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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Notes About the 2020 Christmas Day Quintupleheader

The Christmas Day quintupleheader is sometimes referred to as the unofficial start of the NBA season for casual fans, because in a normal year those fans may have been more focused on MLB, the NFL, and college football prior to December 25--but in this most unusual year the Christmas Day quintupleheader happened just three days after the official start of the NBA season. No definitive conclusions can be drawn about a season that is not even close to one week old, but it is always fun to see a third of the league in nationally televised games on the same day--and it would be even more fun if at least one of these games had been decided by less than a double digit margin, but that may be too much to expect for regular season games that are essentially preseason games as the league rushed back into action to salvage the massive revenue generated by playing games on Christmas Day.

Game One: Miami Heat 111, New Orleans Pelicans 98 

1) During his 24 game rookie season, Zion Williamson was a productive and efficient scorer in limited minutes (22.5 ppg on .583 field goal shooting in 27.8 mpg). The next steps in his evolution are to demonstrate that he can stay healthy while also improving his rebounding (he only averaged 6.4 rpg last season) and defense. He had 15 points on 7-9 field goal shooting, 10 rebounds, and six turnovers in New Orleans' season-opening 113-99 win against the Toronto Raptors, and he has scored the most points in the first 25 games of an NBA career since Allen Iverson burst onto the scene in 1996-97. 

Williamson scored 16 points in the first half versus Miami, including 12 in the second quarter. He finished with a game-high 32 points on 11-20 field goal shooting while also grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds, but he also had a -13 plus/minus number, the worst by far of any New Orleans starter. Williamson is a gifted scorer and he has the ability to be a dominant rebounder, but he and his teammates have a long way to go defensively.

2) "Changing the culture" may be an overused phrase, but Jimmy Butler is without question a player who changes a team's culture in a positive way. When he leaves a team that team gets worse, and when he joins a team that team gets better. While an All-Star level player should be expected to have a positive impact just by virtue of his individual statistical contributions, Butler is one of those rare players who also has a positive impact based on his personality and work ethic; he sets a good example and demands that his teammates follow suit. It is an indictment of some of his previous teams and teammates that they did not buy into his professional approach. 

Butler did not play in the second half after aggravating an ankle injury, and he did not have a huge first half statistically (four points on 2-7 field goal shooting, six rebounds, five assists) but his impact on the Heat is unquestionable. This franchise's culture did not necessarily need to be changed--Pat Riley created a culture of accountability and hard work when he joined the team--but Butler fits in perfectly, and it is very important that a team's best player embraces doing things the right way. As an example of the opposite, just consider the culture of entitlement and lack of personal responsibility that exists with James Harden's Houston Rockets.

3) The Heat look like the same team that made a surprise run to the NBA Finals, while the Pelicans look like a young team that is allergic to defense and precision execution. After we have seen a larger sample size of games, we will know if the Heat really are picking up where they left off last season, and if the Pelicans will be able to improve enough defensively to become a playoff team.

Duncan Robinson tied the Christmas Day record for most three pointers in a half, nailing six triples as the Heat took a 66-53 halftime lead. The Heat set a Christmas Day record with 13 three pointers in a half. Robinson finished with seven three pointers, tying the Christmas Day single game record set last year by the Pelicans' Brandon Ingram. The Heat only made three second half three pointers but they shot .507 from the field overall (including .432 from three point range). Robinson led Miami with 23 points, followed by Goran Dragic (18 points) and Bam Adebayo (17 points).

Game Two: Milwaukee Bucks 138, Golden State Warriors 99 

1) It was great to see and hear Hubie Brown calling an NBA game. He did not participate in the "bubble" games, but now he is back. It was also great to see and hear Marv Albert back on TNT earlier this week; Albert, one of the sport's legendary voices, also did not participate in the "bubble" games.

2) Perceptions and descriptions of leadership are interesting. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a great leader, regardless of whether or not media members have figured that out yet.

Charles Barkley so often says that Chris Paul is the best leader in the NBA that this has become a running joke during TNT's telecasts. LeBron James is also often lauded as a great leader. These characterizations are puzzling. Paul has hopped from team to team, and he is often at odds with his teammates and/or coaches. Paul's vaunted leadership has not resulted in a single NBA Finals appearance, let alone a championship. When someone is called a great leader but his teams have not accomplished much it is fair and logical to ask: "Where exactly is this great leader leading his followers?" Paul is a great but undersized point guard. He demands a lot from those around him, which can be a good thing at times, but his leadership has not had the same impact or generated the same results as many other better leaders have achieved during his tenure in the NBA. 

