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Today’s Fastbreak Roundtable: An NBA Christmas Feast

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Christmas Day brings us a feast of NBA hoops, with five games on the docket. We here at Today’s Fastbreak will consume all of the action, so we wanted to prepare by having a discussion about the best storylines from the games.

Jason Patt: What game are you looking forward to most on Christmas? Warriors/Cavaliers is certainly the easy answer, but do any of the other matchups especially intrigue you? Or do you just say “screw those,” just give me Cavs/Warriors on loop?

Kelly Scaletta: They all have potential. Kobe has been playing well, and one last big game on a national stage to end the evening would be huge. I would thoroughly love to see Kobe go for 40 in that one.

All the games have potential for fun. The Thunder and Bulls (if both teams play to their best) promises to be great. When they met in Chicago earlier, it was a great one and this has the potential to be the same.

Joseph Nardone: Probably The Lakers game merely because it is the last time Kobe will play on Christmas. Sentimental value aside, it is most definitely Golden State vs Cleveland, though it is funny how folks are acting like it’s Steph vs Bron Bron, as if the two would guard each other.

If Fred Hoiberg promises to coach harder, I am also all in on the Bulls game. They’ve been solid so far, but man will they ever be awesome if he just coached harder.

Jason: Fred clearly didn’t get the message in the Nets game. If only he would’ve given Derrick Rose a HARD kick in the behind, the Bulls probably would’ve won.

In all seriousness, I’m not sure what to expect from that game. The Bulls aren’t playing well at all right now and the Thunder are rolling, so there’s some serious blowout potential there. On the other hand, maybe Chicago actually plays inspired ball after all this latest drama. I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

Joseph: Chicago is a mystery to me. They brought in Hoiberg for offense and now the front office is acting like they brought him in for something else. I guess they can’t say, “Well, the offense isn’t all that better now” or whatever, but to pretend like things aren’t what they have hoped is silly. That said, they aren’t an abomination. Sure they aren’t as good as many would like, but how many teams are as good as the fans want? Like, a handful maybe?

As long as #FreeBobbyPortis happens, I shall view the game while pretending to listen to my in-laws discuss Trump without any irony.

Kelly: And here I was, enjoying my day, trying to not think about what a cluster-fornication the Bulls have become.

Honestly though, except for the Warriors and Cavs, they all have the potential to be really good or really bad. Houston has been coming on strong and could challenge the Spurs — or just get obliterated. The Pelis could offer the Heat some resistance. Even the Lakers, if Kobe goes all Mamba, have the potential to beat the Clips.

Dec. 22, 2015 - Denver, Colorado, U.S - A Lakers fan show her support for Kobe Bryant before the start of the game during the 1st. Half at the Pepsi Center Tuesday night. The Lakers beat the Nuggets 111-107 (Photo by Hector Acevedo/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Hector Acevedo/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Joseph: I hope Kobe has a great game, but not like Kobe-great. Great enough so fans continue to lose their marbles. Saw a tweet recently that asked “not if, but when Kobe scores 50 again” and I nearly lost my poop. He hasn’t dropped 50 in nearly a decade. I can’t find the tweet, but it is out there. Simply search for “insane nutty person” or something.

For me, the allure of Christmas games has never been the full games anyway. Mostly the end of them (unless something special is happening). I have daughters and stuff now. It is hard to ignore them on the day the world’s most famous carpenter was born. They are opening my life savings under a tree each morning. I have to kind of pay attention. So, in general, I will mostly watch all the games, but only pay attention to each at the end.

Kelly: Christmas morning is for the family. The rest of the day is for basketball.

I kid! I kid!

That’s the joy of it. It’s there all day, whenever you want. It’s also sort of fun with social media because everyone is on the same game.

Jason: Ah, the family life. Usually on Christmas I try to avoid the often awkward family conversations and just watch all of the basketball. Doubt that’ll happen this year, though.

Anyway, back to the play on the court, I’m pretty stoked that Kyrie Irving is back, although I don’t know if he’s ready for that Steph life.

Kelly: Really, that game is going to be magnificent. If people can watch only one game, that’s the one to see.

Joseph: No one is ready for that Steph life. Not a soul roaming the planet. Like Kelly said, this is the game to watch. It is obvious. Also, oddly enough, it will be funny to see the Delly folk trot out in bunches again if he were to bother Curry enough.

