Thursday, December 29, 2016

J-Speaks: Another Hollywood Icon Passes Away

On Tuesday, the Hollywood community, and Star Wars fans across the globe where heartbroken over the passing of Carrie Fisher, who played the iconic role of Princess Leia. While the world lost an actress that entertained them on the silver and small screen, her mother, an Iconic entertainer herself in Debbie Reynolds lost a daughter, who passed away back from cardiac arrest. Just 24 hours later, the family suffered another tragic death.

On Wednesday, one of Hollywood’s first triple-threat as an actress, singer, and dancer in Academy Award-nominated actress Mary Frances “Debbie” Reynolds passed away at Cedar-Sinai hospital. She was 84 years old.

She is survived by her son, Todd Fisher, his half-sisters Joely and Tricia Leigh Fisher, her granddaughter Billie Lourd and Fisher’s long-time companion, her Bulldog Gary.

On Thursday morning’s edition of CNN Headline News’ “Morning Express with Robin Meade,” CNN correspondent Paul Vercammen said to fill in anchor Christi Paul that Ms. Reynolds, Fisher, Todd, and others had been working on the memorial service for her daughter Carrie, when all of sudden she complained about having shortness of breath.

A report from Variety said that Ms. Reynolds was taken to Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA by paramedics from her late daughter’s home in Beverly Hills, CA on Wednesday at about 1 p.m. afternoon Pacific Standard Time (PST) after suffering a stroke. She passed on at the hospital and is now in the afterlife, reuniting with her daughter, who at one time had the most tumultuous relationship, but became inseparable in recent years.   

“My mother passed away a short time ago. She spoke to me this morning and said she missed Carrie… She’s with Carrie now,” Fisher said to Vercammen on Wednesday.

In Nov. of 1996, Ms. Reynolds said to Vercammen about motherhood that in her eyes her children Carrie and Todd can “do no wrong.”

Ms. Reynolds also said that she was a “slob of a mother,” who adored her children, but stepped in to give them guidance or giving her opinion to a situation when she felt they were on the verge of going over the cliff in their life.

“I really learned a lesson a long time ago and I think you must release them and let them go,” Reynolds said about parenting back to Vercammen back then. “Then if they like you, they’ll come back and visit with you. If they don’t, they don’t.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, Reynolds was a major star of the silver screen for Metro-Goldwin-Mayer Studios (MGM), staring in films like the 1952 classic “Singin’ In the Rain,” staring opposite Academy Award-winning actor Eugene Curran “Gene” Kelly and Golden Globe Winner Donald O’Connor and 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” which she received an Oscar nomination for best actress.

Ms. Reynolds opportunity to win an Academy Award may not have been possible if Shirley MacLaine had not dropped out from playing the role of Molly Brown. Ms. Reynolds took that part in that musical comedy, playing a real-life woman who went from no wealth to major wealth, while surviving the sinking of the Titanic.

One famed line that Ms. Reynolds said in that movie when someone literally had their boot on her neck was, “And I might give out, but I’m won’t give in.”  

In Jan. 2015, Reynolds received the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and then in August was voted to present to Reynolds the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Nov. 14th Governors Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. An unexpected long recovery from a surgery that happened during that time kept her from attending the ceremony.

Reynolds was able to combine the right connection of being a wholesome girl-next-door with a no-nonsense attitude to the roles that she played. That range went from playing super sweet in the film “Tammy,” to a more serious role in films like “The Rat Race,” and “How the West Was Won.”

While she was successful in front of the camera, Reynolds’ personal life away far from glamorous to say the least.

She was in the tabloids for being in the center of one of the biggest scandals of the decade when her then husband, singer Eddie Fisher left Reynolds for her best friend the late Elizabeth Taylor in 1958.

The scandal was so bad for Fisher publicly that it led to the cancellation of his television show.

Back in 2011 on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” just weeks before Ms. Taylor’s passing, Ms. Reynolds explained to the “Queen of Talk” that sometime in the late 1960s and 1970s they patched things up. Ms. Reynolds had sent a note to Ms. Taylor’s room onboard the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth and Taylor in return replied with a note of her own asking Ms. Reynolds to dinner and that is where the feud concluded. As Ms. Reynolds put it back then, “we had a wonderful evening with a lot of laughs.”

Ms. Reynolds was in the headlines once again for her divorce from her second husband, she manufacturer Harry Karl, which lasted for 13 years (1960-1973).

Ms. Reynolds claimed that Karl wiped her clean by gambling and left her $3 million in debt. She paid back all the money by appearing for 42 weeks a year at nightclubs in Las Vegas and Reno, NV.

The 1987 novel “Postcards from the Edge,” written by Fisher and became a film three years later was regarded as an embellishment on her mother’s tumultuous relationship back then.

Ms. Reynolds third marriage was to real estate developer Richard Hamlett, which lasted from 1984-96.

In 1997, Reynolds filed for personal bankruptcy after her Hotel and Casino was closed after years of financial problems.

She continued working as a guest on television shows like “The Golden Girls” and “Roseanne.” She even drew an Emmy nomination in 2000 for her recurring role as the Will’s mother, played by Eric McCormack on “Will and Grace.”

While fans knew her from her roles on television, nightclubs, and Broadway, to the Hollywood industry, Ms. Reynolds was best known for her philanthropic endeavors, which includes her over 60 years of work as the president of The Thalians, which she and other young actors founded back in 1955. It was an organization that raised awareness, provided treatment and support to those dealing and suffering with mental-health problems. Ms. Reynolds served as the president for more than 50 years starting in 1957 and she and actress Ruta Lee alternated the position of chairwoman of the board.

The organization donated millions of dollars to the Mental Health Center at Cedar-Sinai, where Ms. Reynolds passed. Though the center closed in 2012, funding still went to UCLA’s Operation Mend, which provides medical and psychological services to wounded veterans and their families.

She was also known for her energetic battles to preserve Hollywood heritage. Over the years, she amassed a collection of movie memorabilia, which consisted of thousands of pieces of costumes and props from MGM studios. Among those props and costumes was Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress” from the movie “The Seven Year Itch;” a Charlie Chaplin bowler hat and a copy of the ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Well we’d all would like to have our favorite movie star live with us let’s say and be quiet and it’s just nostalgic for our heart,” Ms. Reynolds said in 2011 about keeping those Hollywood keepsakes, that unfortunately she was forced to auction off due to bankruptcy.  

Ms. Reynolds was born in El, Paso, TX on Apr. 1, 1939. When she was eight-years-old, her carpenter father Raymond Francis “Ray” Reynolds and her mother Maxene “Minnie” Reynolds moved the family to Burbank, CA. At age 16 as a student at Burbank High, Ms. Reynolds, who went by the name “Frannie” as a child entered the 1948 Miss Burbank beauty contest and won, thanks to her singing imitation of Betty Hutton’s “My Rockin’ Horse Ran Away.

A Warner Bros. talent scout Solly Baiano spotted Ms. Reynolds and she was signed to $65-a-week contract and the president of the studio Jack L. Warner gave Ms. Reynolds the nickname “Debbie,” against her wishes. 

She started at the bottom, doing grunt jobs like escorting visitors on tours or addressing envelopes. Ms. Reynolds did have a small part in 1948’s “June Bride,” which led to a flashier role as June Haver’s sister Maureen O’Grady in “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” two years later.

When Ms. Reynolds contract lapsed, MGM picked her up and gave a major raise of $300 a week, which back then was a major salary. She would spend the next 20 years working for MGM and become a fixture in Hollywood.

Her rise began with her lip-synching Helen Kane’s voice as the original Betty Boop in the musical “Three Little Words,” which then led to her using her own voice to put across “Ada Daba Honeymoon” in the romantic musical “Two Weeks with Love.”

