Shootaround (Dec. 25): Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James rivalry renewed
Durant vs. LeBron rivalry renewed | Rose battles back | Porzingis visits Disneyland | Bulls get Buford help
No. 1: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James, renewed — It’s a little out of character, all this NBA competitiveness played out today against a backdrop of Christmas cheer and good will. And while everyone involved knows that even at this level, it’s only a game, going too far down that road would undercut the excitement this schedule of five strong games offers fans across a spectrum of holiday circumstances. For nine seasons, fortunately, Kevin Durant and LeBron James have properly – if occasionally contentiously – channeled their competition to chase the same things in the same time and same places. Their rivalry gets renewed as the Golden State Warriors visit the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in the day’s matinee marquee matchup (2:30 ET, ESPN). Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury-News sets the table:
[Here] we are: As the Warriors and Cavaliers renew their rivalry on Christmas Day, an extra kick of spice has been tossed into this two-time Finals rematch. The LeBron, Durant rivalry — once fierce, but recently dormant — has been resurrected and injected into all the intrigue.
Slater traces the timeline of Durant vs. James, including both on-court skirmishes and the roles each has played for the other in their jockeying for alpha dog position. Which brings us all to this:
Now Durant has joined forces with the Warriors and, though he takes no ownership over the team verse team rivalry — “Nah. It’s their thing. I’m new to this whole thing,” he said — he arrives with his own history.
“It’s not like I’m new to the hype around the game,” Durant said. “Every time I’ve played against LeBron James, it’s been a huge game.”
The head-to-head matchup is lopsided. Including those Finals, LeBron is 17-4 career against Durant’s teams. But the statistics have been relatively even. Both average right around 30 points on right around 50 percent shooting against each other. LeBron has historically been better, but the matchup and talent discrepancy is close, which, for the Warriors, is a massive upgrade from the past.
“Well, we feel a little more comfortable going into this matchup having Kevin Durant on our team,” Steve Kerr said.
“It definitely changes a lot of things, helps out a lot,” Draymond Green said. “Makes them have to guard us a little more honest.”
No. 2: Rose healthy but challenged — We won’t break out the abacus to calculate exactly how many times in the past nine Christmases Derrick Rose actually has been healthy enough to play basketball, whether his Chicago Bulls were on the holiday schedule or not. No need to go so negative on such a joyful day. Let’s just say that Rose is healthy in his first Christmas as a New York Knick and, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, he’s ready to take on the big challenge of coping with Boston’s little guard, Isaiah Thomas:
Rose is feeling his oats, back spasms in the rear-view mirror. The Knicks are 2-0 since Rose returned from back woes, snapping a three-game losing streak that closed the trip out west. And now Rose gets a major test in Boston’s All-Star jitterbug Isaiah Thomas for Christmas.
“I feel good,” Rose added. “Not feeling my back anymore. My body is healthy — just trying to find a rhythm, just trying to play my game, either a floater or try to finish at the rim or me trying to dunk. I feel all three elements are my game.”
The 5-foot-9 Thomas, who played for Hornacek in Phoenix, has become one of the most difficult covers, usually getting wherever he wishes. Thomas scorched the Knicks for 29 points in November
“Contesting all his shots, using size against him, just competing,” Rose said of his strategy vs. Thomas.
Though Rose calls it “an honor” to play on Christmas — he did so multiple times as a Bull, including wiping out the Knicks in 2012 — it is a bittersweet time for him personally. His 4-year-old son, P.J., is back in Chicago. Rose invited himself over to Carmelo Anthony’s for Thanksgiving but will let him be with his family Christmas night.
“I don’t have any family here — I’ll be by myself, chilling at home,” Rose said. “My son is back at home with his mom and family. Hopefully I’ll have him here before we leave for Atlanta [on Dec. 27].”
For now, the Celtics are the only thing on his mind.
No. 3: Porzingis meets Magic Kingdom — Most folks, either from taking their kids to amusement parks or growing up themselves, are familiar with the vertical challenges they pose. Many of the rides have cartoon-like characters planted nearby, requiring an “Unless you’re this tall…” check. Well, the New York Knicks’ barely older than a kid forward/center, Kristaps Porzingis, got blocked from a few of the attractions for the opposite reason – at 7-foot-3, he was deemed too tall to safely partake. That didn’t stop Porzingis from engaging in an entertaining Q&A with ESPN.com’s Sam Alipour while enjoying a day at Disneyland. Here are some highlights:
What is it about the Disney magic that captured our imagination halfway across the world?
