A Christmas-inspired list for each Western Conference team…
Find the Eastern Conference list here.
James Harden wins MVP
As legendary author Jack McCallum quips, Harden has long been deserving of the NBA’s MVB (Most Valuable Beard) but this season Rockets fans hope Santa can deliver a first MVP trophy to Harden.
Harden has been unstoppable, leading the NBA at 32.5 ppg and the Rockets to a 25-6 record. The Rockets are scoring a ridiculous 115.4 points per game outscoring their opponents by an average of 10 points per game…
First comes the MVP, then comes the Championship?
Golden State Warriors
The Return of #30
In an apparent attempt to ruin Christmas, the Grinch brought back Stephen Curry’s ankle issues and forced him to miss the highly anticipated Finals Rematch.
Don’t fret, just as soon as the presents have all been unwrapped, Steph will be back launching from deep. Let’s hope that this ankle injury doesn’t linger and Steph and the Dubs will be healthy throughout their title defense.
San Antonio Spurs
Continued Mastery of Evil Santa aka. Pop
Despite a white beard that compares with the Jolly St. Nick, Coach Pop remains his cantankerous and genius self this season.
Sitting at 23-11, the Spurs have been strong in the early going, and things are only looking better with the return of superhuman Kawhi. Pop has leaned heavily on LMA without Leonard, but now he must find a different solution with Kawhi sure to command more touches.
Going forward the Spurs expect to be at the top, in large part to the best coach in the business. Perhaps you’ll have more success asking Santa how he works his magic because Popovich won’t tell you.
With a defensive rating that sits at 107.6, the Timberwolves have the sixth-worst defense in the NBA this season. The frigid Minnesota weather hasn’t affected Wolves opponents this season, as they are allowing a scorching, league-worst, 54.6% true shooting percentage against. Defense like that will land KAT, Wiggins and Thibs all on the naughty list this Holiday season.
Tom Thibodeau revolutionized NBA defense at his prior stops, but for Minnesota to climb up the Western ranks the Wolves will need to get more stops.
Portland Trail Blazers
Despite possessing a backcourt that can light it up brighter than the decorative XMAS lights, the Portland Trail Blazers are struggling on offense through 33 games. Flipping the script from years past, the Blazers are carried by the league’s second-best defense but only the 25th best offense. Dame (25.2ppg) and CJ (20.7) are doing the heavy lifting offensively, but Portland better hope that their stockings and stat sheet are well stuffed in the New Year.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Melo Off the Bench
Yes you, Melo
The Thunder have won four in a row ahead of their Christmas tilt with the Rockets, but the half court offense lacks ball and player movement. Billy Donovan has preached for less isolation but with Russ, PG, and Melo there are too many mouths to feed.
By bringing Melo off the bench he can get buckets against second units allowing for a more defensive-minded player to start.
The young Nuggets have gotten promising play this season from core pieces Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. As these guys continue to develop around the two frontcourt stars the Nuggets have tons to be excited about.
Harris, in his fourth year in the league is scorching from deep, even drawing comparisons to Klay Thompson from coach Mike Malone. Perhaps coach Malone had a little too much eggnog, but the future is bright in Denver.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Big Boys Together
While the whole NBA has seemingly zigged towards pace and space and away from traditional bigs, the Pelicans have zagged and now possess two dominant frontcourt players.
The results have been encouraging for the Pelicans, and at 17-16 they are trying to lock down a playoff spot. This situation is skating on thin ice due to Demarcus Cousin’s contract expiring after this season. If the Pelicans plummet they may look to move Cousins and get a return rather than lose him in free agency.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen because we want to see Boogie and the Brow in the playoffs.
Quick Recovery for Rudy
Rudy Gobert, not to be confused with Rudolph the Reindeer, has been sidelined with multiple injuries this year, most recently a sprained PCL in his left knee.
Just like Rudolph Red Nose guides Santa through a Christmas night, Rudy guides the Jazz and is their defensive anchor.
The Jazz are 8-9 without Gobert this season, and without the Stifle Tower, the defense-first identity of Utah takes a major hit.
Los Angeles Clippers
Get Rid of the Curse
The ghosts of Clipper past have re-emerged this season as the Clippers sit below .500 and have been hit hard by injuries.
Freshly inked to a max contract, Blake Griffin is out with a sprained left MCL, Patrick Beverley is sitting with a microfracture and torn meniscus, and Gallinari has a torn glute.
This multitude of injuries has forced the Clippers to play makeshift lineups and at 13-19 Clipper fans should hope for more wins and better health in 2018.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lots of Ball
Ball, the most analyzed rookie ever, started poorly but he’s put together a nice stretch recently.
Over his last six games, Ball has flashed the potential that made him the #2 overall pick posting 16/7/7. The recent productivity has seen Ball average three 3s a game at 45%.
Maybe this is a Christmas miracle, but Laker fans should be encouraged and hope this is a sign of things to come.
Find room for Frank
Frank Mason III was the player of the year in college for a reason. Mason knows how to play in the league and seems very NBA-ready in terms of spacing and timing. He is shooting 43% from 3 this year, and his efficient play clearly warrants more than 18/19 minutes per game.
I know Fox may be the future, but the Kings need to find some room for Frank
Devin Booker is one of the best prospects in the league.
Oh, and TJ Warren knows how to score.
Nothing else is clear in Pheonix. The Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss situation remains confusing because both guys are young and inconsistent. Bender can defend and shoot but his body is clearly not ready. Chriss has an explosive athletic foundation with a silky touch but he may be lacking the requisite IQ to ever be great. Ulis has been solid this year filling in the Bledsoe-void but solid may not be enough in a league with brilliant point guards. Josh Jackson remains a question mark…
The Suns need clarity to answer their pressing questions
Mike, Please Come Home
Things are pretty bleak for Memphis at 10-23. There have been a variety of factors that play into this but a main one is missing star point guard Mike Conley.
Conley has been out since Nov. 13th with an Achilles issue and he is still at least a few weeks away. Getting Mike Conley back healthy sits atop the Grizzly wishlist.
Dallas has entered into a rebuild, but don’t worry Mavs fans – trust the process.
At 9-25, Dallas has the second-worst winning percentage in the league behind the Atlanta Hawks. As they seek to pair some more young talent around Dennis Smith, Mavericks fans should keep an eye on the NCAA for the likes of Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton, and Mo Bamba.
With another high lottery pick, plus one of the best coaches in the league, Dallas can turn this around shortly.