The role that catapulted Ms. Reynolds’ career came at age 19 as the romantic lead in the previously mentioned musical film “Singin’ In the Rain,” where Kelly put her through some rigorous dance training, which Reynolds admitted she really needed.

“They took this virgin talent, this little thing, and expected her to hold her own with Gene and with Donald O’Connor, two of the best dancers in the business,” Reynolds, who was 20-years-old when opened said once in an interview.

It all paid off because back in 2007 “Singin’ In the Rain” was ranked No. 5 on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) list of the greatest American films and it was No. 1 on AFI’s 100 Years of Musical list.

That one movie was one of 40 films Ms. Reynolds stared in, along with the countless number of television shows she was a part of.

In the span of 48 hours, Hollywood said goodbye to two iconic, game-changing, standout on the silver and small screen mother and daughter in Mary Frances “Debbie” Reynolds and Carrie Frances Fisher.

In the case of Ms. Reynolds, we said goodbye to a lady where the signature song from “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” I Ain’t Done Yet,” became the unofficial anthem for the actress that survived all the turmoil in her life from her up and down relationship with her daughter Carrie; to her three divorces; to her rise in Hollywood and her philanthropic work that made the world better.

She was a throwback entertainer of so-called “Old Hollywood.” This was a time where she said people interacted with one another consistently and enjoyed the company of each other no matter where you stood in the eyes of the studio or to the public.  

“Debbie was the last one of those icons,” gossip columnist, Ok! USA executive editor, talk-show host and author Rob Shutter said on Wednesday evening to WLNY FOX 5. “It was Elizabeth Taylor. Marilyn Monroe. This is the last lady that was a part of that world and now she’s gone.”

Information and quotations are courtesy of 12/28/16 Variety article via Entertainment section of by Carmel Dagan “Debbie Reynolds, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ Star and Carrie Fisher’s Mother, Dies at 84; 12/29/16 12 a.m. edition of WLNY “FOX 5 News at 10,” with Steve Lacy, Dari Alexander and Nick Gregory, report from Linda Schmidt; 12/29/16 6 a.m. edition of CNN Headline News’ “Moring Express with Robin Meade,” host that day by Christi Paul and report from CNN correspondent Paul Vercammen;;;;;;;’s_Greatest_Movie_Musicals and    

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

J-Speaks: Saying Goodbye To Princess Leia

In 1977, filmmaker George Walton Lucas, Jr. of Lucas Films created a film titled Star Wars. That movie would begin a franchise of films that would go on for 40 years and vaulted an actress who played not only the lone female lead at the time, but the heroin and love interest. She was also a rare person in the spot light that turned her up and down life behind the scenes into a message of courage and hope that became an inspiration to many, especially women. On Tuesday, this icon of Hollywood, whose famed line in the Star Wars, “May the force be with you,” suddenly said goodbye.
Actress Carrie Fisher, who for nearly 40 years we knew as Princes Leia Organa from Star Wars passed away on Tuesday from cardiac arrest. She was 60 years old.
Fisher is survived by her mother, “Hollywood’s sweetheart,” actress Debbie Reynolds, her father Eddie Fisher, brother Todd Fisher, half-sisters Joely and Tricia Leigh Fisher, daughter Billie Lourd and her beloved French Bulldog Gary.
In a statement on Facebook, Ms. Reynolds acknowledged the many fans of her daughter and her work by saying, “Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter. I’m grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop.”
“Well, were a very tight family as small as we are. My mother is very strong right now and we’re all together now at this point,” Todd said yesterday about her sister’s passing. “Everybody’s just in shock because she’s so young and was doing so great and to have her in cardiac arrest at this age is unexpected.”
Fisher, who had been on tour promoting her memoir “The Princess Diarist” and was returning to Los Angeles on a United Airlines flight from London when she collapsed just 15 minutes before the plane landed at Los Angeles International Airport. A passenger seated next to the actress and author reportedly said that she stopped breathing and another passenger performed CPR on her until paramedics arrived.
“We have an unresponsive passenger. So, they’re working on her right now…,” the pilot of the flight said in a recording from
Fisher was transported to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center by ambulance, where she was placed on a ventilator. She passed was as mentioned on Tuesday.
In a statement by the family spokesperson Simon Halls to the press stated that Fisher, “passed away at 8:55 a.m. [Pacific Standard Time: PST] this morning. She was loved by the world and she will be missed profoundly.”
News of Fisher’s passing quickly spread and fans, people she worked with in the Star Wars movies to acquaintances via social media or statements expressed their feelings about the sudden passing of a person unlike any other.
“She was a hero at a time in science fiction when there wasn’t any,” a man said to WABC 7 Eyewitness News Entertainment Reporter Sandy Kenyon.
A young lady said to Kenyon that Fisher was a woman who, “had a lot of spunk. She was fierce and she was strong.”
Another young lady said to Kenyon about Fisher is that, “From the outside, she had the idyllic life. You know famous parents and then had all this inner turmoil and how she handled it with grace and wisdom.”
Those lessons of strength came at an early age for Fisher when her father Eddie, an iconic entertainer, who left Reynolds to marry her best friend the iconic late Elizabeth Tayler, when her husband, film producer Mike Todd passed away. That event brought some very unwelcome publicity for Fisher and his children.
As a young child, Fisher spent most of her time reading, earning the nickname from her family, “the bookworm,” reading classic literature and writing poetry.
After attending Beverly Hills High School until age 15, Fisher’s journey into show business began as a debutante and singer in the hit Broadway revival of Irene in 1973, which also stared her mother Debbie.
She would later enroll at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, attending there for 18 months.
In 1978, Fisher was accepted into Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, NY where her plan was to study the arts, but left before graduating because it interfered with her being a part of Star Wars, where a call for help to Obi Wan Kenobi, portrayed by actor Ewan "
Fisher character Princess Leia was not only the female lead in the original Star Wars Trilogy, but she was an action hero opposite Mark Hamill’s character Luke Skywalker and Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo.
This character was very different from a lady that needed to be saved by a man. Fisher as Princess Leia did most of the heroics in a number of the films in the franchise and as noted by Lucas Films was a role model and inspiration of power and confidence for young women and all women in general.
 “I have always stood in awe of Carrie. Her observations always made me laugh and gasp at the same time. She didn’t need The Force. She was a force of nature, of loyalty, and of friendship. I will miss her very much,” acclaimed Hollywood Director, Producer and Screenwriter Steven Spielberg stated on Tuesday about Fisher.
Fisher said to ABC News’ “Good Morning America,” headline news anchor Amy Robach when she came to promote Star Wars: The Force Awakens with her dog Gary by her side that, “I’ve been Princess Leia for over 40 years and I’ve never gotten out again
Fisher revealed in her memoir that she was promoting prior to her death that during filming of the first Star Wars that she and Ford had an affair.
Fisher once stated that the affair with Ford, who was married at the time to Mary Marquardt was, “so intense…It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend.”
Their chemistry in the movies was so good it was undeniable and it was as good as ever in a poignant exchange in the 2015 installment of Star Wars: The Force Awakens when Fisher’s character said, “I’ve always hated watching you leave.”
Ford’s character, Han Solo replied by saying, “That’s why I did it. So, you’d miss me.”
Both Hamil and Ford each stated how much Fisher meant to them and the joy they had in working with her.
“No words #Devastated,” Hamil said on his twitter page @HamilHimself.
“Carrie was one-of-a-kind… brilliant, original. Funny and emotionally fearless. She lived her life bravely…We will all miss her.”
Fisher also starred in other well-known films like The Blues Brothers (1980), which starred John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin; When Harry Met Sally… (1989), which starred Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan; Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003), which starred Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, the late Bernie Mac, Justin Theroux, Demi Moore and Shia LaBeouf and The Women (2008), which starred Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debi Mazar, Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen.
While she was a star and iconic figure in front of the camera, Fisher behind the scenes dealt with many struggles from a tumultuous love life; constant strains in her family to her diagnosis of bipolar disorder and her addiction to cocaine and prescription drugs.
Fisher said to Psychology Today in 2001 that “Drugs made me feel normal. They contained me.”
She also revealed in another interview that during the filming of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 she took cocaine.
“Slowly, I realized I was doing a bit more drugs than other people and losing my choice in the matter,” she said.
Five years later after a month of sobriety, Fisher accidently overdosed on a combination of prescription drugs and sleeping pills. She was rushed to a hospital, which created a turn of events that led to a great deal of material for her autobiographical novel and screenplay, Postcards from the Edge (1990).
The main character Suzanne Vale, an actress that was a recovering drug addict was played by Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep.
When asked why she did not take on the role herself, Fisher remarked, “I’ve already played Suzanne.”
In her 2008 book, Wishful Drinking, Fisher wrote about her eventual obituary, where she said, “I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”
That ability to publicly and through a sense of humor talk about and put onto screen how she battled her personal demons why she received from Harvard College their Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism.
The school noted that Fisher’s “forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness, and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy.”
Hollywood and the world said goodbye to a true treasure of show business in Carrie Fisher, who will be in the next installment of Star Wars: Episode VIII, scheduled for release on Dec. 15, 2017. She changed the game for women in science fiction films. Someone who battled some major demons in her personal life and turned as “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts once said her mess into a message. She entertained, inspired, and motivated us to get through anything and dare to be great at whatever we do and enjoy life.
“Millions fell in love with her as the indomitable Princess Leia. She will always have a special place in the hearts of Star Wars fans as well as us who were lucky enough to know her personally. She will be sorely missed, and we join millions of fans and friends around the world who mourn her loss today” Robert A. Iger, Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, which owns the production company Lucas Films and the parent company of ABC said of Fisher.
Information and quotations are courtesy of 12/27/16 5 p.m. edition of WABC 7 “Eyewitness News at 5,” with Bill Ritter, Sandra Bookman and Amy Freeze, report from Sandy Kenyon; 12/27/16 6:30 p.m. edition of “ABC World News Tonight with David Muir,” being anchored that evening by Tom Llamas and reports from Matt Gutman and David Wright; 12/28/16 7 a.m. edition of ABC News’ “Good Morning America,” with Paul Faris, Dan Harris and Rob Marciano; 12/27/16 “Entertainment Weekly” article on “Stephen Spielberg Pays Tribute To Carrie Fisher: ‘I Will Miss Her Very Much,’” by Anthony Breznican;; and

