Happy Christmas to all our TalkBasket readers. Christmas Day is almost exclusively reserved for the NBA as basketball in Europe takes a break. So what’s been happening on the most festive day of the year?
LEBRON, CURRY LEAD FIRST ROUND OF ASG VOTES
Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry are currently the leading vote-getters for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game that will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York.
James had about 553,000 votes at the Eastern Conference frontcourt spot, where New York’s Carmelo Anthony ranked second and Chicago’s Pau Gasol was third in the results released Thursday. Washington’s John Wall topped East guards, and No. 2 was James’ former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade.
Curry had more than 549,000 votes to lead second-place Kobe Bryant among West guards. New Orleans’ Anthony Davis had the most votes in the West frontcourt, followed by the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Memphis center Marc Gasol.
KD: LET WESTBROOK PLAY HIS GAME
Sidelined Kevin Durant has ejected recent criticism directed at teammate Russell Westbrook’s late-game management during the Thunder’s two recent losses in Durant’s absence.
The Thunder got back to winning ways on Christmas Day with a 114-106 win over the San Antonio Spurs.
“Who cares what people say?” said Durant, who missed his fourth straight game Thursday. “[He should] just play his game. From watching the last two games, he’s the reason why we had a chance to win — his aggressiveness, getting his teammates involved.
“Sometimes it’s kind of hard in those situations, knowing exactly what to do when teams are making runs and playing you different ways. But I think he’s handled it well. Of course, he’s not going to be great every game, but that’s how the dice rolls sometimes. I think he’s handled it well to lead the team like he’s been doing.”
The Thunder lost consecutive games in the closing minutes before their 114-106 Christmas Day win over the San Antonio Spurs. In a 101-99 loss to New Orleans on Sunday night, Westbrook missed his final six shot attempts, including a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer. On Tuesday night, the Thunder coughed up a 10-point lead inside of two minutes in a 115-111 overtime loss to Portland in Oklahoma City. Westbrook was a willing passer out of double-teams during the closing stretch and 3-for-4 from the field in overtime, but he was assessed a technical foul with 1:32 left in regulation that launched the Trail Blazers’ 13-3 rally.
JAMES GETS MIXED RESPONSE IN MIAMI
LeBron James’ return to Miami was mixed. Some boos, some cheers but there was no doubt what the response would be when James’ tribute video was played?
Standing ovation all round. Dwyane Wade believed James deserved a good ovation. So did ESPN writer Dave McMenamin.
He chose to take less than max money to come to Miami in the prime of his career, accomplished his goal of winning multiple championships and then returned to his roots. James likened his years with the Heat to going away to college, something he missed out on as a part of the prep-to-pros generation. Much like Carmelo Anthonyat Syracuse, Anthony Davis at Kentucky or Kemba Walker at Connecticut, James should be forever celebrated in Miami as a big man on campus for what he was able to accomplish in his time there, not reviled for opting to leave early.
“We’re going back to Miami to a city that, basically, won two championships,” said James Jones, who has a unique vantage point on the situation as a current teammate of James on the Cavs and a Miami native who also played with James on the Heat. “And so, there’s a sense of satisfaction that comes with that.”
And again, it’s not like he left the Heat to pursue some fickle fantasy, either. James’ connection to the community in Northeast Ohio is unmistakable — from the giant outward “Akron” tattoo he has across his right collarbone to the feelings about his hometown he has in his heart.
“I feel my calling here goes above basketball,” James wrote in his letter explaining his decision to go home in Sports Illustrated this summer. “I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from.”
James is undoubtedly where he is supposed to be. Once Miami fans can reconcile that, they’ll see that having James on loan to call their own for those four years should make him someone they celebrate, not dismiss.
Or as Dr. Seuss once wrote: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Heat fans will have those on-court memories of James forever more. But there’s more than basketball for James in Cleveland.
WHAT DID JAMES THINK?
James was the first Cleveland Cavaliers player introduced by the Miami P.A. announcer and the majority of the crowd cheered for the four-time MVP.
James called the game “very” emotional.
“It’s tough to play under these circumstances, man,” James said afterward. “You’re so used to playing regular-season games, and then you have to play one like this. Or my first home game, when I went back home (this season), my first home game. So, it’s very difficult.”
Once the game began, fans would boo when James touched the ball, but they went back to cheering when a tribute video for James was shown during a timeout with 5:44 remaining in the first quarter.
The video was an all-encompassing look at James’ four years in Miami, from on-court highlights, to clips from the postgame interview antics that he, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade became known for, to James’ charity work, to even glimpses of James’ Nike commercials and the Heat team’s “Harlem Shake” locker room dance that went viral.
“It’s cool,” James said of the video tribute. “A lot of emotions come back and you know, I spent four years here with those guys, man and some guys are still here, some guys are not here. We put in a lot of hard work and dedication just to do the best we could.”
The crowd broke out into a loud standing ovation and James acknowledged the applause, raising his right arm to wave as he walked back onto the court from the bench following the timeout.
“I think these fans are great,” James said. “I always talked about them and always said that and they always showed their loyalty.”
GASOL: IT FELT WEIRD PLAY MY OLD TEAM
Chicago Bulls’ Pau Gasol played against his former team on Christmas night as the Bulls ran out 113-93 winners over the Los Angeles Lakers, who missed Kobe Bryant for the second game with general soreness.
Gasol went for 23 points and 13 rebounds in leading the Bulls past his former team.
“It’s weird,” Gasol said after racking up a game high 23 points and 13 rebounds. “Obviously it’s an emotional game because you find yourself on the opposite side of a team that you’ve played for for so many years and you’ve been through so much [with them]. So it was weird, difficult at first to kind of get going and once you start playing you’re just playing the game the best way you can.”
Gasol said he spent some time speaking to former teammate Kobe Bryant on Wednesday and was sad that the Laker legend didn’t play against the Bulls. Bryant sat the game out with soreness.
“We saw each other for a while,” Gasol said. “We sat down for over two hours. Just catching up. It felt good to really to hang out, to talk, spend quality time together. I really enjoyed it. Obviously I miss him, I don’t get to see him that much now for obvious reasons, but he’s like a brother to me and I wish him the best. I have the utmost respect for who he is and we’re always going to support [each other].”