For many, Christmas is a holiday where families gather to exchange gifts and celebrate the year that just took place. Along with that, Christmas is a day where you can enjoy the presence of friends and family while spending all day watching NBA games.
The schedule makers for the association have always been great to the fans by giving us such fantastic matchups on a widely-celebrated day. Our stockings are stuffed with a quintuple-header featuring eight potential playoff teams, four title contenders, a rematch of last year’s finals, and a partridge in a pear tree.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Miami Heat, 12 PM ET, ESPN
Last Christmas featured LeBron James‘ return to Miami where he & the Cavs were bested by a mediocre Miami Heat team. This year, rising star Anthony Davis is bringing his flock to Miami where he’s heading off against another rising star, Hassan Whiteside, and all-time great Dwyane Wade. Miami is in fourth place in a highly competitive Eastern Conference at 16-11, while the Pelicans are grandly underachieving this year and are the second-worst team in the Western Conference at 9-19. The Pels are on a bit of a resurgence and are 4-3 in their last seven games, and Tyreke Evans‘ return has elevated the team’s level of play; over those last seven, Evans is averaging 19.4p/6.6r/6.0a. While NOLA has looked better than they started off, Miami has looked good all season, especially on defense. They’re second in points allowed per game and Whiteside has turned into a legitimate game changer on defense, and on the boards.
This game is going to have a lot of great defensive moments showcased by AD and Whiteside, but will ultimately end with a Miami Heat win with an outstanding performance by DWade. In ten matchups on Christmas, Wade is 9-1 and boasts averages of 25.8p/5.5r/6.6a.
Chicago Bulls vs. OKC Thunder, 2:30 PM ET, ABC
With how Westbrook has been playing lately, the Thunder have emerged as a must-watch team, even more so on the Christmas stage. Although both teams played on Christmas last year, Westbrook had a performance that topped everyone else’s. The newly-anointed superstar went off for 34p/11a/5r in a victory – without Kevin Durant – over a superb San Antonio team. This year, Russ is playing at the same high level but has his running mate back and fully healthy; who is also playing at an MVP level.
Chicago, on the other hand, hasn’t quite looked as good as everyone thought they would before the season. Sitting at 15-11, Chicago has struggled offensively and is having Jimmy Butler bolster a lot of the load for that struggling offense. Derrick Rose has also been struggling, supremely. The former MVP, who’s fresh off multiple injuries, is averaging 13.5 points on 37% from the field. The Bulls’ three-game losing streak will extend to four on Christmas Day as KD & Russ — who will be on triple-double watch — carry the Thunder past Chicago and, possibly, blow them out.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. GS Warriors, 5 PM ET, ABC
The headliner of this Christmas Day features a rematch of last June’s Finals. Since meeting each other last, the Warriors have looked borderline unbeatable and set numerous records to start the season; Cleveland has seen the returns of Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and Iman Shumpert. As everyone knows, Love & Irving weren’t available to Cleveland during last year’s faceoff with Golden State, and many argue that the Cavs would’ve won with both of them healthy. Love has returned and is playing at a high level, and I’m not sure how much we’ll see of Kyrie because of his minutes restriction. No matter how few minutes he plays, it’ll be a joy to watch him and Steph matchup.
Regardless, this Golden State team is going to beat Cleveland, but it’s going to be a fantastic game and will probably come down to last second shot by either team. The Warriors had a hard time stopping LeBron in June, and they’ll have a hard time stopping him again. The two MVPs will go basket-for-basket during this thrilling contest, but the offensive dominance possessed by Golden State will have them edging out Cleveland.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets, 8 PM ET, ESPN
Again, San Antonio has quietly emerged as one of the best teams in the NBA. The duo of Kawhi Leonard & LaMarcus Aldridge has led the Spurs to a 25-5 record and the second seed in the conference. They’ve stifled almost every offense they’ve faced, having a DRtg of 94.7 (1st), and their offense rating, 109.7, is second to Golden State’s 114.8. The Spurs’ high level of play foreshadows bad things for Houston, as they have quickly dropped from championship contender to low-seeded playoff team. They’ve made a turnaround since the firing of Kevin McHale, but they still haven’t looked impressive.
Their offense is potent, and one of the best in the league, but their defense is not good. Allowing almost 106 points per game is not going to enable you to win many games, and the Spurs are going to dismantle a shotty Houston defense. James Harden will be held in check by Kawhi Leonard, and the Rockets will struggle to score 100 points in a losing effort.
LA Clippers vs. LA Lakers, 10:30 PM ET, ESPN
The closing game will feature both Los Angeles teams, and will be Kobe Bryant‘s last Christmas game. As far as the two teams go, neither has looked great. The Clippers are the fourth seed at 16-13, and the Lakers are last in the conference, managing five wins and 24 losses. For the Clippers, Blake Griffin & CP3 have looked great individually, J.J. Redick is averaging 15.2p and shooting 46% from three and Jordan is second in the league in rebounds per game & third in blocks per game. Outside of those four, the Clippers have struggled. Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson aren’t playing like expected; Paul Pierce is having titanic shooting struggles and Austin Rivers still has yet to develop into a good, consistent player.
For the Lakers, they have a core of young players who are slowly developing into good NBA players. Outside of Russell, Randle, Clarkson, and Kobe, no one has stood out. Kobe’s had a recent string of good games, and he’ll have another good game against the Clippers, but the Lakers aren’t good enough to compete with the other LA team and will lose behind strong performances by CP3 and Blake Griffin.
*Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images*