If Thanksgiving Day carries the banner for the NFL, Christmas Day is a pretty solid NBA counterpart. The NBA has worked hard in recent years to establish Christmas Day as a showcase for some of the biggest matchups of the year. This year is no different as the schedule for Christmas Day includes a triple-header daytime lineup that includes a 2012 NBA Finals rematch and a matchup between the NBA’s two biggest markets followed by two solid night games between some of the most exciting teams in the league. Let’s take a look at all five games on the biggest day of the year in the league.
Boston at Brooklyn – 12:00PM; ESPN
The first game of the day will be an Atlantic Division rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets. With both teams struggling a bit in the early half of the season while facing high expectations, this game will be very important for both teams as they open on the big stage for the NBA.
Why the Celtics will win:
Rajon Rondo. He’s currently leading the league with 12.5 assists per game and it’s not even close. He’s arguably the best pure point guard in the league (no disrespect to Chris Paul) and has a knack for making magic happen on the offensive end. While Deron Williams provides a nice matchup for Rondo, that shouldn’t stop him from dishing the ball all over the place and finding Paul Pierce or Jason Terry for an open shot pretty frequently. Not to mention the Nets have lost 8 of their last 10 games including losing 5 of 6 at home.
Why the Nets will win:
If Deron Williams plays up to expectations, the Nets can take this on their home court. This will be the first time this all-new Nets team will be part of the Christmas Day showcase and you can expect them to come out with fire and out-run the slower Celtics team. After all, the Celtics are just 1-4 on Christmas Day since 2008. However, if Deron Williams continues his recent slump, don’t expect Brooklyn to be able to overcome the Celtics.
New York at LA Lakers – 3:00 PM; ABC
You can only imagine that David Stern was salivating over this game when they made the schedule before the season. It’s the NBA’s two biggest markets and with the Lakers loading up on talent during the offseason, this was primed to be a matchup between two of the best teams in the league. Unfortunately for the Lakers (and David Stern), Steve Nash went down with a broken leg, Mike Brown turned out not to be the coach they were looking for, and Pau Gasol has struggled to fit into Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Fortunately for the Lakers, the return of Steve Nash has come just in time for Christmas, giving Lakers fans something to be happy for during the holidays.
Why the Knicks will win:
This has just as much to do with the Lakers woes as it does the Knicks terrific play. So far, the new-look Lakers have been unable to work out the kinks in new head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and just look — well, awkward. Meanwhile, the Knicks seem to be clicking on all cylinders as they boast the best record in the Eastern Conference. Carmelo Anthony is having an MVP-worthy season averaging 27.9 points per game to go along with 6.4 rebounds per game. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler is averaging 10 boards and 12.9 points per game making Anthony & Chandler the most efficient duo in the NBA. With Raymond Felton running point and JR Smith shooting efficiently from anywhere on the court, the Knicks should have no problem with the sloppy-looking Lakers.
Why the Lakers will win:
Because they might not be so sloppy by the time they play the Knicks. With Steve Nash’s return, it instantly changes the way the Lakers play. Remember: Steve Nash doesn’t just understand D’Antoni’s system — he flourishes in it. This is the same system that Steve Nash won back-to-back MVP awards with and took to the Western Conference Finals twice. Expect things to look a lot smoother with Nash running the point and that is going to be the key to the Lakers pulling this one off against the Knicks. And of course, they always have Kobe.
Oklahoma City at Miami – 5:30 PM; ABC
For the first time since game five of the 2012 NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder will head to South Beach to take on the NBA Champions Miami Heat. The two leading MVP-candidates — and arguably, the two best players in the world — go head-to-head in the main event of the evening. With both the Thunder and the Heat in great position in their conferences (1st and 2nd, respectively) this could prove to be not just a rematch but a preview of this year’s finals as well.
Why the Thunder will win:
Because they’ll be looking for revenge in this game. You know the Thunder have had this game circled on their calendar all season long. They’ve hit their stride, holding an NBA-best record of 21-5 and having recently won 12 games in a row. Kevin Durant is having an even better season than last year averaging 27.1 points per game and boasting career-high averages in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Russell Westbrook is pitching in as well with 20.8 points per game and a career-high 8.8 assists. Add in the defensive presence of Serge Ibaka and the scoring ability of new-addition Kevin Martin and the Thunder should be able to get a win and send a message to the defending NBA Champions.
Why the Heat will win:
Because LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world. It’s as simple as that. Plus his only loss on Christmas Day was with the 9-20 Cleveland Cavaliers in his rookie season. Since then, he’s 5-0 on December 25th, including a finals rematch last season where he logged 37 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks in a win over the 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks. LeBron leads the league in player efficiency rating (PER) and looks to be on his way to a fourth MVP award. If the Big Three perform as they did in the finals against the Thunder, they should see the same result that they did in June.
Houston at Chicago – 8:00 PM; ESPN
After the sun goes down and the big boys are done playing, the Rockets and the Bulls will meet in Chicago. While the Bulls are still missing their franchise star, Derrick Rose — and seem to lack an identity without him — the Rockets are just settling in with their new franchise star, James Harden, and his sidekick Jeremy Lin.
Why the Rockets will win:
James Harden has emerged this season as an elite player in the NBA. He currently sits in 5th in scoring, averaging 25.1 points per game. He can do just about anything on the court and looks to finally be getting comfortable playing with his teammate Jeremy Lin at the point after looking a little rough to start. Omer Asik is averaging double-digits in rebounds and if he can stay with Joakim Noah and keep him from getting easy inside buckets, the Rockets should be able to ride the scoring of Harden and Chandler Parsons (15.3 ppg) to a victory in the Windy City.
Why the Bulls will win:
The Rockets just lost Patrick Patterson for a few games due to a bone bruise in his foot. If the Bulls take advantage of this hole in the Rockets lineup by putting the ball in Carlos Boozer’s hands, the Rockets will struggle to beat Boozer on both ends. Joakim Noah, coming off his first career triple-double against the Celtics, might be too much for Omer Asik to handle and the duo of Boozer and Noah could prove to be a brick wall for James Harden who relies heavily on penetrating in the paint.
Denver at LA Clippers – 10:30 PM; ESPN
For the final game of the evening, two of the most entertaining teams in the league go head-to-head in the Staples Center. The Clippers are currently 21-6, riding a 13-game win streak while the Nuggets sit at 15-13, flying under the radar as one of the most dangerous teams in the league on any given night.
Why the Nuggets will win:
Because any player on their roster has the ability to break out at any time. With six players averaging double-digits in scoring, led by Danilo Gallinari at 16.1, the Nuggets have so many weapons that they should be able to spread the floor and force the Clippers out of their comfort zone. If they can get shots to start going early, look for the Nuggets — who average 102 points per game as a team — to shoot the lights out and walk out of Los Angeles with a victory.
Why the Clippers will win:
Because they are the hottest team in the NBA right now. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the perfect combination and Jamal Crawford has emerged as the runaway choice for Sixth Man of the Year. The Clippers are 12-3 at home with two of those losses being way back in the first week of November. The Clippers should not and will not allow the Nuggets to sneak away with a victory in the Staples Center. Also, the dunks are just plain fun to watch.
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