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

J-Speaks: The Sudden Passing of a Pop-Icon

He had a voice unlike any other on the music seen back in the 1980s. On top of that he had the ability to take what he wrote and bring to life on stage or in the studio in such a way that young teenage girls that hear him screamed and screamed and screamed some more. Like most music stars of his era, he battled many controversies in his rise to stardom, but his struggles made those who listen to him see him as human and intern he demonstrated an inner strength that allowed him to conquer his demons. Unfortunately, on of all days, Christmas is when we said goodbye to this legend of music.

Pop-Icon musician and songwriter George Michael, the one half of the group “Wham,” and artist behind hits like “Careless Whisper” and “Faith” passed away on Sunday. Michael, who fronted 10 No. 1 singles and sold 115 million records was just 53 years old.

Michael’s publicist, Cindi Berger said, according to the New York Daily News that he passed away from heart failure at his home in Goring, England.

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” Berger said in a statement.

An official autopsy has yet to be released, but authorities said that there is no suspicion of foul play behind Michael’s death.

Michael was found in his home by his reported boyfriend, London based hairdresser Fadi Fawaz, who posted on his twitter page @fadifawaz, “It’s a xmas I will never forget finding your partner dead peacefully in bed first thing in the morning. .I will never stop missing you xx.”

ABC News Chief Women’s Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said on Monday morning’s edition of “Good Morning America,” that doctors will be doing a toxicology on Michael’s body, but there will be a big push to do something called a molecular autopsy where tissue samples will be taken for a genetic analysis to find out if it is possible Michael had an inherited gene that could have led to his sudden cardiac death and could be relevant to his surviving relatives.  

Amid his death, many heartfelt condolences were shared to the world via social media and statements.

“I was just at his house the morning of the 23rd. So crazy,” music producer Niles Rodgers said via twitter.

Michael’s band mate from “Wham,” Andrew Ridgeley said via twitter @ajredgeley, “Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend. Yog. Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4 ever loved. A XX.”

Michael burst onto the music seen as a teen in the 1980s with Ridgeley as the music duo, “Wham!” with hits like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Freedom,” and holiday favorites like “Last Christmas.”

Michael sold in his amazing career 100 albums worldwide, netted numerous Grammys and recorded music with some titans of his profession like Aretha Franklin, the late Ray Charles, Luciano Pavarotti and the previously mentioned Elton John.

“I am in deep shock,” Sir Elton John said on Instagram. “I have lost a beloved friend-the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family, friends and all his fans.” He concluded with the hash tag, “RIP,” @GeorgeMichael.

Michael began his solo career in 1987 and his debut album, “Faith,” sold over 20 million copies and showcased his versatile vocal range that earned him great respect from many music critics.

The album did however land him in some hot water for the first time in his career, when he was slammed for the 1987 hit song “I Want Your Sex.” The song gave encouragement for young people to be very promiscuous, which was happening right in the middle of the AIDS epidemic.

Michael responded by writing “Explore Monogamy,” where in the music video he was right on the back and leg of a model in the music video of the song.

Many of Michael’s videos were played on MTV during that time and many of them featured him wearing tight jeans and leather jackets, being surrounded by the most gorgeous women.

That heart throb image was put in major jeopardy back in 1998 when he was arrested for his lewd conduct in a public bathroom by a cop working undercover.

When most celebrities would go into hiding after taking a hit of that nature, not Michael. He instead released another single, “Outside,” making light of the incident. The single though brought something else into question. Was he heterosexual or homosexual?

It had been rumored that he was into being intimate with men, but it was never confirmed, until he began speaking out openly about the fact that he was gay, which was unprecedented.

“So to have it shown to the world. To have to publicly confirm that ‘Yes,’ he was a gay man. He had to face the idea that maybe to somehow negate all the songs he had written,” People magazine’s executive editor Kate Coyne said on Monday’s edition of “Good Morning America.”

“I think ultimately he did grapple with it. It was an issue. I think it did unfortunately have something of an impact on his career. He never quite reached the same heights he had with ‘Faith.’”

Michael continued to release successful albums, including his last one “Symphonica,” back in 2014 and drawing huge crowd and Coyne and Ashton said they were those in attendance back then being swooned by him.

The fact that he came out of the closet about his sexuality and still be successful at that time was a true testament to the devotion his fans had for him. Two people who really respect what Michael did are great entertainers themselves in Miley Cyrus and Ellen DeGeneres, who is also gay and married to actress Porsha de Rossi.

“Miss you already! Thank you for your radical activism in the LGBTQ community! Love you always,” Cyrus said via twitter @happyhippiebdn.

“I just heard about my friend @GeorgeMichaels death. He was such a brilliant talent. I’m so sad.”

As good of a musician as Michael was, he unfortunately was just as good a getting his hands caught in the cookie jar with the law and his admitted use of marijuana and prescription sedatives that led to serval arrests in the mid-2000s

In 2008, Michaels was arrested for a second time in North London for drug use. He promptly apologized to his fans and he promised them that he would get his life in order.

