Merry Christmas, Basketball Fans
In order to prepare for the best basketball day of the year, here’s a game-by-game breakdown of what fans can expect.
By Kevin Cordon, UC Irvine
Every year, the NBA goes out of its way to please fans for Christmas.
December 25 gives basketball fans the best games with the juiciest matchups, peppered throughout the day so there’s never a gap between games. Christmas Day has become the NBA’s stronghold, creating an entire campaign around the holiday, complete with a full schedule of exhilarating games, exclusive holiday uniforms and special a slew of marketing building up to December 25. This year’s games provide some of the best matchups any basketball fan could ask for, and here’s the breakdown for all of them.
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks
Out of all the games on the schedule, this one has the least appeal, which justifies it being played at noon eastern time, when most people are still waking up and opening presents.
This one is kind of a sleeper, considering neither team is in any special position, which is disappointing considering all the promise and positivity surrounding both the teams at the beginning of the season. However, in an Eastern Conference that is far from competitive, both teams have positive records and are holding their own, despite injuries to centerpiece players like Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks and Al Horford for the Celtics.
Both teams have solid rosters, and New Yorkers have to be pleasantly surprised with how well Derrick Rose has fit in, even though they may gasp every time he goes up for a layup. Rose, Porzingis and Melo have the team humming again, and at 15-13, they’ll have their hands full with a Celtics team that knows how to move the ball.
The Celtics have the second-highest assist percentage in the NBA behind the Warriors, and the Knicks will have their hands full with a much younger, livelier Celtics roster. If you’re on the Western half of the United States, this is no spectacle to get up and watch, but if you’re freezing your ass off on the East Coast, this might distract you for a little while.
Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
As every basketball fan knows, this is the game to watch: A rematch of the last two NBA Finals and the first meeting between the new “super villain” Warriors and the reigning champions.
The matchups will have to be adjusted to accommodate Kevin Durant, and it will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers approach this new Warriors lineup defensively. In last season’s finals, the Cavs did an excellent job of forcing the Warriors inside and chasing them off the 3-point line, but with now four of the Warriors’ starting five being capable shooters, it’s going to be a tall task for the Cavs defensively.
On the other side of the ball, the Cavs are as explosive as ever, and with Andrew Bogut gone, the Warriors don’t have a bona fide shot-blocker to protect the rim from the onslaught of Lebron, Kyrie and Tristan Thompson.
The Warriors lineup is more undersized than they were last year, a weakness that the Cavaliers were able to exploit by utilizing Tristan Thompson’s athleticism to earn second-chance points and dominate the boards. With no dominant big man, the Warriors have to be concerned about defending the paint, but maybe Kevin Durant’s length will help them in that area.
This is a battle of arguably the two best teams in the NBA right now, and the Warriors, who surely still feel the pain of last year’s Finals loss, will be ready for a fight. Tune in for one hell of a game: 2:30 EST.
Chicago Bulls vs. San Antonio Spurs
At this point, I’m convinced Kahwi Leonard is a robot. He shows little emotion, executes plays perfectly and has to be considered one of the strongest players in the NBA.
When the Chicago Bulls come to town on Christmas Day, it’ll be just another day at the office for Kahwi, who will probably have the defensive task of guarding Jimmy Butler. The Spurs, even with the absence of Tim Duncan, haven’t missed a beat, and are still winning like a well-oiled machine. At 23-5, they’re in a much different position than the Chicago Bulls, who under Dwayne Wade’s leadership can only manage a 14-14 record.
The offseason acquisitions of Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade left the Bulls in an interesting scenario regarding team leadership. Each is capable of handling the ball when the game is on the line, but from what we’ve seen so far, the team is still figuring it out.
Jimmy Butler vs. Kahwi Leonard will be a battle worth watching, as will watching Pau Gasol go at his old team with the help of fellow-Spur Lamarcus Aldridge. It’s difficult to hype up any West vs. East conference game that doesn’t involve the Cavs or the Raptors, but the Spurs and the Bulls will give viewers a sense of what the Spurs could be bringing to the playoffs this year.
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Besides the Warriors/Cavs game, this is one of the juiciest games on the Christmas Day schedule. Though the Timberwolves, at 9-19, have inexplicably failed to capitalize on their young, explosive talents, they will be a contender in the near future.
Under Tom Thibodeau, they could very well blossom into a Western Conference powerhouse, led by the extremely gifted Karl Anthony-Towns. On the other end, Russell Westbrook is playing like his life depends on it, because his Thunder team definitely does. Westbrook has propelled his team to wins with 40-point scoring and 20+-assists, and a collection of 12 triple-double performances so far that could see him overtake the single-season triple-double record.
Westbrook has a legitimate chance to average a triple-double this season, being the first player to do so since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. On Christmas Day, the Thunder are going to need all that firepower and more, because the Timberwolves are sure to pack the paint to defend against Westbrook’s penetration, with Towns waiting for him at the rim. With LaVine, Wiggins and Towns, the Timberwolves have the explosiveness to compete with the Thunder’s pace in the open court. The only question is: Can they stop Westbrook on the defensive end? Coach Tom Thibodeau is going to have his hands full for this one, and watching Russell Westbrook play is a treat for all to enjoy on Christmas Day.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Ahh, the good old L.A rivalry that is no longer good. The Clippers are going to be without Blake Griffin and the Lakers have won one out of their last eleven games, with their only win being against the 76ers. Lakers’ coach Luke Walton’s forgiving approach seemed like a good idea at the beginning of the season, but maybe some tough love is what this young Lakers team needs right now.
Like the Timberwolves, this Laker team holds plenty of promise, but haven’t been able to deliver so far this season. At 21-8, the Clippers have found much more success, but now without Griffin the immediate future is a bit uncertain.
Look for Chris Paul to continue to be the floor general that he is, but he’ll have to rely more on the supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick and Mo Speights. However, without Griffin, the baby Lakers will definitely take their shot and put up a fight in this one. The Clippers are known for their ability to corral opposing backcourts, but if Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell are on their game, the Clippers could have trouble containing the young Laker guards.
Staples Center will be embroidered with the Lakers’ purple-and-gold, possibly fueling the Lakers to a Christmas night upset, which makes this game slightly intriguing to watch Christmas night.
Plus, there’s bound to be some celebrities at the game, with crazy Christmas outfits. I’m betting on Billy Crystal to outdo Jack Nicholson on Christmas spirit this year, along with a Beyonce and Jay-Z matching-Christmas-sweater appearance at the Warriors game. Oh, it’s the most wonderfullllll tiiiiiiiime of the yearrrrrrrr!