James is on the short list of candidates for the title of greatest basketball player of all-time--but neither his greatness as a player nor his charitable endeavors off of the court prove that he is a great basketball leader. LeBron James' failures as a leader are well-documented, although many media members prefer to downplay these facts.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a better leader than LeBron James or Chris Paul. Antetokounmpo works hard, he encourages his teammates, and he is not looking for shortcuts. Consider his response to questions about why he re-signed with Milwaukee now as oppose to waiting and testing free agency. Antetokounmpo said that if he had delayed his decision then this would have put tremendous pressure and scrutiny on his teammates, who would have had to constantly worry about and talk about whether or not he would stay. Antetokounmpo said that if he had waited then he would have harmed his teammates and squandered a season during the prime of his career when he and his teammates have a chance to reach their ultimate goal: winning an NBA title.

It is impossible to imagine LeBron James or Chris Paul answering that question that way, or conducting themselves in that way. James has won four championships and four Finals MVPs; no one can question his greatness as a player, not can anyone question his ability to raise a team's level--but James has also presided over the implosion of multiple teams, and he wasted prime years during his first stint in Cleveland: just imagine what might have happened if he had fully committed to the Cavaliers franchise and helped to build the program as opposed to always having one foot out the door before eventually fleeing to Miami. 

In contrast, Antetokounmpo has a finely honed sense of urgency and sense of the moment; every game is precious, every season is precious, and you cannot afford to waste games or seasons because you think that you are heading toward greener pastures. Antetokounmpo gets it. James has been successful despite lacking those qualities at times, not because he consistently displays those qualities. In other words, James is so talented that he and his teams are sometimes able to overcome his flawed leadership style.

Isiah Thomas joined an awful team and helped to build a two-time champion. Michael Jordan joined an awful team and helped to build a dynasty. Antetokounmpo is a throwback to that kind of wonderful old school mentality.

3) Golden State's first round pick James Wiseman is raw, as most rookies are, but his talent is obvious and bountiful. It will be fun to watch him develop, and he is fortunate that he was drafted by a team that has great leadership from both the coaching staff and also the veteran players, several of whom have won multiple championships. He finished with 18 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes.

4) However, despite having a two-time MVP playing alongside many talented young players, to say that the Warriors are off to a rough start is putting it mildly. It is obvious that they miss Kevin Durant (who left to play for the Nets), Klay Thompson (who is out with a season-ending injury), and Draymond Green (who has missed the first two games of the season due to injury). Many media members salivate over certain players who they believe excel at making their teammates better but that phrase brings to mind Michael Jordan's quip during the early stages of his career that you cannot make chicken salad out of chicken (bleep). Jordan did not much fancy being negatively compared to Magic Johnson in terms of elevating teammates when Johnson was playing with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar while Jordan was playing with Dave Corzine. 

Stephen Curry is a great player but he won three titles with a stacked team, and he has yet to win a Finals MVP. Curry and Steve Nash did not make chicken salad out of chicken (bleep) during their MVP seasons--they had talented teammates during those campaigns--and when they are surrounded by suboptimal talent they cannot singlehandedly lift a team. The closest a player has come to making chicken salad--or at least something relatively edible--out of chicken (bleep) is Kobe Bryant pushing, pulling, and dragging the immortal center-point guard duo of Kwame Brown-Smush Parker to consecutive Western Conference playoff appearances. During the 2006-07 season, Bryant averaged 48.9 ppg (that is not a typographical error) on .514 field goal shooting during his first 16 40 point games, and the Lakers went 12-4 during those contests (after I wrote the article containing those statistics, Bryant had two more 40 point games that season--a pair of 50 point gems--with the Lakers winning one and losing one, to finish the season 13-5 during Bryant's 40 point games).

That is why those of us who are very familiar with basketball history take such a jaundiced view of what is presented to the public as basketball analysis concerning Nash, Curry, Damian Lillard in the "bubble" and other performances that deserve recognition, but do not deserve fawning adulation, or placement above the exploits of Bryant and the select group of players (including Jordan) who actually can carry a subpar team farther than anyone else could.

Curry finished with 19 points on 6-17 field goal shooting. He had a -24 plus/minus number. I am not calling his teammates chicken (bleep)--Curry has more talent around him now, even with Green and Thompson out of action, than Bryant did during the Brown-Parker dark ages--but I will say that Curry is not making anything resembling chicken salad at the moment: the Warriors lost their first two games of the season by 65 points, the second worst point differential in the first two games of the season in NBA history behind only the 71 point differential suffered by the 1987-88 Clippers. The Clippers went 17-65 that season, and their leading scorer was Mike Woodson (18.0 ppg). A Stephen Curry-led team should not be in the same statistical milieu as one of the worst NBA teams of the past 45 years.

