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!

While Free Agency Dominates, The 76ers Go Against the Grain

Ever since The Decision, NBA fans have been talking themselves into the possibility of Lebron’s team missing the Finals. The first candidate to knock him off was the “Big 3” Celtics. Lebron’s Heat knocked them out in 5 games during his first year in Miami, and took them out in 7 games the next year. The next challengers were Paul George’s Pacers. The Pacers met the Heat two straight years in the conference finals, but couldn’t slay the dragon. After that, Lebron returned to the Cavs in 2015. His Finals appearances have felt more preordained than ever. Neither the Hawks nor the Raptors posed any real threat. Te parade of challengers came full circle last year, with a completely rebuilt Celtics team falling to the Cavs in the Conference Finals. But there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for those who want to see new blood come out of the East.

Last week, Joel Embiid put up 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks in a game against the Lakers. It’s a stat line that no one else has ever accomplished. Anyone who has ever been close to that in a single game is indisputably an all-time great. Since 1980, the most similar lines were put up by Shaq (40/17/8/5) and David Robinson, (42/14/5/5) per basketball reference’s game finder. In the same game, his teammate Ben Simmons had 18/9/10 to go along with 5 steals. These numbers are starting to look normal for him.

Obviously, Embiid has a long way to go before being considered an all-time great. Making an All-Star game would be a good start. His health will remain a huge question for the foreseeable future. But this game and his play throughout the first month of the regular season erases any lingering doubt about the type of player he is when healthy. His dominance, combined with the play of Simmons (who is a lock for Rookie of the Year), make the 76ers a force to be reckoned with almost immediately.

It’s possible that the emergence of two future superstars on the 76ers ends up having little impact on Lebron’s reign over the East. Lebron is rumored to be looking to sign with a team in the West after this year, and the Sixers remain one year away from truly putting a scare into the top teams in the conference. With Gordon Hayward’s leg injury, the Celtics probably lack the firepower to take out the Cavs this year. But with all of these factors combined, the East should finally – finally! – be represented by a non-Lebron team in the 2019 Finals.

Trust The Process: The Beginnning

There’s always moments in time where you remember exactly where you were, who you were with and what you were doing that just stick in your head.

For myself, and many other crazed 76ers fans, that day was June 27, 2013. The day The Process truly began.

I was sitting on media row at an empty Bollman Center, prepping for a month of clinics and tournaments and showcases with Hoop Group with a live feed of the Draft blasting on another tab of my laptop.

There wasn’t much reason to pay attention to the top of the draft in terms of rooting interest, with the Sixers picking 11th in what was ultimately on the weaker end of draft classes. It wasn’t until Twitter started going crazy with rumors and the usual #WojBombs that I started to pay attention.

Jrue Holiday, who had been tagged as the future of the franchise under the previous regime, along with Evan Turner, was off to New Orleans. Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 pick in that draft, plus an extra pick, was on his way to Philadelphia.

When the trade was signed and sealed, I initially wasn’t a fan; At the time, Jrue was coming off his best season (career highs with 17.7 PPG and eight APG) and Noel wasn’t scheduled to play the next season after that gruesome ACL tear. Months after the Draft playing NBA2K with my college roommate he cried (jokingly, I think) when the crowd started the “MVP” chant for Holiday.

But the more time passed and the more I thought about it, it was clear that was the only way to go. What General Manager Sam Hinkie and the Sixers were selling wasn’t the status quo, it wasn’t the idea that the seventh- or eighth-seed and a small chance at an upset in the first round was good enough. What the Sixers front office was selling was something that hadn’t been there since Allen Iverson was dropping 30 points a night. Hope.

June 27, 2013 – The Day Hope Came to Philly

In order to truly compete, a team needed a star and that wouldn’t happen picking in the 10-18 range. Sure there were attempts to get a star to lead the team (Elton Brand in 2008, Andrew Bynum in 2012) but it never truly prospered. The only way to truly build, in the beginning of the Superstar Era, was the draft. 

And even in the aftermath of the Hinkie era and the beginning of the Colangelo era, that hope has exploded into what is basically a nationwide phenomenon.

Just take a look at the handful of preseason games: Joel Embiid is proving he can be a generational player when healthy and an even better s*** talker on Twitter. Ben Simmons, despite his broken shot, has at least three or four plays a game that remind you why he had such lofty expectations coming out of LSU.

Robert Covington, one of the biggest diamond-in-the-rough finds, has blossomed into an elite wing defender and a capable 3-point shooter. Dario Saric and TJ McConnell are bordering on folk hero status and JJ Redick gives them the shooting that has been sorely missing for the past few seasons.

Sure the 76ers are coming off a year where they won just 28 games, the most since The Process began in 2013, and have yet to prove they can compete on a nightly basis. But if Embiid stays healthy, Simmons somehow finds his shot and Markelle Fultz’s shoulder/abhorrent shooting stroke gets fixed, is it really hard to imagine the Sixers gunning for the fifth seed in a talent-depleted East?

The Process has handed Philly three budding stars, will Sam Hinkie’s vision finally come to fruition soon?

This is the type of hope that Hinkie and Co. built their regime on during his three-year tenure. And it’s been incredible to see just how that hope has changed a city deprived of a true winner. The go-to Philadelphia chant when a team is losing (which has happened plenty the last few years) of “E-A-G-L-E-S” has now been replaced by chants of “Trust the Process.” Embiid gave himself “The Process” nickname, an incredibly appropriate moniker given his injury-prone time in the NBA. Hell, even #RaisetheCat has become a national thing (Good work @GipperGrove).

