its youngest and most fun teams to watch. The Timberwolves lead the Northwest division with a record of 20-13 and feature one of the games best inside-out combos in Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony-Towns. The Lakers have been inconsistent, but with two of the best rookies in the league the future is looking extremely bright for the Lakers. As far as injuries are concerned both teams could be down one player for Monday’s game, Nemanja Bjelica for Minnesota and Brandon Ingram for the Lakers. While this game may lack the firepower of the earlier games, there are still some sure fire reasons to watch Monday night on TNT.

Tom Thibodeau has to be pleased thus far with how the Wolves have been playing, but has to see that there is still a ton of room to grow. Butler has been getting used to playing with Thibs again, but is starting to find his groove, while young centerpieces Towns and Andrew Wiggins have shown flashes, but need to continue to get better year-in and year-out to have this team reach their full potential. Making the playoffs would be a win for Minnesota this season, but they will have to continue to grow to work on winning a series or two in future seasons. The Lakers have struggled, and coach Luke Walton voiced his displeasure after a loss to Portland on Saturday night. The team is very young, and despite their struggles has to be encouraged by the Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and the strides that Lonzo Ball has made over the last few weeks. Is this the best Christmas Day match-up? Far from it. Is it worth staying up and being a little tired at the office on Tuesday (for those who work this week)? Absolutely.

Basketball becoming a huge part of Christmas Day has been a huge victory for NBA and basketball junkies everywhere. The schedule is loaded, and there should be 12+ hours of basketball to package with your family and other Holiday joy this season. Feel free to join the discussion in the comment below, or on Twitter (@thehoopgroup or my personal handle @dgunnerhg). Most importantly Happy Holidays to you and yours, and hopefully 2018 turns out to be your best year yet!

Tracy McGrady Headlines 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Inductees

Tonight, Tracy McGrady will join Bill Self, Rebecca Lobo, Robert Huges and Muffet McGraw as the 2017 Naismith Hall of Fame Inductees. Like the others in his class, McGrady has a highly decorated career. He was a 7 time NBA all-star, 2 time NBA scoring champion and 2 time NBA first-team selection. But unlike many who are in the Hall, McGrady is looked at by some as a questionable inductee.

Tracy McGrady’s legacy in the NBA will always be a unique one. One of the most entertaining and dominant players of the late 90s-early 2000s, McGrady often gets left out of conversations including Kobe, Duncan and Garnett. The reason? It’s simple: rings. While Kobe, Duncan and KG have a collective 11 NBA titles, McGrady never saw his way out of the first round.

Championships are the go-to in every sports argument. It’s what the MJ faithful love to use when arguing Kobe vs Jordan or Lebron vs MJ. It’s true, the ability to win the ultimate prize adds an extra layer of greatness to a player’s legacy. But don’t for one second mistake one’s “inability to win” as a sign that one does not belong among the elite.

Tracy McGrady is one of the best “what if” players. What if he stayed in Toronto. What if he never got injured. How great could his career have been? How would McGrady be perceived if he won? McGrady’s induction into the Hall of Fame isn’t a time to say what if, it’s a time to remember what he did.

In the 2003-04 & 2004-05 seasons, McGrady led the league in scoring. Ahead of Kobe. Ahead of Duncan, Garnett, Shaq, Vince, Dirk. He averaged 32 and 28 points per game, respectively. He was then was shipped to Houston where he continued to average 24 points per game for each of the next three seasons. His most memorable Rockets moment came on December 9th, 2004. 13 points in 33 seconds. The clip is a basketball junkie’s dream. But despite heroic efforts like that, McGrady will still never be considered a winner.

The world we live in is all about rings. It’s why Kevin Durant went to Golden State. It’s why the state of the NBA is all about super teams. Everyone is chasing that illustrious ring. T-Mac never got that ring, he never came close. And it will forever be held against him. Tonight though, don’t think of McGrady as what could have been. Look back and remember what he was. Because ring or not, Tracy McGrady was electrifying, and he was special.

