This year’s NBA Christmas Day slate was like seeing a massive box waiting for you underneath the tree only to find a bunch of socks inside.
The five games scheduled for Dec. 25 featured major stars and storylines, but three of those contests were decided by 23 points or more, including the Bucks’ 138-99 shellacking of the Warriors in Milwaukee. The Clippers and Heat each won their matchups by “only” 13 points. A couple of barnburners!
So what did we really learn about the teams that played on Christmas Day? Let’s dive into each game.
Heat may have found another hidden gem in Precious Achiuwa
The praise of “Heat Culture” can feel overblown at times, but it’s hard to argue with Miami’s ability to develop players. Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro — there is plenty of evidence here.
It looks like the Heat have discovered yet another promising prospect in 2020 first-round pick Precious Achiuwa. The 21-year-old forward totaled 11 points, three rebounds, two assists and one block in 19 minutes off the bench Friday afternoon. His high motor and athleticism were on full display.
Achiuwa also wasn’t completely lost when isolated against Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. In fact, he did a terrific job of staying in front of both Ingram and Williamson without fouling, no easy task for a rookie playing in only his second regular season game.
Precious Achiuwa only played 19 minutes but he played great defense on Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram in his limited minutes
Moved his feet well and stayed in front of them. Already showing he can guard multiple positions. pic.twitter.com/T1mc0gAdK9
— Fanly (@fanly) December 26, 2020
“I’ve been impressed with [Achiuwa] from the jump, just because he works so hard, whatever you ask him to do to the best of his ability, he’s going to do it,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said after Miami’s season opener. “And he wants to win. What else can you ask from a young fella? What else can you ask from a rookie? And I think that he’s supposed to be comfortable.
“Like I said about everybody, ‘You belong here. You belong with the Miami Heat. They drafted you for a reason, so get used to it.’ And I think he’s going to be a huge help to us in what we’re trying to do moving forward.”
Sure, it’s very early in Achiuwa’s career, but it wouldn’t be that surprising to see him become a consistent part of Erik Spoelstra’s rotation.
Is Golden State just . . . not a good team?
Only a few days removed from a brutal loss to the Nets, Stephen Curry and the Warriors failed to even give the Bucks a challenge. What’s the problem, Steph?
Asked what have been the largest issues through the first two games, Steph Curry said, “I mean, a lot.”
— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) December 25, 2020
Yep, not great. Golden State’s point differential of minus-65 through two games is the second-worst mark in NBA history, per ESPN Stats and Info. As Sporting News’ Dan Bernstein noted, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins have been particularly bad, shooting a combined 14 of 58 on field goals (24.1 percent) and 2 of 21 on 3-pointers (9.5 percent).
Context is required, of course. Klay Thompson is out for the season. Draymond Green has yet to take the floor this season. Curry is shaking off the rust. These are certainly not the “Death Lineup” Warriors.
Still, Golden State didn’t enter this season believing it would be a lottery team. The Warriors want to reach the playoffs. They have a lot of work to do.
Kevin Durant looks a lot like Kevin Durant
Remember that time a reporter asked Clippers guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams what they could have done to slow Kevin Durant down after he dropped 50 points on them? Do you remember how they responded?
“I mean, he’s Kevin Durant,” Beverley said.
“I promise we tried,” Williams added.
Well, that dude is back. Durant scored 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting as the Nets cruised to an easy victory over the Celtics. He caught fire in the third quarter, hitting his first five shots and putting poor Tristan Thompson in the torture chamber.
I understand starting big against Milwaukee but this is unfair to ask Thompson to have to guard KD. He’s gotten killed in every aspect and it isn’t his fault, it is a mismatch. pic.twitter.com/QiUCiYOeKR
— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) December 25, 2020
Durant isn’t the only reason why Brooklyn could be a real title contender. Kyrie Irving appears to be back to 100 percent after playing in only 20 games last season, and Steve Nash’s squad is deep with talent at multiple positions. Defending the Nets is a nightmare.
But a peak KD can raise this team’s ceiling in a way that none of his teammates can. I mean, he’s Kevin Durant.
Mavericks have to get better on the boards
Second-chance points: Lakers 35, Mavericks 0. It’s the first time Dallas has finished a game with no second-chance points since February 2017. Both Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and guard Luka Doncic agreed that differential was the main culprit in the loss.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where the team has given up 35 points on second-chance and [the other team] got to zero,” Carlisle said. “It’s obviously the story of the game. We talk about being in a hit-first mode, and we just were not.”
Luka Doncic on the Lakers’ dominance on the glass: “It’s everything about mentality and toughness. It’s got to be mental. If somebody’s rebounding like that, you’ve just got to box them out no matter what.”
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 26, 2020
The Lakers nearly doubled the Mavericks in total rebounds (53-27) and dominated on the offensive glass (17-3). Maxi Kleber led Dallas with five rebounds. Los Angeles had six different players pull down at least six rebounds. The Mavericks were also out-rebounded in a season-opening loss to the Suns (48-39). These numbers are not ideal.
Yes, Kristaps Porzingis is out as he works his way back from a knee injury, but this is an issue that won’t be fixed by the return of one player.
The new guys are making an impact for Clippers
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will understandably receive most of the attention when the Clippers are on national TV, but let’s give the supporting cast a little credit.
Nicolas Batum (13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists), Serge Ibaka (15 points on 6-of-9 shooting) and Luke Kennard (eight points, six rebounds, two assists) each contributed to LA’s Christmas Day win over Denver. The Clippers likely anticipated Ibaka and Kennard contributing throughout the season, but Batum’s early emergence has been a nice surprise.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue is excited about the versatility the 32-year-old offers on both ends.
“I’m very impressed. He just knows how to play the game,” Lue said of Batum earlier this week. “Very smart, very cerebral, understanding what’s going on. … And he’s one of our best passers. So we can play him at the elbows. We can put him in pick-and-rolls. And then with his length and size, being 6-9, we can switch one through four.”
No one will care much about how the Clippers perform in December. That’s just the way it works in the NBA when a team has championship expectations — and when a team blew a 3-1 lead in embarrassing fashion.
With that said, the Clippers must be happy with how their offseason acquisitions have meshed with the rest of the group.