It took a monthlong stint in jail back in 2010 that Michael said prompted him to shake his demons.

“I realized it had to be something to do with me. It shook me out of my denial,” Michael said to People in 2014.

Michael was back in the spotlight again, but not for his music in 2011 when he was hospitalized with a near fatal case of pneumonia.

“I spent the last 10 days since I woke up literally thanking people for saving my life, which something I’ve never had to do before and never want to do again.”

This past Christmas Day, the world said goodbye to an amazing singer, songwriter, composer, heartthrob, and game changer, whose music over sound streams have increased more than 3,000 percent in the two days following his passing and previously mentioned album ‘Faith’ is in the Top 5 albums in the U.S.

Michael for most of his career fought against many of his own demons, but in a major way showed a lot of bravery in being himself at a time that was difficult and that courage not only grew his fan base, but allowed the likes of DeGeneres to be comfortable in their own skin and be an inspiration for many.

“He was very clear that his songs were always written from the heart and as one of those screaming teenage girls, I can tell you it didn’t change anything for me because those songs weren’t written for a man or woman. They were written for me as far as I’m concern,” Coyne said. “He was really an incredible talent.”  

Information and quotations are courtesy of 12/26/16 4 a.m. edition of “Early Today,” on WNBC with Betty Nguyen; 12/26/16 7 a.m. edition of ABC News’ “Good Morning American,” on WABC with Paula Faris, Dan Harris, Rob Marciano and Adrienne Bankert, with Dr. Jennifer Ashton and Kate Coyne; 12/27/16 7 a.m. edition of ABC News “Good Morning America,” with Paul Faris, Dan Harris, Rob Marciano and Sara Haines, report from T.J. Holmes and 12/26/16 New York Daily News article “Losing ‘Faith,’” by Stephen Rex Brown.

Monday, December 26, 2016

J-Speaks: Heat Raise Shaq's No. 32 Jersey

On July 14, 2004, the Miami Heat acquired Three-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, and a future first-round draft pick. He and then rising star and eventual perennial All-Star guard Dwyane Wade along with a couple future Hall of Famers led the Miami Heat to their first NBA championship in 2006 over the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Three days ago, the Heat organization honored the 15-time All-Star in the best way possible.

During intermission of the Heat’s 115-107 win versus the Los Angeles Lakers (12-22) on TNT, they honored the man who brought them their first title by raising his No. 32 jersey to the rafters of the American Airlines Arena.

O’Neal joined his former teammate on that 2006 title team Alonzo Mourning (No. 33) and Tim Hardaway (No. 10) as the only players in Heat history to have their jersey numbers retired by the Heat organization.

In his four seasons with the Heat, O’Neal, who called the Lakers versus Heat tilt on TNT with Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller for NBA on TNT played in 205 games and averaged 19.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.8 block shots and shot 60 percent.

O’Neal, who No. 34 was retired by the Lakers a couple of years ago, became just the 12th former player in NBA history to have their jersey retired multiple times joining Hall of Famers, the late Wilt Chamberlin; Oscar Robertson; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Peter Press “Pistol Pete” Maravich; Julius “Dr. J” Erving; Moses Malone; O’Neal colleague at TNT Charles Barkley; Michael Jordan; Nate Thurmond; Bob Lanier and Clyde Drexler.

The Master of Ceremonies for this great occasion was Miami Heat play-by-play commentator for FOX Sports Sun Sports Eric Reid.

“The Miami Heat is in its 29th season as an NBA franchise. We are a proud and elite NBA franchise. One of just six teams in the history of the NBA to have won at least three championships and tonight, we honor and celebrate Shaquille O’Neal, who helped bring Miami and the Heat global appeal and our first NBA championship,” Reid said at the start of the festivities.

The Heat organization presented many gifts to O’Neal, which consisted of a $50,000 donation to his foundation the Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund, courtesy of the Miami Heat Charitable Fund and a framed replica No. 32 jersey banner, one that was exactly like the one that was raised and will hang from the rafters of the AAA.

The third gift presented to Shaq was one of sentimental value. In honor of his arrival in South Florida on the previously mentioned afternoon of July 14, 2004 when he arrived in a big 18-Wheeler, the Heat presented a miniature diesel powered semi-truck that was driven onto the hardwood of the Triple-A by nonother than O’Neal’s proud mom, Ms. Lucille O’Neal.

The fans in attendance at the Triple-A also were a major part of the ceremony as they received commemorative T-shirts with the No. 32 on them.

The first person to speak to the audience about the man of the hour was Hall of Famer and the man who helped bring O’Neal to South Florida, Heat President of Basketball Operations Pat Riley.

He too presented O’Neal a gift as well. Something Riley said that he had been saving for a long time. It was a bunch of small cards which had the Larry O’Brien trophy on one side and the theme of that 2006 title team on the other that was “15 Strong.” Riley dumped those cards from a bag right onto O’Neal’s head.

The point of that moment though was a to remind the audience that the team went through a lot to get to that moment of June 20, 2006. That was the date when the Heat, led by O’Neal, Wade and Riley captured the Heat’s first title.

On that night in the locker room of the Mavs home court of the American Airlines Centre, Riley said to the audience that there were over 200,000 of those “15 Strong” cards that the team collected and kept and Riley wanted O’Neal and his family to have a few of those cards as a memento.

“Once you have an opportunity to be a once-in-a-lifetime player and come to a team like the Miami Heat at that time that was knocking on the door, Shaquille O’Neal had a lot to do as much as anybody and probably more than most players did for the Heat in the prior years,” Riley said.

It was during that time, the Heat’s mainstays of Mourning and Hardaway were knocking on the door of winning a title in the late 1990s, but could not get through. A few years later, the Heat had two more young building blocks of Wade and Udonis Haslem, who along with current head coach Erik Spoelstra who joined the halftime festivities.

While those two up and coming talents along with a few veteran players like guards Jason Williams and future Hall of Famer Gary Payton; swingman James Posey, All-Star forward Antoine Walker alongside O’Neal, the Heat captured the title.

“We would not have won the championship in 2006 without the efforts of Shaquille O’Neal,” Riley said. “Love the man. He’s simply is one of the greatest of all-time and when you have an opportunity to acquire a player like that. That can change your franchise and change your city and help you do something that you desperately wanted to do for a long time and that is to win a championship and he delivered on that promise. When he showed up on July the 20th in an 18-wheeler big semi-diesel in front of the American Airlines Arena. It’s right over there and he got out of that 18-wheeler and he walked up the stairways of the American Airlines Arena with a bunch of water bazookas and getting all the fans all excited and he said, ‘I guarantee you and I promise you we will win a championship.’ And he delivered on that promise.”

Riley also said that every night of that season before the team went onto the court O’Neal would sit next to Coach Riley on the bench and he would always rub the championship ring that Riley wore on his hand and say to him, “Coach. We are going to get one of those. We are going to get another one of those.”

While Wade did the heavy lifting in terms of scoring to help the Heat win that 2006 title and the rest of the cast did their parts, the Heat are not champions without the efforts of O’Neal.

“He’s a great man,” Riley said. “He’s a great player. We’re so honored tonight to be able to do something we wanted to do for a long time. He’s so deserving to be up there with Zo and Tim Hardaway.”

When it was time for the Hall of Famer to address the audience, O’Neal began by taking the time for the audience to pay homage to a key player on not just that 2006 title team, but one of the best players to ever wear a Heat uniform in Haslem.

“I just want to say thank you. You are the true definition of Miami,” O’Neal said to the audience about the longtime Heat forward and Floridian that was undrafted out of University of Florida. “You are true definition of a championship player. Of a hard worker. If it wasn’t for you in 2006, we definitely wouldn’t have that championship.”