Other Inductees

Bill Self

At the age of 54, Bill Self has achieved a lot in the college basketball world. He’s a 2 time National Coach of the Year and 5 time Big-12 Coach of the Year. His Kansas team’s have reached the Final Four twice, winning it all in 2008. Most notably however, Self has led Kansas to 13 straight Big-12 Regular Season Championships. Self has a lifetime record of 613-193. He is the 9th fastest coach to eclipse 600 wins.

Rebecca Lobo

While Rebecca Lobo’s WNBA career may have been cut short, she has a very decorated basketball career. She helped lead UCONN to a an undefeated season and National Championship in 1995. That year, she won the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Naismith College Player of the Year and AP Player of the Year. Lobo won a Gold Medal in 1996 and was a WNBA all-star in 1999. After retiring from the WNBA, Lobo became the first woman’s analyst for women’s college and WNBA basketball.

Robert Hughes

Hughes is the all-time winningest high school basketball coach in the U.S. He spent 47 years at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Fort Worth, Texas. During his time on the sideline, Hughes compiled 1,333 victories. He won 35 district championships and 5 Texas state championships. in 2003, Hughes was National High School Coach of the Year.

Muffet McGraw

A Hoop Group alum, Muffet McGraw has achieved a lot as the head coach at Notre Dame. She has won the Naismith Coach of the Year (2001), USBWA Coach of the Year (2001, 2014) and the AP Coach of the Year (2013, 2014) award. She led Notre Dame to a National Championship in 2001 and has compiled a .771 winning percentage coaching for the Irish, with a career record of 765-227. McGraw has led the Irish to seven Final Fours, and has won the conference Coach of the Year award and equal amount of times.

Chris Paul to Houston: What it means in the West

Chris Paul certainly gives Houston a new look, but are they contenders?

In an article published by Zach Lowe on two weeks ago, Rockets GM Daryl Morey told Lowe “We have something up our sleeve.”  He came through on that promise today by reportedly agreeing to trade seven players and a first round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Chris Paul.  In an era dominated by super teams, Morey knows that in order to have any chance of topping the Warriors, the Rockets need multiple stars.  Chris Paul gives Houston their second star, but how much will he actually help them?

The Harden-Paul fit is somewhat awkward.  They’re both dominant pick and roll ball handlers who create great shots for themselves and their teammates. With only one basketball, does CP3 become a glorified version of Patrick Beverly on offense, spotting up on the perimeter while Harden runs pick and roll?  Defensively, Paul would be an upgrade over almost every point guard in the league, but Beverly was the other guard on first team all NBA defense this year.  So if the trade barely moves the needle for Houston offensively, and is essentially a wash defensively, how does it help them?

The Cavs, Thunder, and Rockets all suffered from the same problem this postseason.  Their teams hung tough when LeBron, Westbrook, and Harden played, but their opponents seemed to go on a 12-0 run if their coaches took them out for even a few minutes.  It created a catch-22: they could either not rest the stars and risk fatigue (as we saw LeBron tire out during 4th quarters in the Finals), or rest them and risk falling behind by large margins (as we saw happen to the Thunder).

Houston’s offense scored 113.6 points per hundred possessions with Harden on the floor this year, which is 0.4 points better than the Warriors’ greatest offense of all time.  When he sat, that number dipped to 106.6 – almost exactly league average.  This is where the addition of CP3 will be key.  If Houston coach Mike D’Antoni staggers their minutes so that either Harden or Paul is always on the floor, they will never have to play with an average offensive unit.  They can avoid them problem that plagued them, the Thunder, and the Cavs.

Despite the criticism, Mike D’Antoni says his offense works better with two point guards

Will it be enough to beat the Warriors?  Almost certainly not, barring injury.  But there is another way that this trade could help Houston get over the top.  Houston is now just one star away from boasting its own “Big 3”.  With stars always looking to play with each other, Houston just joined San Antonio as the only other team in the West that can claim they are one player away from beating the Warriors.  Maybe Morey has something else up his sleeve.