Merry Christmas NBA fans! An exciting, five-game slate is on tap to satisfy your basketball fix. And we’re here to prepare you for all of the festivities!
There’s a little bit of everything in store for tomorrow’s action…something that caters to each and every fan of the NBA. A few marquee match ups include LeBron James’s return to South Beach, a battle between two oft-injured superstars (Kobe Bryant v. Derrick Rose; 1st meeting since Christmas 2011!), and a high-scoring, shootout featuring the two Kings of the Pacific Division (LA Clippers v. Golden State Warriors).
And if that’s not enough, emerging superstar John Wall will visit the Garden and Tim Duncan and co. will try to fend off Russell Westbrook and the resurgent Oklahoma City Thunder. It will be a star-studded affair with tight games throughout the day. Yes, we even predict the struggling New York Knicks will fight to the finish.
To get you started, here’s a look at a few (current) All-Stars who are competing on Christmas:
John Wall (WAS): 17.8 ppg, 10.4 apg
Carmelo Anthony (NYK): 23.7 ppg
Russell Westbrook (OKC): 28.2 ppg, 7.1 apg, 5.8 rpg
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker & Manu Ginobili (SAS): combined 13 NBA titles
LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving (CLE): combined 15 All-Star appearances
Derrick Rose (CHI): 2011 NBA MVP
Kobe Bryant (LAL): 5x NBA Champion
Stephen Curry & Klay Thompson (GSW): combined 45ppg; the Splash Bros.
Chris Paul & Blake Griffin (LAC): combined 41.2 ppg and 14.4 apg; Plus…BGCP3TV in HD!
Now, on to the games!
Washington Wizards (19-8) at New York Knicks (5-25)
Madison Square Garden, 12:00PM ET, ESPN
John Wall and the upstart Wiz Kids head into the Garden to kick off the day. Washington is on a two-game losing streak and will look to attack a Knicks team that has lost 25 of its first 30 games. Carmelo Anthony’s decision to remain in New York instead of signing in either Chicago or Houston, is looking murkier by the day.
The All-Star forward is experiencing a nightmare season with a new head coach and a funky roster of players. Seriously, why are the Knicks even playing on Christmas? Toronto, Atlanta, Memphis and Houston all have much, much better claims to host a contest on such a special occasion. But since the Knicks are competing, it’s natural for the players to come out with energy so they won’t disappoint the home fans even further.
The key for New York will be containing the dribble penetration of John Wall (easier said than done) and staying home on shooters like Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce. If Washington can get out in transition, this one will be over very quickly. New York should be able to put up a fight since they are riding a franchise-worst, seven game losing streak at home. Carmelo, J.R. Smith, and Amar’e Stoudemire will try and keep them in it but Wall, Beal and the Wiz will make key plays down the stretch for the victory.
John Wall: Projected Top D.O.G.
Matchup to Watch: Bradley Beal v. Tim Hardaway Jr.
It would have been way too easy to insert John Wall v. Whomever in this category, seeing as he’s emerged as a top 5 point guard and is going up against the likes of Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin and Pablo Prigioni. Wall should produce big numbers regardless, so it’s worth taking a look at Beal and Hardaway Jr. instead.
Beal is still finding his groove after missing the first month of the season with a wrist injury. His shooting touch (46% from deep) and defense will be needed to combat Hardaway Jr., who is averaging 16 pts and 5 boards over his last 3 starts.
Oklahoma City Thunder (13-16) at San Antonio Spurs (18-11)
AT&T Center, 2:30 ET, ABC
Will Kevin Durant play? That’s the burning question for Scott Brooks and the Thunder. The reigning MVP has missed the last few games with an ankle injury following a lengthy absence after a stress fracture. Regardless if Durant is there or not, there are two parties it won’t affect: Russell Westbrook and the San Antonio Spurs.
Westbrook has been BALLING out of his mind lately and is coming off of a 40-point, 10-rebound performance against the Blazers on Monday. Although the Thunder got “Damed” by Lillard, OKC has won 7 of its last 10 games because of Westbrook’s play. He looks as explosive as ever and is a prime MVP candidate if healthy the rest of the way.
Durant’s status also won’t change the gameplan for the Spurs, who remain the most well-oiled unit in the league. That’s why Coach Gregg Popovich can trot out a lineup of Kyle Anderson, Aron Baynes, Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner, and Danny Green and still remain very competitive. Luckily, the Big 3 (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) + 1 (Kawhi Leonard) are all ready and raring to go.