5) Khris Middleton led Milwaukee with a game-high 31 points on 10-15 field goal shooting in just 26 minutes. He is not an all-time great, but he is a solid All-Star who will likely never get the credit he deserves unless/until Milwaukee wins a championship. Antetokounmpo did not shoot well (15 points on 4-14 field goal shooting) but he had a game-high 13 rebounds as Milwaukee dominated the boards 60-43, and he had a +26 plus/minus number.

Game Three: Brooklyn Nets 112, Boston Celtics 100

1) Celtics fans are mourning the loss of legends Tommy Heinsohn and K.C. Jones. Heinsohn passed away on November 10, 2020 while Jones passed away today. John Thompson, a role player for two of Boston's championship teams before he became a Hall of Fame coach, passed away on August 30, 2020. Those three were each members of Boston's 1965 championship team, during Heinsohn's final season and Thompson's first season.

2) No one should be surprised that a healthy Kevin Durant paired with a healthy Kyrie Irving is a lethal scoring tandem. Irving poured in a game-high 37 points on 13-21 field goal shooting, while Durant added 29 points on 9-16 field goal shooting. Irving can score in just about any situation at any time, but his scoring is most often connected with winning when he plays alongside a more dominant player who attracts a lot of defensive attention. It is possible that Irving will be the Nets' leading scorer this season--he has led them in scoring in each of their first two games--but it is more likely that Durant will be the Nets' leading scorer. However, even if Irving is the leading scorer that does not mean he is the team's best player; Durant is a matchup nightmare who is the opposing team's first concern.

3) The Celtics miss the scoring and playmaking provided by Kemba Walker, who is out of action due to injury, but they also need for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to score more efficiently. Brown had a team-high 27 points but he shot 11-25 from the field, while Tatum finished with 20 points on 9-22 field goal shooting. It is not fair to evaluate the Celtics' roster until Walker returns, but at first glance the Celtics appear to be who they have been for the past several years: a really good team that is just not quite good enough to win the Eastern Conference.

Game Four: L.A. Lakers 138, Dallas Mavericks 115 

1) I have already mentioned that I am not a fan of how LeBron James leaves teams for greener pastures, but it must be said that--after a rocky first season--everything has gone according to plan for James in L.A. He acquired Anthony Davis, the player who not only is 1B to his 1A but is capable of being 1A now and for many years to come. Last season the Lakers had a better supporting cast than many media members were willing to admit--downgrading the value of James' supporting cast has been elevated to an art form--but this season's supporting cast looks much better than last season's, at least on paper. The Lakers' championship window will remain open as long as James is healthy and motivated. 

Davis had 28 points on 10-16 field goal shooting, James finished with 22 points on 8-18 field goal shooting plus a game-high 10 assists, Montrezl Harrell also scored 22 points, and Dennis Schroder contributed 18 points plus six assists.

2) The Dallas Mavericks are trying to stay afloat until Kristaps Porzingis returns from injury next month, but they should be able to accomplish at least that much with MVP candidate Luka Doncic leading the way. A 23 point loss, even to a stacked defending champion, does not speak well of Dallas' attention to game plan detail, particularly on defense. Doncic had a solid game (team-high 27 points on 9-19 field goal shooting, team-high seven assists, four rebounds) but the Mavericks probably need even more production than that from him. Doncic also must improve defensively.

3) The Lakers do not have a bona fide third All-Star like James' other championship teams did, but this squad may be the most talented and deep one of James' career. Davis is a top five player, which arguably was not true of any of James' previous teammates at the time he played alongside them (it can be debated whether or not Dwyane Wade was still a top five player when he and James joined forces, but Wade clearly declined during each season of that partnership). Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder are borderline All-Star caliber players and either could win the Sixth Man Award (unless Schroder remains a starter, of course). Kyle Kuzma has All-Star level talent. Marc Gasol is a former All-Star who can be very efficient and productive in a limited role for the Lakers. Several other Lakers are, at the very least, above average rotation players. This is probably James' best performance as a General Manager (many of his current teammates are represented by Klutch Sports, which is affiliated with James even though--wink, wink--by rule James cannot have ownership interest in an agency that represents players).

Game Five: L.A. Clippers 121, Denver Nuggets 108
1) Hopefully, Kawhi Leonard will be OK after that nasty, inadvertent shot to the face that he took from teammate Serge Ibaka as both players pursued a loose ball with 6:07 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Clippers leading 108-97. Leonard collapsed to the floor in a heap, and he bled profusely from his face, but he walked off of the court under his own power. The Clippers immediately issued a statement that he would not return to the game, but as of this writing there have been no further updates.