He also showed love to Mourning, who went No. 2 overall out of Georgetown in their draft back in 1992 and who he battled with for O’Neal’s first four years in the league when he was with the Orlando Magic and Mourning was with the Charlotte Hornets.

O’Neal that back in 2005-06 when Riley called him into the office to bring to his attention that Mourning wanted to come back and join the Heat for their quest to capture that first title.

“Let me think about it Pat,” O’Neal said. His answer was,” Hell yeah! Tell him come on!”

While O’Neal did not have a topnotch performance in the 2006 Finals, it was Zo who stepped up his game and brought his trademark intensity and ferocity that O’Neal saw in his eye that this opportunity had to be seized, which it was.

O’Neal thanked Mourning at his Hall of Fame induction back in September and he thanked him again at his jersey retirement back on Thursday night.

O’Neal also said to the audience that he was watching a Heat game when they were playing against the Hornets and Wade. When he was on the trading block with the Lakers, he said that he if he was going to be dealt anywhere, he wanted to be dealt to the Heat. After meeting with Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison in Rome, he and the organization got on the same page and the rest is history.

“I want to thank the Arison family. I want to thank the Heat organization. Pat. I want to thank you guys. I want to thank everybody,” O’Neal said. “It was great times.”

It is hard to think that when O’Neal and the Heat organization parted ways after four seasons that they concluded things not on the best of terms. When the call came from a Heat official Tim Donovan months back that they want to retire his jersey, he thought he was being pranked.

After what took place last Thursday night, it was very clear that the Heat’s always wanted to pay homage to O’Neal’s time with the team, especially when he played a major role in getting their first of three titles. That is something O’Neal addressed to the audience in the Triple-A and those that watched on TNT.

“A lot of people think we had problems,” he said to audience and to Riley. “We don’t have problems and I respect you. I respect this organization. I respect this family and the day you decided to take over, I knew we were going to win. I knew we were going to win and this man will do anything for this organization.”

Riley, who will go to any limits to make a point. O’Neal told a story of Riley one day coming into the locker room with a bucket of water and a sheet with the stat of the world record of holding his breath under water is six minutes. Riley dunked his head in the bucket of water for nearly 10 minutes. O’Neal, Haslem and Mourning asked if Riley was okay. He emerged from the bucket saying, “See we can do,” referring to the team of winning a title that season.

More than anything else, he helped make basketball a major part of the Miami community because for a long time, the state of Florida was mainly known for football, college and professional with the Miami Dolphins. O’Neal, Wade and then LeBron James and Chris Bosh when they came to South Florida from 2010-14 help make Heat basketball part of the sports landscape.  

While the Heat are going through a rebuilding transition, this night was more than just about the retirement of a former great player’s jersey. This was the celebration and trip down memory lane of how the Miami Heat began the journey from being just another team to a championship team and a first-class organization and that happened with the drafting of Wade and the acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal. The result, three championships in the last 10 seasons.
Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 12/22/16 8 p.m. NBA Tip-Off, presented Autotrader with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley; The American Express Halftime Report of NBA on TNT contest between the Los Angeles Lakers versus Miami Heat with Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Shaquille O’Neal and Ros Gold-Onwude; 12/22/16 “The Associated Press” article “To The Rafters: Heat Retire Shaq No. 32 Jersey,” by Tim Reynolds;’Neal; http://en.m/ and

Sunday, December 25, 2016

J-Speaks: 2016 Christmas Day NBA Quintet on ESPN and ABC

In just a matter of hours from now, family and friends will wake up and gather around the holiday tree. There will exchanges of gifts and pleasantries. There will be hugs and people saying to one another, “I love you” as adults will be happy having a day off from works and kids happy to have a day off from school. After that is all said and done, there will be an opportunity turn on the television starting at noon to watch something fun. Superstars galore will on the tube as the NBA will be televising five games that will have excitement and a whole lot more. Please allow me to discuss and preview what you will see of the quintet of NBA Christmas Day games beginning at high noon on ESPN and ABC.

Boston Celtics (17-13) versus New York Knicks (16-13)
The action gets underway at 12 p.m. on ESPN with a meeting of Atlantic Division rivals at Madison Square Garden in New York City as the Boston Celtics who have won four of their last five taking on the boys of “Big Apple,” who have a two-game winning streak of their own and who are no strangers to playing on this day, having matched up seven prior times on St. Nick’s day. The second most all-time between any two teams.
The Celtics, who come in with a 12-17 record all-time on Christmas Day, have been playing well of late, thanks in large to All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas (27.0 ppg-T-6th NBA, 6.3 apt-Leads team, 44.2 FG%) who since returning from injury has been playing great with a 31.0 scoring average and an 6.8 assists per game output in the last five games.
Despite falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-112 back on Friday night, Thomas scored 34 points going 12 for 22 from the field and scored 15 of his 34 in a 4:33 span as the C’s erased a nine-point deficit early in the fourth period.
Unfortunately, the Celtics could not hold onto to a four-point lead that they had with 3:37 remaining in the contest as Thomas only scored one basket in that stretch and the Celtics were outscored 17-6 the rest of the way.
The Celtics were also the latest victim of Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook’s triple-double havoc as he garnered his 14th of the season and it was the first one allowed by the Boston Celtics in their last 231 games dating back to Jan. 2014.
The loss halted a four-game winning streak, which coincided with the return of Thomas from a groin injury on Dec. 16, where the C’s were just 1-3.
In an impressive 112-109 win over the surging Memphis Grizzlies (20-12), Thomas had a career-high of 44 points going 10 for 16 from the field, including 7 for 10 from three-point range and 17 for 17 from the free throw line.
Two other Celtics, who battled injuries earlier in the season, but have been solid of late are off-season acquisition forward/center Al Horford (15.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 46.0 FG%), who missed nine games in early November because of a concussion and forward Jae Crowder (12.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 46.9 FG%, 39.5 3-Pt.%).
One Celtic, who has had a break out season has been starting shooting guard Avery Bradley, who has averaged career-highs of 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds per game on 47.9 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three-point range. In the month of December, Bradley has averaged 17.9 points and 6.5 boards on 50.3 percent from the field. 
For the Knicks, who are 22-28 all-time on Christmas Day, which includes a 106-104 win versus the C’s five seasons back have had an up and down season to this point.
After finishing the early part of this season at 9-9, the started the month of December with five wins in their first six chances. Since then, the Knicks have lost three out of their last five games, but have as mentioned earlier two straight.
While perennial All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony (22.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg), is the marquee player on the team and newcomers this season guards Derrick Rose (16.8 ppg, 4.4 apg), 2010-11 NBA MVP, his understudy Brandon Jennings (8.0 ppg, 5.5 apg-Leads team) and Courtney Lee (10.0 ppg, 45.4 FG%, 47.6 3-Pt.%-2nd NBA) and center Joakim Noah (4.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg-Leads team) are key to the team’s success this season, the present and future of the team is second-year forward/center Kristaps Prozingis (19.9 ppg-2nd team, 7.6 rpg-2nd team).
How important is Porzingis? Well in the Knicks 106-95 win versus the Orlando Magic (14-18) back on Friday night, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 Draft banged knees with Magic center Nikola Vucevic in the early part of the fourth period and did not return.
Porzingis said after the game that it was a “sharp pain” that he felt in his knee after the collision and that he had “a little inflammation in the tendon and the bone.”
He will be available to play in the Christmas Day matinee and will be looking to have a strong offensive performance. When he has scored at least 20 points this season, the Knicks are 9-6.
Porzingis and the Knicks will be looking to even their all-time record against the C’s when they meet for the eighth time on Christmas Day on Sunday afternoon as well as looking to avenge their 115-87 they sustained at Boston in their first meeting this season.
In that contest, which was their fourth setback in their last six games at the time and their seventh defeat to the Celtics in their last nine meetings, Anthony was ejected in the second-half after receiving back-to-back technical fouls from referee Tony Brothers. He finished with just 12 points. Porzingis had just 14 points on an abysmal 5 for 15 shooting.
Thomas led six Celtics in double-figures in that contest with 29 points. Forward Kelly Olynyk had 19 points and seven boards. Bradley had 15 points, 10 boards and three steals. Guard Marcus Smart also had a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, along with three steals. Center Tyler Zeller had 11 points off the bench and Rookie Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 overall pick in this past June’s draft had and second-year guard Terry Rozier had 10 points each off the bench.
The Celtics, despite shooting just 38.9 percent from the field and getting out-rebounded 64-63, held the Knicks to 35.1 percent; forced 25 turnovers, that resulted in 27 points; had 18 fast break points to the Knicks nine and had 16 steals.
Both Anthony and Porzingis will be looking to have better performances against their division rivals this time around and for Anthony the odds are going to be in his favor as he has scored 30 points or more in each of his prior four opportunities he played on Christmas.