It’s that hope that makes this team intriguing to follow, because of that Process. No team has gone to his length, something that people only thought happens in NBA2K GM Mode, in an attempt to rise to the top. And it’s a refreshing take in a league that has, in recent years, only had a handful of competitive teams vying for the championship.

It’s a Different Feel

I’ve gotten my hopes up throughout the years between the Eagles’ consecutive trips (and mostly failures) in the NFC Championship game, the rise and even faster fall of the Phillies between 2007 and 2013 (we’ll always have 2008) and a Flyers organization that gave Philadelphia a glimmer of hope in 2010.

It’s certainly an unfamiliar time (especially considering the last few years) in Philadelphia sports. The Eagles and Flyers have found early-season success while the Phillies are in the early stages of their own Process with some players already showing their ability late in the regular season. 

The Sixers had long been the organization, between Iverson’s departure in 2007 to the beginning of the Hinkie era in 2013, that drew the least interest among the main four professional teams. There’s plenty of pieces that still have to fall in place for the Sixers to get back into a competitive state. But make no mistake, the pieces are there. The only thing the fans can do now is something they’ve been saying for the past three years: Trust the Process.

Andrew Koob is a former Hoop Group Digital Media Member and a native of Warrington, Pa. He currently is a high school sports writer for NJ.com and the Star-Ledger. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewKoob.

Lonzo Ball Entertains Against Sixers, Cavs

Lonzo Ball stole the show and shut down the doubters in his standout showing for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday.

It’s been one of the few times Ball has made headlines without help from his mouthy father, LaVar.

Shocking.

Nothing seemed to phase the former UCLA Bruin. And that was with LeBron James sitting court-side, eyes glued to the most talked about second overall pick.

Dropping 36 points, eight boards and 11 assists, Ball showed up in the clutch. The rookie gave his Lakers the go-ahead bucket that landed his team with a 103-102 win … the biggest and-1, three-point play of the summer league.

Most importantly, Ball did it with unselfish play. And he did it with poise, looking more like a seasoned veteran on the big stage than a rookie.

Ball wowed watchers with his well-rounded play. And that’s with his ugly jumper. I’m just being honest.

He silenced the media with his studded performance. Despite it being an exhibition match, Ball played up to speed in the league playoff contest, bringing his Lakers back from a 14-point deficit. He went off in the second half after having a mediocre first-half performance.

This kid is something to watch. He’s playing beyond expectations and making waves without LaVar behind it all.
Thank God.

Ball’s performance Wednesday proves his ability to progress. In his first pair of games, Ball seemed hesitant to shoot, attempting to score with long (ugly) jumpers. He wasn’t afraid, however, to get dirty in the paint, all while making the right team-first decisions. He worked wonders off the dribble.

His ability to score isn’t his strength, but he showed he’s still a threat to shoot. It’s all signs of good things to come. While we are still talking about summer league, he’s not going to have much of a problem fitting in to the Lakers scheme. We can expect even more good things to come, only making the summer league even more hyped up.


12:42:33 AM

Lonzo Ball records triple-double as Lakers drop Cavs

Ball followed up Wednesday’s performance with another stellar stat line, leading the Lakers over the Cleveland Cavaliers, 94-83, to advance on to the quarterfinals round Thursday night. He racked up 16 points, a dozen rebounds and 10 assists en route to his triple-double.

Ball continues to show his worth on both ends of the court in a full team effort. Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with 20 points while Vander Blue tallied 18 for the victors.

Though he continues to impress, Ball was just 2-for-10 from beyond the arc. He’ll have to improve his long-range ball, but his progress in the paint continues to give him upside on the floor.

More than competent shooters around him makes his style a good fit. Blue and Kuzma were 7-of-11 and 7-of-14 from the field, respectively.

The Lakers face the Brooklyn Nets in quarterfinal action, Saturday.

Markelle Fultz Lives up to Hype in Summer Hoops Debut

Summer hoops season is just a teaser of sorts, but Monday’s preview of the 76ers gives off the sense that Philadelphia is on the up-and-up. All of the pieces are coming together, and Philadelphia has a lot to look forward to with Markelle Fultz proving worthy of the No. 1 pick overall to the City of Brotherly Love.

The stars of the game were Jalen Brown and Jason Tatum on paper for the Celtics, but Fultz, who saw less playing time for the Sixers, gave us a glimpse of what’s to come for his career. He finished with 17 points and three blocks in his 22 minutes of play.

Handling both sides of the court in his debut showing, Fultz has the potential to round out a Philadelphia team that is screaming “it’s about time.”

Redick to play key leadership role in Philly

With most of their offense on the court being young, the Sixers’ addition of J.J. Redick will add a veteran in the mix, giving players like Fultz, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid space to see the floor. Not to mention Redick is a multidimensional player offensively, having a knack for nailing the ball in from beyond the arc – anything like that will surely improve an offense that has been ranked 30th for not one, but the last four seasons. I don’t need to remind you that there are 32 teams in the league.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Redick was enthusiastic about the one-year, $23 million dollar deal having turned down several offers to be in Philly. He will play a big mentoring role in developing the team’s youthful roster.

Fultz and Redick won’t be the icing on top of the cake, however. The Sixers won’t be vying for the title next season. But be sure to expect to see a gradual improvement in Philadelphia overall.

The team’s level of play also hangs heavy on injury. The Sixers will need to have a healthy Simmons, who missed the entirety of his rookie season, and Embiid, who has played just a total of 31 games in three season, to both be healthy.

Trust the process, right?