2) Turning from the disturbing image of Leonard's injury to the broader view and outlook for this team,  Leonard is the Clippers' best player and one of the top five players in the NBA, so he must shoulder some of the responsibility/blame for the team's unexpected and disappointing early exit from the 2020 playoffs after blowing a 3-1 lead versus the Denver Nuggets. However, any shrewd observer of this team understands that Leonard did not receive enough help from his supporting cast--most notably Paul George, whose resume is littered with disappointing postseason play--and that his teammates did not display a championship mentality. 

Some people assert that Leonard must be more of a publicly vocal leader, but that is nonsense. Was Tim Duncan a publicly vocal leader? There are different types of leadership and different types of leaders. Leonard leads by example: he works hard and he plays the right way. The one legitimate question about Leonard involves the odious practice of "load management." If a player has a chronic injury that requires a certain amount of rest/recovery that is one thing, but just selecting certain games for a healthy player to rest is bad for the league and bad for the teams that do this. The Clippers' obvious lack of chemistry and cohesion was likely caused at least partially by Leonard's "load management," so to the extent that Leonard either demanded this or at least accepted this he should be held accountable. 

Why is load management bad for the league? Think about it this way. If you go to a five-star restaurant, pay full price for a meal and then receive fast food instead because the chef is resting that night, that approximates the value a paying customer receives when purchasing a full price ticket to go see the Clippers play sans a healthy Leonard. Yes, injuries are part of the game, and thus there is an inherent risk when you buy a ticket in advance that a star player may get hurt and not be able to play, but that understood risk is completely different from a player just deciding to take games off. 

Why is load management bad for teams and players? Just go back and watch the tape of the Clippers blowing three straight double digit second half leads versus the Nuggets during last year's playoffs. How well did saving Leonard for the playoffs work out?

What about the research that supposedly shows that the NBA's 82 game regular season is too long, and that playing all 82 games places players at a greater risk for injury? Assuming that this research is valid, there is a simple solution: cut down the length of the season to whatever level the experts deem to be medically acceptable. Of course, that also means slashing revenue for the owners and slashing salaries for the players, so it will never happen (except for the COVID-19 induced shortened seasons last season and this season). No, the NBA wants to sell fans fast food at five-star restaurant prices and then laugh all the way to the bank; that same kind of greedy thinking also explains the NBA's warm embrace of totalitarian China: China's big money talks, and nothing else matters. 

Whenever I hear "NBA Cares" or someone rhapsodizing about how progressive the NBA is I wonder what the Uighur Muslims who are languishing in Chinese detention camps think about the NBA's politics.

3) Ty Lue showed that he could manage the LeBron James drama in Cleveland and win a championship, and it is difficult to imagine that his Clippers have more behind the scenes drama than those Cavaliers did--but, of course, it remains to be seen if the Clippers are going to see the version of playoff Kawhi Leonard that can go toe to toe with LeBron James as opposed to the one who lost to Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and it remains to be seen if Paul George can approximate playoff Kevin Love, let alone playoff Kyrie Irving.

4) Yes, the Clippers defeated the Nuggets by double digits in a regular season game. To paraphrase the immortal Derrick Coleman, "Whoop de doo." The Clippers have a championship caliber roster, and every season with this roster is championship or bust. Regular season wins are important for playoff seeding, but they will ultimately be forgotten if this team collapses again in the playoffs. 

Paul George scored a team-high 23 points on 8-14 field goal shooting. Leonard had 21 points on 8-14 field goal shooting. Nikola Jokic led Denver in scoring (24 points), rebounds (nine), and assists (10). Jamal Murray overcame a slow start to finish with 23 points on 9-20 field goal shooting. The Nuggets' defense was poor and their offensive execution was erratic. They did not look like a team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals after eliminating the Clippers during last year's playoffs, but we have seen Denver go through bad stretches before only to bounce back with a vengeance.

5) Paul George is being paid more this season--by far--than Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West made in their entire careers. You can decide if that is a triumph of player empowerment, or perhaps a sign that something is out of whack. 

Analysis of Previous Christmas Day Quintupleheaders:

Notes About the 2019 Christmas Day Quintupleheader (2019)

Several Stars Shine During Christmas Day Quintupleheader (2018)

Christmas Day Quintupleheader Recap (2012)

Comments and Notes About the Christmas Day Quintupleheader (2011)

Thoughts and Observations About the Christmas Day Quintupleheader (2010)

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:18 AM



At Monday, December 28, 2020 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...