Golden State Warriors (27-4) versus Cleveland Cavaliers (22-6)
Of the five matchups on the Christmas Day, the marquee matchup will be the Finalists that have met in June for the past two seasons and are very likely on another June collision course once again. They met in Cleveland, OH at Quicken Loans Arena at 2:30 p.m. on ABC.
This will not only be the 18th meeting between the current leaders in the defending Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors, winners of seven in a row and 23 wins in their last 25 games versus the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of four straight and nine of their last 10 in the last 24 months, this will be the eighth contest between the Finalists from the year before on St. Nick’s day and it will be the fourth featuring four-time regular season MVP and three-time Finals MVP LeBron James.
This rivalry between the last two NBA champions, with the Cavaliers being the reigning champs defeating the Warriors in seven games last season after rallying from a 3-1 deficit to win the first pro sports title in the city of Cleveland since 1964 is as close thing the NBA has had since the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers glory matchups of the 1980s.
One person well-versed in that historic rivalry and this new current one is Cavs’ head coach Tyronn Lue, who played and won titles with the Lakers and was an assistant coach for the Celtics not that long ago.
“It’s a lot of championships won in that era,” Lue, whose Cavs are a perfect 5-0 all-time at home on Christmas Day, tied with the Miami Heat for most wins without a defeat in NBA history said at the end of this week. “But if both team’s stay together and both continue to keep winning, it could be like that. They have a great team over there on the other side and we have a great team also. When you talk basketball, you’re going to talk Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio. And it’s a great place to be in.”
The only difference is instead of Hall of Famers in three-time MVP Larry Bird of the C’s and Earvin “Magic” Johnson of the Lakers, we have as the top two players on the marquee in the aforementioned James (25.3 ppg-9th NBA, 7.7 rpg, 8.7 apg-5th NBA, 51.2 FG%, 37.1 3-Pt.%), and reigning back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry (24.4 ppg-T-10th NBA, 5.9 apg, 1.8 spg-Leads team, 46.8 FG%, 40.1 3-Pt.%) of the Warriors, who will be looking to play a lot better than his 11.2 scoring average on 28 percent from the floor, going just 4 for 24 from three-point range in five career contest on Christmas Day.
James and Curry will not be the only two perennial All-Stars on the Quicken Loans Arena Court on Sunday. The 2014 MVP Kevin Durant (25.9 ppg-8th NBA, 8.4 rpg-career-high, 4.6 apg, 1.5 bpg, 54.1 FG%-career-high, 40.3 3-Pt.), will be in the building in Northeast Ohio and he has fit in very well with the team in his first season after signing in free agency over the summer.
The Warriors feel much better going against the Cavs this time around, not just because they have Durant unlike in last year’s Finals, where they were no match for James and his running mate Kyrie Irving (23.8 ppg, 5.5 apg, 48.0 FG%, 42.5 3-Pt.%), especially in Games 5, 6 and 7, but the fact they will be at full strength and coming in on a hot streak with seven straight victories over all and have won 14 straight road games against the Eastern Conference, tied for the 2nd longest interconference road winning streak in NBA history.  
The Cavs will be without shooting guard J.R. Smith, who underwent successful surgery to repair a “complex fracture” of his right thumb and will be sidelined for 12 to 14 weeks.
Smith, a 13-year veteran who signed a new four-year $57 million contract in the off-season was averaging 8.6 points on the season, the second-worst scoring output of his career on a career-low of 33.7 percent from the floor, but a solid 36.2 from three-point range is projected to miss a bulk of the rest of the regular season and his return would be just before the start of the postseason in mid-Apr. 2017.
The Cavs also lost backup veteran backup center Chris Andersen, who back on Dec. 16 tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in his right knee in practice as confirmed by an MRI that required season-ending surgery.
What this means that more will be expected, especially at the offensive end from James, Irving, who has garnered point-assists double-doubles in three of his last four contest and Kevin Love (21.9 ppg, 10.8 rpg-10th NBA, 46.2 FG%, 40.6 3-Pt.%), who missed two of the last four games due to stiffness and swelling in his left knee had his 17double-double of the season with 14 points and 15 boards in the team’s 119-99 win versus the struggling Brooklyn Nets back on Wednesday night, Dec. 21st.
Besides more contributions from the “Big Three,” who are one of three trios averaging 20-plus points this season, the Cavs are going to need major contributions from the likes of forward/center Channing Frye (10.0 ppg, 45.6 FG%, 45.1 3-Pt.%-6th NBA); guard Iman Shumpert (7.1 ppg, 45.2 FG%, 42.2 3-Pt.%); center Tristan Thompson (7.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 59.3 FG%), who has three double-doubles this month and has garnered double-digits in rebounding in seven games in December; forward Richard Jefferson and the other key off-season acquisition in veteran sharp shooter Mike Dunleavy, Jr.
Why are their contributions going to be important on Sunday? Because the Warriors besides having Durant, they still have a sharp shooter and of their own in All-Star Klay Thompson (21.3 ppg, 47.1 FG%, 37.1 3-Pt.%); Mr. Swiss army knife Draymond Green (10.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg-Leads team, 7.4 apg-Leads team, 2.2 spg-Leads team); guard Ian Clark (7.3 ppg, 53.0 FG%, 42.9 3-Pt.%); swingman and 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala; guard Shaun Livingston; center ZaZa Pachulia and veteran forward David West.
Having Durant and being at full strength makes Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr excited about his team’s chances not just for Sunday, but for down the road if these two match-up for the third time in The Finals in June.
“It’s a great rivalry the last couple of years,” the five-time champion as a player with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs said at the close of the week. “LeBron is so good, so big, so strong, so smart. He’s a phenomenal player and it’s nice to be able to go back there with Kevin. Obviously, they’ll guard each other quite a bit, but we’ve got a lot of guys we have to worry about, just as they have to worry about a lot of our guys. It still comes down to how you play as a team at both ends.”

