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The Jump – Xmas Treat

Even though I do not celebrate Christmas (I am Jewish- one of our Tech directors Henry Lopez insists that I need to call my parents and wish them a Merry Xmas, we do not do that) it has become one of my two favorite Holidays. My other favorite holiday is Halloween (free candy and scantily clad woman are always a plus). As an NBA junkie there is nothing better than five straight NBA games and I will watch every single one of them in full (Figure each game takes two and half hours, so that is 12 and a half hours of basketball…it took me way too long to figure that out – no wonder I haven’t graduated college in seven years). Let’s take a quick look at the match ups:

Game 1: Miami Heat @ New York Knicks- Two weeks ago I was dreading this game, but with Knicks turning into a functioning basketball team after their 1-9 start it is not as bad as it once was. Outside of the basketball game, we get to listen to two and a half hours of 2010 theories from Dan Shulman and Doris Burke with Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. I can’t wait!!!!!

Game 2: Boston Celtics @ Orlando Magic- Game loses a little bit of its flair with Paul Pierce out for two weeks. Watching Pierce and Vince Carter playing against each other is always fun, the contrast of how to handle playing for a losing team and how not to-Vince Carter quits, complains and forces a trade while Paul Pierce fights through it and eventually gets rewarded with a NBA Championship. I am interested to see how Dwight Howard handles the physical play of Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who is one of the most improved players in the NBA this year.

Game 3: Cleveland Cavaliers @ Los Angeles Lakers- Kobe vs. Lebron and Shaq equals ratings bonanza for ABC and the NBA. Too bad that the Cavs are a bad basketball team when Shaq is on the floor and are better with Anderson Varejao. According to 82games.com, with Shaquille O’Neal playing Cleveland is minus .04 when he is not they are plus 9.0. That is not a good thing. Phoenix Suns fans saw this first hand Monday night, when the best development of the game for the Cavs was Mike Brown being forced to pull O’Neal because of foul trouble. With Shaq on the court the Cavaliers were plus three, with Varejao on the court they were plus 21. I wonder which lineup is better?

Game 4: Los Angeles Clippers @ Phoenix Suns- I still have not figured out how this game fell through the cracks. Whoever in David Stern’s office thought it was a good idea for the Clippers and Suns to play on Christmas should be fired for a few reasons. #1, selfishly, now I have to work on Christmas because as the Jewish guy in the office I don’t have any religious responsibility (this just delays my traditional Xmas day drinking fest with all my friends in Arizona who don’t go home for the holidays). #2 Outside of abnormal people like myself who enjoy watching the Clippers play, no one in their right mind has any interest in watching this game. #3 A better choice would have been to have the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets play each other giving us all the chance to watch Deron Williams and Chris Paul battle it out.

Game 5: Denver Nuggets @ Portland Trailblazers- Three weeks ago this game was intriguing, now half of the Blazers team is hurt. At least we still get to watch Brandon Roy (hopefully) and Carmelo Anthony try and outscore each other.

Now that we got this year’s game out of the way here are the games I want to see next year. These games have no chance of happening because I am completely disregarding the ratings game, I am just giving what I would enjoy watching.

Game 1: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Sacramento Kings- Give the world a chance to see Brandon Jennings vs. Tyreke Evans.

Game 2: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. whatever team LeBron James is on- The Cavs-Thunder game from December 13th was one of the most fun basketball games I have watched this season. Seeing Durant and LeBron on the court together is just plain awesome.

Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers vs. whatever team Dwayne Wade is on: I like watching these two go head to head more than LeBron and Kobe. Even though they don’t always defend each other, Kobe and Wade have to deal with each other more than Lebron and Kobe.

Game 4: Orlando Magic vs. Houston Rockets- I’m assuming by this time Yao Ming is going to be back to full strength. A chance to watch the best two big men in the game go head to head with Dwight Howard and Yao Ming.

Game 5: Chris Paul vs. John Wall- This game is the one I want the most. I don’t care what team Wall and Paul (Wall and Paul that kinda rhymes, and if you join the names together its equals the rapper Paul Wall, which is cool) seeing them go head to head is must-watch TV. They will guard each other on every play and the over/under on them trying to one up each other with play ground style moves is set at seven.

Lift Off

-A story that is under the radar right now is the New York Knicks once again turning into a functioning NBA franchise. The Knicks started off the NBA season 1-9 and looked like they were on their way to becoming the laughingstock of the league(I was the one heading this bandwagon, I would cry at night picturing John Wall in a Utah Jazz jersey). During those 10 games I discovered the lock bet of the century-betting against the Knicks on the first half line. At halftime during those first 10 games they trailed at the half by 10, 14, 19, 23, 33, 17, and 14. If you bet it in all 10 games you would have won seven out of the 10, which is not bad at all.