It started with cartoons. My first memory is — how do you call it, Mickey Mouse? I was in Latvia when I saw Mickey on TV. And oh, Winnie the Pooh! That’s my guy. You want to see them in real life. That’s why it’s a dream for kids to come here. And look what they built — we’re grown men, and we’re still having fun here. It’s unbelievable. That’s one thing about Americans: They know how to have fun.
Apparently, there’s a height limit on fun today.
Every day. Low ceilings, low doors. I hate that. Oh my god, it’s the worst. This world is too small for me.
How do you feel about thrill rides?
As a kid, I used to love roller coasters. I love adrenaline, love going faster. But it’s been a long time, so —
You’re not gonna puke on me today, are you?
I can’t promise anything. While my teammates are just chillin’ at the hotel, bored, I’m out here in these teacups spinning around.
As an immigrant, you have a fresh perspective on America. What do you think?
People are friendly. Not everywhere. New Yorkers aren’t that friendly, but they’re still pretty friendly, and they’re hardworking, passionate people. Another thing I like is that here in America, you can go somewhere else and nobody knows who you are or your past. In Latvia, everybody knows everybody and word spreads quickly, whatever happens. It’s a small place.
Have you been yelled at by a cabbie yet?
Yes! When I cut him off the road. Hey, I was just trying to fit in. [Laughs.]
You’ve come a long way since draft night, when your selection by the Knicks led to boos and famously made a kid cry. I mean, literally, he’s famous now.
[Laughs] I saw it on social media right away. I laughed about it. You know, a European gets drafted, [the kid] has no idea who he is, so he follows his dad’s reaction and starts crying. But I always see him before games. It’s funny, now he’s my biggest fan.
No. 4: Bulls get Buford help – If you think the Chicago Bulls, considering the rough patch they hit in losing five of their past six games to slip below .500, might need a secret weapon for their Christmas showdown with the Spurs in San Antonio, well, they just might have one. He has special insight into the Spurs’ brain trust because, after all, Chase Buford isn’t just Chicago’s coordinator of player development – he’s a son of San Antonio GM R.C. Buford. Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune featured the young man on a Bulls road trip that, for Buford family purposes, couldn’t be better timed:
Buford, 28, grew up in San Antonio, the son of Spurs executive R.C. Buford. Gregg Popovich hired the elder Buford, a former Kansas assistant under Larry Brown, to be the team’s head scout in 1994. He moved up the chain and became general manager in 2002.
Among the players he championed was Tony Parker, whom the Spurs drafted in 2001 when he was a 19-year-old Belgium-born guard playing in France. Parker bonded with the younger Buford.
“My dad was always great about when we signed guys, especially foreign guys, to take them out to dinner and get them acclimated to the city,” Chase Buford said. “When Tony came to the States, he was 19 and I was about 13. There were a lot of family dinners — and I was addicted to soccer. I love Tony, Manu (Ginobili) and obviously Tim (Duncan) was the god.”
Chase’s mother, Beth, competed on the LPGA Tour and his sister, Chelsea, qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur and now coaches women’s golf at the College of Charleston. Two adopted brothers played college basketball.
“I somehow missed out on the athletic genes,” Buford said with a chuckle. “Everyone else is pretty damn good. The culture of our family was, we didn’t meet for dinners very often because we were at practices or games or Spurs games. But it was fun and exciting.”
Now Buford, who sits behind the Bulls bench during games, aims to help Hoiberg get the best from his players.
“Chase came in as an intern last year and he blew me away with his work ethic and his understanding of the game, his IQ,” Hoiberg said. “Coming from the Spurs system, being around those guys a lot, really gave us some good ideas. He’s a great worker.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There appears to have been some editing done between versions of George Karl’s coaching memoir, according to ESPN.com, and the money still owed by the Sacramento Kings to the longtime NBA bench boss could be central to the changes. … Veteran NBA scribe Mark Heisler looks at the switcheroo that has taken place in Los Angeles by the Lakers and the Clippers. … The Clippers’ radio play-by-play man, Brian Sieman, and the team he covers did a Christmastime solid for a special lady in Sieman’s life. … From the day’s Lump of Coal Dept., HoopsHype put together a gallery of NBA unfortunates who were waived on Christmas. Bah humbug! … The only way to shake that off might be to trip down memory lane over some of this league’s most memorable Yuletide performances