Chicago Bulls (14-15) versus San Antonio Spurs (24-6)
The back-end of the Christmas Day twin-bill on ABC at 5 p.m. features a match-up of two teams headed in opposite directions when the boys from the “Windy City,” the Chicago Bulls (14-15), losers of two straight and eighth out of 11 games meet the defending Southwest Division champs the San Antonio Spurs (24-6), who have won six of their last seven.
While by the numbers, the Spurs have been their usual taking care of business, fly under the radar selves, they did have their struggles early on this season with setbacks in three of their first four games at home. Since then though, they have garnered seven straight home wins, with their last one being a 113-100 win versus the New Orleans Pelicans (11-21) and at the conclusion of the contest, they raised future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan’s jersey to the rafters of the AT&T Center, who led them to five NBA titles in his entire 19-year career with the organization, that concluded with the announcement of his retirement over the summer.
The Spurs have been great on the road this season as they have been for so long, especially under head coach Gregg Popovich with a 16-2 mark this season.
The five-time champs were especially good to start this season on the road winning their first 13 before sustaining their first road setback on Dec. 8 versus their opponent on Sunday the Bulls 95-91.
The Bulls, who led by as many as 18 points on that evening held the Spurs to 40.2 percent from the floor and to just 9 for 28 from three-point range. They out-rebounded the Spurs 57-53; forced 19 turnovers, with 11 of them being steals; recording 16 fast break points and outdoing them at the foul line to the tune of 21 for 27 to just 4 for 5.
What is different about the Spurs this season, even though their record has been great is that the team is very different. As mentioned earlier Duncan is no longer in the fold. The leadership and mantle of greatness has shifted from All-Star Tony Parker (9.6 ppg, 4.3 apg-Leads team) and Manu Ginobili (7.8 ppg, 40.5 3-Pt.%) to All-Star Kawhi Leonard (24.3 ppg-Leads team, 5.9 rpg, 2.0 spg-7th NBA, 47.0 FG%, 39.2 3-Pt.%) and last season’s prized free agent signing in LaMarcus Aldridge (16.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 46.0 FG%).
While the names of the supporting cast are still there like guards Danny Green (7.4 ppg, 43.5 3-Pt.%) and Patty Mills (11.4 ppg-career-high, 48.6 FG%, 44.4 3-Pt.%), there are some new pieces trying to find their place like new additions in veteran forward David Lee (6.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 56.4 FG%), two-time champion in future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol (12.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 50.5 FG%); back-up center Dewayne Dedmon; forward Davis Bertans and guards Jonathon Simmons, Nicolas Laprovittola and Kyle Anderson.
The good thing about Popovich is that he will give players like some of the new additions and some players needing time to understand what the Spurs require from all that play for them time, like in the team’s 110-90 win at the Portland Trail Blazers (13-19) back on Friday night.  
Parker, Ginobili and Gasol rested that game, as Popovich has been known to do and they won the game behind the 33-point effort of Leonard, who was 9 for 15 from the field, including 5 for 7 from long range and 10 for 10 from the charity stripe. Mills had 23 points off the bench, going 7 for 9 from the floor, including 5 for 7 from three-point range with five assists. Aldridge, against his former team had 18 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Simmons had 10 points off the bench; Rookie guard Dejounte Murray, who started at lead guard had nine points.
The Bulls on the other hand have been very Scrooge like in their play of late and are in desperate need of a win no matter who plays.
They come into Sunday’s action with two straight ugly losses and have dropped five out of seven.
Their latest setback was back on Friday, where they lost 103-91 at Charlotte (17-13). In the second quarter two nights ago at the Hornets, the Bulls went 12 straight possessions and 6:18 without scoring a point as they were outscored 26-14 in the period after coming in with a 26-22 lead after the first. They shot just 39.6 percent from the floor, including an awful 7 for 22 from three-point range and were outscored 48-32 in the paint. The trio of All-Star Dwyane Wade (19.0 ppg 1.5 spg), who leads all active players with 277 career points on Christmas Day, Rajon Rondo (7.9 ppg, 7.4 apg-Leads team) and Jimmy Butler (24.4 ppg-Leads team, 6.6 rpg, 1.6 spg-Leads team, 45.7 FG%) combined for just 29 points on 19 for 45 from the floor. Butler was the only one of the three to have a strong performance with 26 points on 11 for 19 shooting.
Things got even worse as starting center Robin Lopez with 38 seconds left in the game elbowed Hornets’ center Cody Zeller and forward Marvin Williams both in their faces.
After reviewing the play from the scorer’s table monitors, the referees assessed Lopez with a flagrant two foul and ejected him from the game. Bulls forward Taj Gibson was also tossed.
“Tempers flared a little bit and it was pretty contentious,” Lopez said after the game to reporters. “Basketball’s a passionate game. I play with passion. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted.”
This game is also on the heels of the Bulls prior 107-97 loss at home to the Washington Wizards just 48 hours prior, where they blew a 13-point lead in that contest.
The one big issues that added in the Bulls last two losses and what has plagued them for much of this season, especially in this rough stretch has been their inability to make perimeter shots consistently.
The Bulls rank just 22nd in field goal percentage making just 43.8 percent of their shots from the floor and their 30th, dead last in three-point percentage at 30.8 percent.
In the starting five of Butler, Rondo, Wade, Lopez (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg-Leads team, 1.8 bpg-Leads team) and Gibson (12.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg), there is a lack of consistent shooting and off the bench, Nikola Mirotic (9.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Doug McDermott (10.0 ppg, 45.8 FG%), Isaiah Canaan, Bobby Portis and Rookie Denzel Valentine have struggled to shoot from three-point distance themselves.
That is going to have to change if the Bulls have any plans to end their two-game skid and be the first team in this match-up to win the two-game season series since 2009-10 when the Bulls won both games against the Spurs. They will also be looking to drop the Spurs to 0-3 at home on Christmas Day. 

Minnesota Timberwolves (9-20) versus Oklahoma City Thunder (18-12)
Stars of the present and the future of the NBA will own the start of the Christmas night at Chesapeake Energy Arena when the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder meet for the first time this season at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
The headliner for the Thunder is All-Star Russell Westbrook, who is not only having a career season, but is putting together one that has not been seen in close to five and a half decades.
Not only is he leading the league in scoring at 31.8 per contest, he is averaging 10.5 boards, which is 13th in the league and is second in the NBA in assists per game at 10.8. His 14 triple-doubles lead the NBA, but he is tied with his former teammate James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside with 24 double-doubles.
To put how great Westbrook has been into a better context, his 14th triple-double of 45 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists that he had in the Thunder’s 117-112 come from behind win at the Celtics on Friday night are the most in the league before Christmas since the 20 of Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson had back in 1961-62, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was also the first triple-double allowed by the Celtics, which snapped a streak of 230 straight games, dating back to Jan. 2014, the longest streak in the league.
Westbrook now has 51 career triple-doubles, which is sixth all-time in NBA history and what he has done is a major reason the Thunder have remained a playoff team, even with Kevin Durant departing in the off-season for the Warriors and why the Thunder have stabilized themselves with two straight wins following four losses in their prior six games this month.
If he gets a triple-double on Sunday versus the T’Wolves, Westbrook will join Robertson as the only two players in league history to have two triple-doubles on Christmas Day.
While Westbrook has grabbed all the headlines, and it has been well deserved, his ability to really involve his teammates has also been key.
Starting backcourt mate Victor Oladipo (16.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 45.5 FG%, 38.1 3-Pt.%), who has been shelved the last seven contest because of an injured wrist has been a solid compliment to Westbrook when he was acquired in the off-season from the Orlando Magic.
That deal happened during the draft back in June, where the Thunder said goodbye to forward/center Serge Ibaka, but in return received the No. 11 overall pick in forward Domantas Sabonis (6.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg45.3 FG%, 44.4 3-Pt.%), the son of former Portland Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis scored a career-high of 20 points on 8 for 11 shooting, including 4 for 6 from three-point range at the Celtics back on Friday night.
Starting center Steven Adams, has had a breakout season with career-highs of 12.8 points, 7.6 rebounds on 58.4 percent from the field and his back-up Enes Kanter (12.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg) has been solid as well, especially Friday night with 20 points and six boards off the bench.
The Timberwolves have had a disappointing start to this season and to the first under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, but they have one of the best offensive trios in the league.
Center Karl-Anthony Towns (22.1 ppg-Leads team, 11.4 rpg-9th NBA, 47.8 FG%), swingman Andrew Wiggins (21.7 ppg), the last two Rookie of the Year recipients and guard Zach LaVine (21.4 ppg, 47.7 FG%, 39.8 3-Pt.%) are one of three triplets in the NBA to average 20 points or more this season, the other “Big Threes” doing this are James, Love and Irving of the Cavs and Durant, Curry and Thompson for the Warriors. 

