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Monday Musings: Christmas Aftermath

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Roundup of the current state of the NBA

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Christmas Day has become a special day for more than just the Holidays for NBA Fans. The Christmas slate of NBA games is must-watch television, often with a marquee matchup. This moment also often serves as a demarcating point in the lengthy season, an easy date to point to for before-and-after records and successes and failures.

This year, to little surprise, the main event was a rematch between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, perhaps in preparation for third NBA Finals meeting between the two teams.

Last year, that Cavaliers and the Warriors’ Christmas game was watched by 11.12 million viewers, a number which I am sure will be outmatched by this year’s game. The Warriors won that game last year 89-83, the scoring of which was much lower than the Warriors’ historic pace they were setting at the outset of last season.

We are all too familiar with what happened in the NBA Finals last year, as well as how different this matchup would be now that Kevin Durant has joined the Warriors.

It was extraordinarily rewarding to see that this matchup did not disappoint this year, as NBA fans were treated to what has likely been the best game of the year so far, as well as one of the best regular season games in recent memory.

Kyrie Irving stole the show at the end of the game with his late-game heroics.

The final score, 109-108, with a Cavaliers victory, will hopefully serve as a barometer for the quality of play that we may see in a potential third NBA Finals rematch between the two best teams in the NBA.

Other Christmas Day Games

  • The Lakers beat up on a Clippers team 111-102 that was without Blake Griffin and Chris Paul
  • The Celtics withstood the late game run from the Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis to win 119-114
  • Our own Timberwolves played on Christmas against the Thunder. You can read about it here. Spoiler alert, we lost.
  • The Spurs did Spurs things and beat the Bulls 119-100. Robot Overlord Kawhi Leonard was a game leading +22 in 38 minutes with 25 points on 7-14 shooting (3-5 on threepointers), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. He also held Jimmy Butler to 8-19 shooting.

NBA Early Season Trends

The Western Conference playoff spots from 1-7 are pretty much already locked up, barring a crazy run from the Trailblazers whose defensive woes surpass even the Timberwolves. The Kings currently hold the 8th seed with an 13-17 record while the Jazz hold the 7th seed with a 18-13 record.

This is particularly disappointing because if the Timberwolves did not have such a terrible opening to the year, they could easily be fighting for that 8th seed. In fact, the King’s current winning percentage of 43.3 percent only ends up with 35.5 wins, which would be extremely low for an 8th seed as well as around what many of us considered the floor of the Timberwolves this year.

The Eastern Conference from seeds 3 to 11 is a mess. The Celtics have had a disappointing beginning to the season and are currently sitting 18-13, exactly the same as the Western Conference’s 7th seed of the Utah Jazz. The Magic are 11th at 14-18, which would be good for the 8th seed in the Western Conference. It’s weird.

Teams likely to regress throughout the year

Lakers - They have already started down this path from their early season success. Just too much youth and terrible defense. A formula we are all too familiar with.

Knicks - They have 3 more expected Pythagorean wins at 16-14 than their stats indicate. Their injury-prone veterans will also miss some games at some point in the season.

Grizzlies - I flat-out do not understand how they keep on winning, this year and last year. Intellectually I believe they will drop down in the standings from their current 5th seed and a 20-12 record, but somehow I am pretty sure the Grizzlies will keep on winning.

Teams likely to improve throughout the year:

Trailblazers - They actually have one more win than their current Pythagorean expectation, but I think they will find the magic formula from last year and reclaim the recently lost 8th seed.

Jazz- Getting healthy, coming up on an upswing, where have we heard this about the Jazz before? They will finish with the 5th seed or better.

Pacers- There were a lot of varied opinions about their new roster construction coming into the season. The early returns have been mixed so far, but could easily see this team coming together.

Timberwolves- Nowhere to go but up right?

Early Season Awards

MVP: LeBron followed by James Harden. LeBron is posting 8.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game along with his stellar scoring and defense, although his threepoint shooting will likely regress soon. Westbrook coming in third as his team will likely need to win some more games for him to be qualified for the MVP award.

Defensive MVP: Will likely be another Kawhi Leonard year.

Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid has this on lockdown and no one is close.

Most Improved Player: Giannis. Will be interesting to see how votes for this shakeout as LaVine may be in the top-3.

Sixth-Man of the Year: Eric Gordon.

Coach of the Year: Not a ton of rumblings so far on this one. Usually, this goes to the team with the best record or a team that really surprises. There haven’t been many teams like that this year and hard to reward Steve Kerr again if the Warriors do not equal their success of last year with the addition of Durant. LeBron-led teams often do not also have coaches that win awards. Maybe Popovich, although that seems like the default option when no one knows what to do. D’Antoni could be interesting if the Rockets keep this up.

Happy Holidays