Every year, the NBA plans a slate of marquee matchups for hoop heads to consume on Christmas Day. What used to be an innocent double-header has ballooned in recent years into an all-day, five-game, thirteen-plus-hour war of attrition between basketball fanatics and their loved ones.
“Really? Another game?”
“What do you mean we can’t serve Christmas dinner until overtime has finished?”
“Drive your drunk uncle home already! I don’t care how close the Heaters are to beating the Lakes!”
In my family, Christmas basketball has been a tradition that has outlived several pets and marriages. That is to say, I have a long-standing tradition of escaping my family for various points in the day to catch as much of the games as possible. This routine dates back 20 years, back when I watched my all-time favorite player, Charles Barkley, drop 38 points and 18 rebounds in a Suns win over the Rockets. I haven’t missed one since, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
That’s not to say I avoid my family completely or that I don’t take part in the usual gift opening, tidings, cheer, etc. It’s just that I’m the only basketball fan in my family, and it’s a love that so few understand. My wife valiantly tries to get through one or two every year, but I can’t really ask for more than that. Maybe I’ll eventually have kids that look forward to watching hoops with their dad on Christmas, but until that time, I guess I’m on my own. That’s fine with me. The sneaking away and taking in parts of games when I can is actually a big part of the fun.
It’s because these games, despite being so early in the season, mean something. It’s the point in the year when people realize that football’s only a month or so from ending, baseball’s still months away, and basketball is about to get good.
We’re far enough in that players and teams are taking form and rivalries are heating up. These games will be ones we remember as something a little more than just any regular season game, even if it’s only because of players wearing those ridiculous sleeved jerseys.
So sit back, grab an egg nog (rum optional, but highly recommended) and watch some of the best athletes in the world run back and forth, occasionally throwing a leather ball into a 10-foot hoop. In the end, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?
Chicago Bulls @ Brooklyn Nets (12:00pm EST)
Naughty: These two teams were supposed to be Eastern Conference powerhouses, which would’ve made this game very compelling. Now they’re both currently non-playoff teams with a combined record of 19-35. The level of suck is largely due to the fact that they’ve both been completely decimated by injuries. Most notably, they’ve both lost their best player for the rest of the season (Derrick Rose for the Bulls, Brook Lopez for the Nets). To make matters even worse, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, and Deron Williams are all game-time decisions. What promises to be a lackluster game could get infinitely worse.
Nice: It’s hard to find something nice to say about two of the slowest-paced teams in the Association. It could be an interesting battle to see which team can best survive injuries to their key players, but we’re just creating narratives at this point. Joakim Noah is always fun to watch run around, right? How about Carlos Boozer yelling “And one!” after every one of his shots? Which former all-star for the Nets will step up, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, or Joe Johnson? More importantly, who really cares?
Stocking stuffer stat: The Bulls are 28th in the NBA in pace at 93.45 possessions per 48 minutes. The Nets are 24th at 94.86. This game figures to be about as fast and exciting as egg nog rolling uphill.
If this game were a Christmas gift, it would be: Tube socks. They’re practical and you’ll probably wear them, but you’re not happy to receive them as a gift. Similarly, you’re happy to have hoops on Christmas Day, but this is not exactly the game you were hoping for.
It’ll be a Christmas miracle if: The NBA flexes this game out for the Pacers and Blazers. It’s a shame that the two teams that sit atop their respective conferences won’t be on display today. Even more compelling, the Pacers are the league’s best defense (allowing 93.4 points per 100 possessions) and the Blazers have the best offense (110.5 points per 100 possessions). Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? I digress...in the meantime, Bulls and Nets will be a game to check in on if it’s close, but otherwise get in some family time while you still can. You’ll want to have earned some viewing time for the later games.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ New York Knicks (2:30pm EST)
Naughty: The Knicks aren’t anywhere close to the team we expected them to be. Like the Bulls and Nets, they have also been seriously depleted by injury, with Tyson Chandler just coming back from a broken leg, Raymond Felton in and out of the lineup, Amar'e Stoudemire being a shell of his former self, and so on and so forth. The Knicks were also supposed to be one of the top teams in the conference, but instead are on the outside of the playoffs looking in on teams like the Raptors, Bobcats, Wizards, and Celtics. Wait, what?
Nice: The Thunder are playing incredible basketball and are a joy to watch right now. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are absolute superstars, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson are growing into fantastic players and the Thunder bench is littered with hustle guys (Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha) and young spark plugs (Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams). Heck, even Kendrick Perkins and his perma-scowl could provide entertainment, as he’s almost certainly going to end up tussling with someone in the Knicks frontcourt. I hope it’s Andrea Bargnani.
Stocking stuffer stat: Kevin Durant leads the NBA in scoring at 28.1 points per game. Carmelo Anthony is second with 26.3. Together, they’ve won the NBA’s last four scoring titles.