The dynamic trio will also be looking to make some history on Sunday night trying to become the first trio under 22 years of age to score 20 points or more in a game on Christmas. Wiggins, Towns and LaVine are all 21 years old. 
The T’Wolves also have a solid supporting cast behind their young “Big Three,” in starting power forward Gorgui Dieng (10.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg); starting guard Ricky Rubio (7.3 ppg, 7.0 apg-Leads team, 1.6 spg-Leads team) and his understudy Rookie Kris Dunn; swingman Shabazz Muhammad (6.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and forward Nemanja Bjelica (6.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 34.5 3-Pt.%).
The biggest issue for the Timberwolves is while they have great individual talent, they have not put it all together as a team losing seven of their last 11 games and their in ability to play defense has been a big reason for that.
Despite getting a career-high 40 points from LaVine, hitting a career-high tying seven triples, the T’Wolves lost 109-105 versus the Sacramento Kings (13-17) back on Friday night, which did not make Thibodeau happy and made his thoughts so postgame.
“It’s all about winning. I really want to look at the film. I didn’t think anyone played well,” the T’Wolves head coach and president of basketball operations said. “Someone is going to score in a game, but did you make winning plays? Did you make winning plays defensively, did you make winning plays offensively.”
This has been a familiar theme for the T’Wolves this season. Towns had 41 points and 15 boards back on Dec. 17, but the team lost in overtime versus the Rockets 111-109 back on Dec. 17. He had 47 points and 18 boards back Nov. 30 versus the Knicks, but the team lost 106-104. Wiggins 17 days prior had a career-high of 47 points in the team’s 125-99 win versus the Los Angeles Lakers (11-22).
With an MVP candidate on the court against a young up-and-coming trio in the league, but one that does not defend well promises plenty of offensive fireworks on Sunday evening.

Los Angeles Clippers (22-9) versus Los Angeles Lakers (11-22)
The Christmas Day ESPN/ABC quintet concludes in the “City of Angels” as the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers meet once again at STAPLES Center. For both teams, they are limping into this match-up.
The Clippers (22-9), who have gone 15-1 against the Lakers since the start of the 2012-13 NBA campaign, including a 94-84 win on Christmas Day a year ago, started this season at 14-2 have gone just 8-7 since then and are dealing with injuries to their two All-Stars.
Forward Blake Griffin (21.2 ppg-Leads team, 8.8 rpg, 4.7 apg), who played in just 35 games last season because of injury and suspension, is on the mend again after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee early last week and is expected to be out four to six weeks.
Starting floor general Chris Paul (17.6 ppg, 9.6 apg-4th NBA, 2.3 spg-Leads NBA, 46.3 FG%, 40.4 3-Pt.%) is listed as questionable due to a strained left hamstring he sustained in the Clippers’ 106-101 win versus the Spurs back on Thursday night. He sat out the team’s 90-88 loss versus the struggling Dallas Mavericks (9-21).
The team, who is 4-1 on Christmas Day since 2011 felt the absence of Paul as they committed 20 turnovers that led to 20 Mavericks points and they had just 17 assists to the Mavericks 21. They were also out-rebounded 52-48, including 14 to six on the offensive glass and were outscored in the paint 42-24.
With one All-Star on the shelf and the other questionable to play, the Clippers will need the likes of guards J.J. Redick (15.2 ppg, 46.4 FG%, 44.4 3-Pt.%), Jamal Crawford (12.2 ppg) and Austin Rivers (9.3 ppg, 42.1 3-Pt.%), son of head coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers; center DeAndre Jordan (11.6 ppg, 13.0 rpg-4th NBA, 65.7 FG%-2nd NBA) and forward/center Marreese Speights (9.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) to step up.
They will also need contributions from forwards Luc Mbah a Moute, Brandon Bass and Wesley Johnson and guards Raymond Felton and Alan Anderson.
For the Clippers’ co-tenants of STAPLES, the Lakers they came crashing back down to earth after a surprising 10-10 start to the season.
The 16-time champions, who will be playing for the 18th consecutive time on Christmas day, longest active streak in NBA have gone an eye-gouging 1-12 this month and have lost, which includes their current four-game losing streak. They went just 1-6 on their most recent road trip, which included a 109-90 setback at the Magic back on Friday night. The Lakers only win of the trip and of this month came on Dec. 16 at the Philadelphia 76ers (7-22) 100-89. It also was the only time that first-year head coach and former Laker Luke Walton’s squad had not given up 100-plus points to their opponent.
Injuries to key players has also played a major role in the team’s slide this month. Second-year guard D’Angelo Russell (15.1 ppg, 4.6 apg, 37.7 3-Pt.%) missed 12 of 13 games due to soreness in his left knee from Nov. 18 to Dec. 11.
The team will be without reserve forward Larry Nance, Jr. (7.0 ppg. 5.5 rpg) for an indefinite period after an MRI taken in the middle of last week revealed a bone bruise in his left knee. The 2015 First-Round pick out of Wyoming and son of former Cleveland Cavaliers’ and Phoenix Suns’ forward Larry Nance suffered the injury in the second half of the Lakers 117-113 loss at the Hornets back on Dec. 20.
Swingman Nick Young (14.3 ppg, 46.3 FG%, 41.3 3-Pt.%), who has had a bounce back year after two very rough and injury hit last two seasons, missed seven of nine contest from Nov. 25 to Dec. 9 because of a calf strain. He has played well in the last 10 games with a 16.6 scoring average on 47.6 percent shooting.
Along with the great play of Nick Young, another veteran who has been putting in work has been guard Lou Williams (18.9-Leads team 44.1 FG%, 37.0 3-Pt.%), who career-best scoring average in his 11th season has been a major reason the Lakers’ bench has been one of the best in the league this season. During the stretch of Dec. 3-11, Williams scored 40, 38, 24, 35 and 24 points off the bench. That 161-point total tied one of the best scorers off the bench in league history in former Milwaukee Buck Ricky Pierce who totaled 161 points from Feb. 20, 1990 to Feb. 27, 1990. On two other occasions, Piece scored 158 and 156 points in a stretch of games respectably that same season.
The Lakers will have third-year forward Julius Randle (12.8ppg, 8.6 rpg, 49.5 FG%), who missed the last two games following the birth of his son.
If the Lakers plan to put their four-game skid in the rearview mirror and get their five-game home stand off to a good start, they will need the Williams, Russell and Young to play well. They will also need Jordan Clarkson (14.6 ppg, 35.1 3-Pt.%) to continue playing well off the bench; contributions from veterans Luol Deng (8.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Timofey Mozgov (7.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and the No. 2 overall pick out of Duke University back in June’s draft Brandon Ingram (7.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg), who has struggled shooting the ball in his Rookie season with a 34.8 field goal percentage and just a 25.7 percentage from three-point range.
Thank you allowing me to give you a preview of the NBA quintet on ESPN and ABC today. So, to all that read this latest piece of mine Merry Christmas to you all and enjoy the day.
Information, Statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 12/10/16 8 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by State Farm with Casey Stern, Steve Smith and Dennis Scott; 12/13/16 5:30 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” presented by Kia Motors with Casey Stern, Dennis Scott and Brent Barry; 12/23/16 11:30 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter,” with John Buccigross and John Anderson and ESPN Bottomline news crawl during 8 p.m.;;;;; and