Also worth looking out for is Russell Westbrook’s attire. Does he break something a little extra special out for the holiday? Sticking with OKC for a minute, I kind of like how they no longer try to appease the “balance on offense” gawds. Westbrook is going to do him…forever. And he’s great. And we need to appreciate him for what he is instead of constantly saying what he isn’t — which makes sense, but folks often (still) love to talk about Westbrook not knowing his role.

Oh, I nearly forgot about watching Hassan Whiteside. Add him to things I want to see on Christmas. He’s rather fun to watch for a giant human. Miami as a team is neat. I know everyone knew at the end of last season they’d be pretty good, but they can get better still.

Plus, you know, Bosh Christmas photo bomb is inevitable.

Jason: I’m an unabashed Russell Westbrook fanboy. Yeah, he does some crazy stuff from time to time, but #LetWestbrookBeWestbrook is what I say. And if you notice, he’s become one heck of a passer as well. Anybody who tries to trot out the “he should pass more” or “he doesn’t make anybody better” line is asinine.

That's probably the perfect note to end this on. Happy Holidays, y'all!

Kyusung Gong/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Kelly: Westbrook is a great example of a “little knowledge is dangerous” type thing. People look at his field goal percentage and rate him solely on that, ignoring the total impact he has on the court. Then they crown that with the ultimate in dumb saying he only passes when there’s an assist.

His teammates are shooting an extremely high percentage off his passes. That’s usually because when you collapse the entire defense like a black-holing star, there tends to be an open dude to take the shot. So, in their mind, he’s WRONG to pass the ball to the open guy. Or something like that. Russ hate is a truly bizarre thing…unless he’s destroying your team. Then it’s perfectly reasonable.

Jason: Agreed. Ah, and our fourth roundtable person now joins us! Welcome Daniel to our lovely discussion of the Christmas Day shooty hoops!

Daniel O’Brien: I agree that OKC vs. Chi-Town is the most intriguing matchup outside of the Finals rematch. This one has some sizzle because the Bulls won a barn-burner in their November showdown. D-Rose actually looked like a star to close out that battle to hand the Thunder a three-game losing streak. Fast-forward to today, and it’s Rose’s Bulls who are on their own three-game skid and OKC is undoubtedly eager to hand them a fourth straight L. Plenty of incentive for each squad to get after it.

Jason: One of the few games Rose actually looked like his old self. He’s just depressing at this point. Wouldn’t surprise me if he plays well though as this is a matchup he’ll “get up” for.

Looking at another matchup, Lakers/Clippers, we’ve touched on Kobe already, but what’s going on with the Clippers? They’re only 16-13 and haven’t really clicked. The revamped bench is still miserable and injuries have kept some key players out here and there. Is this team destined for another disappointing playoff exit?

Kelly: I really thought when they got rid of Matt Barnes it was going to hurt. They were +529 with him on the court last year and +11 with him off. And he was only on for a few hundred more minutes, so it’s not like that’s skewed. He was their only real wing defender and he was a really solid three-point shooter who helped with spacing.

The Clips starting five was magnificent last year, the best in the league with a 7.5 +/-. That’s been cut in half this year when Lance is starting, and that’s when they’ve been their best. And I think it just goes down from there.

The Clippers aren’t playing as well because they’re not as good of a team, and realistically, it’s hard to see them getting past the Spurs or the Warriors, and then you have to start looking at how much longer the window is open for CP3. Each year he doesn’t make it past the second round, the louder the critics are going to get, fair or not.

Joseph: The Clippers are weird to me. Is their window completely shut? Like, it shouldn’t be because their core guys aren’t ancient, but that bench is a special kinda of awful. Doc the GM has worked out as well as Jack Kevorkian worked out as a Doctor. I suppose it has as much to do with the league passing them by as it does their own inabilities.

Where does Chris Paul even fit among the best players in the league anymore? I used to blindly defend him when people would use his lack of playoff success against him, but I honestly don’t know where he fits if we were ranking guys in the league. Not that a fictional ranking is all that important anyway. He’s still really good, too. That’s not what I am saying, but he isn’t the type of player who can transcend ho-hum talent and the rest of his career looks as if that’s the type of guys he will be playing with. Sad face.