If this game were a Christmas gift, it would be: A movie theater gift card. It’s not the greatest and most extravagant gift, but it’ll make for a fun time. Similarly, this matchup isn’t quite as big as we might have thought before the season started, but there’s some entertainment value to be found.
It’ll be a Christmas miracle if: 'Melo suits up. He sprained his ankle on Monday night against the Magic, but he swears he’s going to play. If he does, we’ll be treated to a tantalizing matchup between him and Durant. It would be a race to see who could score 40 points first, which would up this game’s entertainment factor tenfold.
Miami Heat @ Los Angeles Lakers (5:00pm EST)
Naughty: Kobe Bryant is injured again and has no chance of suiting up, thus robbing us of another classic Kobe versus LeBron game. LeBron James is clearly the best player in basketball according to everyone in the world except the Black Mamba (one guess as to who he thinks it is), which always makes this an interesting “I’m not ready to pass the torch yet” matchup. Bummer.
Nice: Even without Kobe, the stars will be out in Hollywood. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Pau Gasol will all be on display. Another interesting thing about this game, it has two teams in the Lakers and Heat that fans of other teams love to hate. Where do those fans side when these two face off against each other? Regardless of who you pick, the Heat and Lakers have won four of the last five NBA titles and will likely have people glued to their televisions regardless of who's actually on the court.
Stocking stuffer stat: The Heat are fifth in the league in assist percentage at 61.3 and the Lakers are eighth at 60.8. Expect to see good ball movement and a high number of assisted baskets in this one.
If this game were a Christmas gift, it would be: A retro NBA jersey. A jersey of your favorite player from years past would invoke nostalgia and fond memories of past NBA rivalries. Similarly, a game between the Lakers and Heat will give us a glimpse of a Finals that the NBA has always hoped would happen, as we all daydream about a finals showdown between Kobe and LeBron. The chances of that ever happening have likely passed, but Christmas is a time for wishing big.
It’ll be a Christmas miracle if: Kobe miraculously gives it a go. Unfortunately, even he’s not that resilient to age and injury. Or is he...?
Houston Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs (8:00pm EST)
Naughty: We’re getting into the best matchups of the day and there is little to say negatively about this one. James Harden has missed his last couple games with an ankle injury, but he expects to be ready to play. If he misses out on this battle of Texas, that would be a drag. Otherwise, game on.
Nice: Post play. Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan battling down low should be a lot of fun to watch. Otherwise, the Spurs are third on our NBA Team Rankings with a nERD of 71.9 and the Rockets are sixth with 68.7. They’re division and state rivals and both have high offensive ratings (Rockets 107.3, Spurs 106.1, third and sixth in the league respectively). This game has fun and entertainment written all over it.
Stocking stuffer stat: The Rockets are third in the league in points in the paint with 50.0 per game. The Spurs are fourth with 47.6. This’ll be a war down low.
If this game were a Christmas gift, it would be: A sweet set of headphones. Whether you’re a Bose or Beats girl or boy, you’d be psyched to get a new set of cans for Christmas. Similarly, regardless of which side of the fence you’re on in this matchup, it’ll make for an exciting watch. Hopefully the majority of the Christmas festivities have died down in your household by this point and you can take in the primetime games in peace.
It’ll be a Christmas miracle if: Harden plays. After a day full of injury-riddled teams, let’s see a couple powerhouses at full-strength. Harden and Howard versus Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard. Game on!
Los Angeles Clippers @ Golden State Warriors (10:30pm EST)
Naughty: Nothing bad to say about this one, other than the fact that it’s incredibly late in the day for East Coasters and it comes after 10-plus hours of hoops. No matter, this matchup is a near perfect Christmas gift to fans
Nice: Exciting players and teams. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (a.k.a. the Splash Brothers) will be raining down threes. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan will be brining Lob City to the “Roaracle”. Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Jamal Crawford will all be fun to watch as well. I’m getting giddy just thinking about this one.
Stocking stuffer stat: Chris Paul leads the league in assists with 11.3 per game. Stephen Curry is second with 9.2. ‘Tis the season to give and Santa will have plenty of little helpers in this game.
If this game were a Christmas gift, it would be: A PS4 or XBox One. The ultimate gift this Christmas season. Every kid (and a large portion of adults) wants one and would be over-the-moon ecstatic to find one under the tree this holiday season. Similarly, NBA fans are getting the ultimate gift by having the Clippers and Warriors play in front of what is arguably the best crowd in the league to cap off a five-game Christmas Day.
It’ll be a Christmas miracle if: This game goes into multiple overtimes. I don’t care how tired you are, get a pot of coffee on and watch this one until the bitter end. A miracle for further down the road would be if these two teams face off at some point in the playoffs. That’s number one on my Christmas wishlist right now.