Eventually the Knicks fell to 3-14 – and then the month of December hit, and New York started acting like a real basketball team. They have gone 8-3 since December 1st, including wins over Phoenix, Atlanta and Portland. The difference – and I cannot believe I am writing this about a Mike D’Antoni coached team – is the defense. In the month of December the Knicks held their opponents under 100 points in nine out of their 11 games. The catalysts to this was D’Antoni’s decision to bench the self-absorbed Nate Robinson and the re-emergence of Jared Jeffries. Jeffries’ versatility and hustle on defense has set an example for the rest of the Knicks.

What makes the Knicks’ turnaround so important is not the fact that they have a chance to sneak in the playoff this year as the 8th seed in a bad Eastern Conference, but how it sets them up for the future. They have shown the free agents of 2010 that there is actually a semblance of a basketball team. With Jeffries’ improved play they should be able to swing him off to a contender (Paging the San Antonio Spurs – what a perfect fit he would be in a Bruce Bowen type roll, Jeffries has even shown the ability to hit that corner three) giving the Knicks the cap flexibility to sign two max free agents while keeping their young core – Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas. I don’t mention David Lee in that core because if they want to sign two max free agents he might not be back.

-I caught bits and pieces of the Washington Wizards-Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night (between catching up on season 3 of Big Love- one of the most underrated TV shows ever) and Wizards Head Coach Flip Saunders pulled a move I had not seen since I played CYO basketball in elementary school. Saunders took out Washington’s entire starting five at once in the third quarter (Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Antwan Jamison and Randy Foye for Earl Boykins, Nick Young, Fabricio Oberto, Dominic McGuire and Andray Blatche). It worked, and the Wizards starters got the point and outscored Philadelphia 33-19 in the 4th giving them a much needed victory.

-Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph has developed a reputation for being a loser in the NBA. It looks like he is starting to turn the corner as the past week he has put the Grizzlies on his back and led them to three straight victories. In those three games Z-Bo has scored 26, 32 and 33 points and, even more impressive, he had 16, 24 and 18 rebounds. He also played over 40 minutes in all three of those games. It is always easy to kick a guy while he is down, but it is also important to point out when a player starts to play the game the right way. As scary as this sounds, Zach Randolph has become a leader for this young Grizzlies team.

-The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to exploit teams that are in bad financial situations. In the summer of 2007 Thunder GM (at the time they were still the Supersonics) Sam Presti acquired Kurt Thomas and two future first round picks from the Phoenix Suns for a future conditional second round pick and a trade exception. Essentially Presti saved the Suns money and got them to throw in two first round picks (they have the Suns pick this year and the other pick turned into Serge Ibaka, who currently leads the Thunder in Blocks at 1.1 per game). Thursday he acquired rookie point guard Eric Maynor and Matt Harpring from the Utah Jazz for the rights to a second round pick that I never heard of who is playing overseas. The Jazz saved money and the Thunder add another player to their young core. The Thunder are building up towards being in championship contention with Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Eric Maynor. They also have a significant amount of cap space this summer.

I believe that the key to Thunder being able to compete at the top of the Western Conference is the development of point guard Russell Westbrook. He is a solid player right now, but is not efficient enough to run a championship caliber team as he shoots 38% from the field and turns the ball over more than three times a game.

Top 10

1. Los Angeles Lakers 23: 9-1 in their last 10 games. Kobe Bryant showing no ill effects from his broken finger.

2. Boston Celtics 22-5: I am very interested to see how they handle Paul Pierce being out for 2 weeks. Last year they got through the Kevin Garnett injury so I wouldn’t expect anything different with Pierce down.

3. Orlando Magic 21-7: They got Jameer Nelson back Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets. Stan Van Gundy needs to get him back into the flow of things smoothly.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers 21-8: If Mike Brown has guts he would tell Shaq to sit his fat butt on the bench. They have the potential to move up to the #2 slot and become the favorites in the East if O’Neal takes a hike.

5. Atlanta Hawks 20-8: Took advantage of a very easy schedule in the month of December to finish 8-2. They only played two teams with a winning record the whole month.

6. Dallas Mavericks 20-9: Got a great win against the Cavs without Dirk Nowitzki.

7. Denver Nuggets 19-9: They are dropping with two bad loses to the Hornets and Grizzlies back to back.

8. Phoenix Suns 18-10: Struggled through a difficult schedule in the month of December.

9. Portland Trailblazers 18-12: In desperate need of center with the loss Oden and Pryzibilla.

10. Houston Rockets 17-11: On up-swing, Tracy Mcgrady is completely useless to this team.