Dec. 21, 2015 - Los Angeles, CA, USA - The Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul, right, fakes shooting and passes to DeAndre Jordan during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Kyusung Gong/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Jason: CP3 still has those games/moments where he’s THAT GUY, but injuries have slowed him a bit this year.

Seriously though…how insane would it be if he NEVER made it past the second round?

Daniel: That’s a good point. That would be crazy. He’s been the most impactful pure point guard of the past decade, and he helped change the trajectory and attractiveness of the Clips, yet he may ultimately be viewed as an underachiever. I don’t usually like to play the “what if” game, but his career and legacy would likely have a much different complexion if David Stern hadn’t squashed his move to the Lakers in 2011.

Kelly: That’s a whole other thing. I often wonder if it really would have worked, but that’s a rabbit for another day.

Daniel: For sure. As for this season, the Clippers’ matchup with the Lakers is a prime chance to snap their losing streak and start feeling good about themselves before hitting the road. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Paul vs. Clarkson/Russell matchup. In the paint, it will be interesting to see whether the Lakers’ young bigs like Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. can simply compete with the Clippers’ frontcourt.

Jason: The young Lakers guards have had some issues defensively this year, so those matchups could be a problem.

Looking elsewhere, and we haven’t even touched on the Spurs! Which is probably fitting because they’ve somehow flown under the radar despite basically being just as dominant as the Warriors.

How freaking good is Kawhi Leonard?

Joseph: He’s a legitimate star. The difference between he and Paul George the other night was jarring.

That team has been tremendous for the billionth straight year. Feel like it’s the Warriors, Spurs and then everybody else. Everyone else is nowhere close to their equals.

Jason: The difference between the Spurs’ defense and the second-best defense (the Celtics) is nearly five points per 100 possessions. And the offense is coming around as well. It’s a sight to behold.

May 31, 2014 - Oklahoma City, OKLAHOMA, USA - San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard looks for room around Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant during first half action in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals Saturday May 31, 2014 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK

San Antonio Express-News/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire

Kelly: They’re first and second in MOV, not just THIS year but in all of human history. Cleveland has the potential to be in their league if they can stay healthy and get some rhythm going. They’re starting to get some traction, but for now, it’s the Spurs and Warriors, then Cleveland, then everyone else is playing for the right to lose to one of those three in the playoffs.

But what I think is interesting is that actually means almost EVERYONE. So many teams have valid playoff, and even second-round, hopes.

Jason: The Thunder might be starting to get to that point as well. Or at least it looks that way when they play the Lakers. Two wins in the last week by a total of 75 points. Lakers sure made a good pitch for KD to go there!

Kelly: I’m just not sold on the Thunder. I’m an unbeliever.

Joseph: Steven Adams has a great mustache. That alone makes me a believer. I fail to think any team that trots out a fellow who looks like him can’t be great. I don’t want to live in a world where it can’t be that way. That said, they are nowhere near the levels of the Warriors or Spurs. Not even close. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Maybe Adams’s facial hair will be what puts them over the top.

That’s hard-hitting stuff right there.

Daniel: I like the Thunder, but I’m also skeptical that they can put it all together this year. Billy Donovan is still trying to get a handle on ideal schemes and rotations. They need to find better ways to create and move the ball: OKC is dead-last in passes per game, 19th in points created off assists and 25th in “potential assists.” Both the Warriors and Spurs rank in the top seven in all three of those categories.

Kelly: My skepticism is on the other side of the court. San Antonio’s defense is historically good, and when the Warriors are engaged, they’re nearly as good. The Thunder are barely top 10, and even that’s beefed slightly by their schedule. But hey, at least, they have Enes Kanter!

Jason: I picked the Thunder to win it all before the year, so I’m still clinging to the hope they truly can put it all together. Having Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook around will always give them a chance (and they’re playing some of the best basketball of their careers), but that bench is still a dumpster fire, so they’re hard to trust.

Also, fun fact, Kyle Singler has a 0.53 PER.

Kelly: If you round up, .53 is 1.0, which is appropriate for a guy named Singler.

AND there’s my pun for this roundtable.

Jason: That’s probably the perfect note to end this on. Happy Holidays, y’all!

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