Unless giannis develops a consistent jumper he will never win a title idc what kind of leader or teammate he is.

Lebron proven he can win on many diff teams and his game has developed every year of his career for 17 years that why he a goat canidate and top 5 all time.

Giannis simmons and others been in the league forever and still cant shoot. Like do u work on ur game at all?

Him staying in milwaukee i suppose nice for milwaukee but players who leave like kd and bron arent wrong.

They dont have no obligation to those franchises they just the place where they got drafted. They first obligation is To find the best place to win and they family not to no sports team or city

Zion a athletic beast but needs to develop a jumper to go to next level.

Lamelo ball gonna be a great nba player i hope charlotte starts giving him more minutes

No one beating kd and irving in east

Bron won 8 straight in east

Kawhi won east first year.

A guy on kd level to good for the east its bbq chicken for them there

At Tuesday, December 29, 2020 11:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Giannis should develop a better jump shot, but I could see him leading a team to a title even with the skill set that he currently has.

I did not question that LeBron is a great player. I pointed out indisputable evidence that, at times, he has not been a great leader.

Giannis has shown massive skill set development across the board, and is one of a select group of players who has won both an MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year award, so he obviously has worked very hard on his game. Simmons, on the other hand, has not shown nearly as much skill set development, and he is not in the conversation with LeBron or Giannis. I never mentioned him in this context.

You are correct that LeBron and KD have a right to leave their teams. Informed historians and commentators also have a right to place those decisions in context, and to compare those decisions to the decisions made by other great players.

KD and Irving have to both stay healthy, and have to develop/maintain chemistry with their supporting cast. If they do those things, they clearly have the potential to win the East.

At Wednesday, December 30, 2020 8:50:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...


Giannis hasnt shot any better the last few years

Lebron got better and develop his shot that leadership. Also he had mental toughness issues and overcame them

U saying giannis a better leader cause he stayed in milwaukee and james left makes no sense

When giannis shoots better and not one dimensional like he been the last few years.

Speak on his leadership than

At Wednesday, December 30, 2020 9:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have made clear the distinction between leadership and skill set development, but you are continuing to mix the two together. As a leader, LeBron has quit on multiple occasions, he is often a frontrunner, and he has fled multiple teams to build superteams as opposed to working with his current team. Early in his career, he was such a poor leader and prima donna that he was almost left off of Team USA despite his great talent, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski.

Those are all examples of poor leadership. There are also examples of LeBron being a good leader, and I have noted those throughout the years as well.

Regarding skill set development, I have noted during LeBron's career that he improved his defense, his post up game, and his midrange game (though he stubbornly refused to work on his post up game throughout his first stint in Cleveland, and that was costly to his team). However, it should also be noted that even now his jump shot is still inconsistent, and he also never became a great (or even above average) free throw shooter. His free throw percentage was .754 as a rookie, and his career percentage is .734. Antetokounmpo shot .683 on free throws as a rookie, and his career percentage is .721, though he shot .633 last season and is off to a slow start so far this season. Antetokounmpo is a better rebounder and defender now than James ever was, and Antetokounmpo has also improved his passing during his career, though he is not as good of a passer as peak LeBron (but Antetokounmpo has probably not yet reached his peak).

So, in summary, Antetokounmpo has demonstrated superior loyalty and leadership compared to James, and in terms of skill set development both players made progress since their rookie season but neither is a great free throw shooter.

At Wednesday, December 30, 2020 4:58:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


There no loyalty in sports

No athlete owes anyone anything

So giannis isnt more loyal

Lebron and kd went to best place they can at

Giannis went for money first diff people got diff priorities

Giannis been same player last 3 years

He not improving

Staying wit Milwaukee means he will never win a ring

Bron and kd was too smart for that

At Wednesday, December 30, 2020 5:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The issue is not just leaving, but how they left. LeBron quit on his team, made a national spectacle of "The Decision" and then left Cleveland. After LeBron left Miami, Pat Riley referred to "smiling faces with hidden agendas" and everyone knew that he was talking about LeBron. Durant squandered a 3-1 lead versus Golden State but instead of embracing the challenge of beating Golden State he took the easy route of joining Golden State. Then, he felt like he did not get enough credit, so he left a championship-winning program to join the Nets. In contrast, Giannis said that he does not want to waste a prime season of his career with people--most importantly, his teammates--wondering about what he might do.

Giannis has improved each year of his career, and has a chance to be the first player to win three MVPs in a row since Larry Bird.

Maybe he will win a ring in Milwaukee, maybe not. A lot of factors will affect that outcome, some of which Giannis cannot control--but there is no doubt that he is a great leader, and that he has great character as a competitor.


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