San Antonio is coming off an impressive victory over the Clippers and looks to continue their winning ways against OKC. If they can semi-contain Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka, their execution will lead to a hard-fought win.
Tony Parker: Projected Top D.O.G.
All I Want for Christmas…
Hmm, what is each fan base hoping for this season?
Thunder: A healthy Kevin Durant, better contribution from the likes of Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, a playoff seed, and a deep, satisfying title run come June.
San Antonio: More continuity on both sides of the ball, momentum heading into the postseason, and most importantly, championship no. 6. Cementing their place amongst the NBA’s elite franchises will be icing on the cake.
Cleveland Cavaliers (17-10) at Miami Heat (13-16)
American Airlines Arena, 5:00 ET, ABC
“I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” Okay, it’s played out by now but we assure you that LeBron’s “return” will not disappoint! There are two key reasons why:
Cleveland was dealt a huge blow this morning when they discovered starting center Anderson Varejao will be out for the year with a torn Achilles. His energy and effort on both ends was contagious and will be sorely missed. Without their imposing big man, the Cavs are very thin up front and lack enough depth to contend for a title. In this contest, expect Cleveland to try and attack with James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the break.
Miami, on the other hand, is dealing with injuries of its own. Chris Bosh (calf) and Josh McRoberts (knee) are both out and may not return in 2014. But the silver lining has shined light on Dwyane Wade, who has experienced a resurgence as of late. He is averaging 31 ppg over the last week and will be more than motivated to play his good friend, LeBron James. Plus, Miami is coming off an embarrassing loss to the lowly Sixers, so you know they will do whatever it takes for the upset.
But in the end, the new Big 3 of LeBron, Love and Irving will be too much for Wade and Luol Deng to overcome. If you’re looking for a game to skip, though, look elsewhere. There is plenty of intrigue here that will keep you glued to the set.
LeBron James: Projected Top D.O.G.
Matchup to Watch: LeBron James v. Dwyane Wade
Basketball gods, if you’re out there, please give us a few sequences of LeBron and Wade going at it. If it happens, we definitely won’t be seeing two brothers playing 1-on-1, it will be a couple of the toughest competitors the league has ever seen. Although Wade has constantly stated he harbors no ill will towards LeBron for returning to the Cavs, he has to be just a tad salty that it happened.
Here’s hoping that he channels his imaginary “frustration” into a few spectacular moves against the King.
Los Angeles Lakers (9-19) at Chicago Bulls (19-9)
United Center, 8:00 ET, TNT
Christmas has come early for Bulls fans, who have been gifted with the greatest gift of them all: the 2011 version of Derrick Rose! Rose’s re-emergence as a top-flight PG was on full display the past couple games. He scored a combined 54 points en route to leading Chicago to key victories over tough, Eastern Conference opponents (Raptors and Wizards). Rose’s unshakable confidence makes the Bulls an elite squad, once again, and they are the favorites to win the East if healthy.
Outside of Rose, Jimmy Butler (Most Improved Player candidate, 22 ppg), Pau Gasol (avg. 18 and 12), Aaron Brooks (avg. 11 ppg) and Nikola Mirotic (career-high 27 points v. MEM on Friday) have all been standouts for Coach Tom Thibodeau thus far. Chicago’s depth and inside presence will make life difficult for a defensively challenged squad like LA.
For LA, Kobe Bryant’s status will be the overarching storyline heading into the game. Coach Byron Scott expects him to give it a go but it is unclear if the Mamba will be at 100% after playing so many minutes this year. If he does play, will the Lake Show be as exciting and effective as they were against the Dubs last night?
If history is any indication, they won’t be. With Kobe in the fray, Los Angeles is ranked in the lower half of the league in assists (20.6, 21st) and field goal percentage (43 %, 23rd). For the Lakers to pull off a stunning win, Coach Scott needs to find a way to re-insert Bryant while not sacrificing shots and opportunities for Swaggy P (Nick Young), Jeremy Lin, Wesley Johnson, and Carlos Boozer.
Chicago-LAL might not turn many heads tomorrow but it is still a nice evening showcase to watch during Christmas dinner. Having just passed Michael Jordan on the scoring list, Kobe will definitely want to put on a show in the “House That Michael Built.” D. Rose, Butler, Joakim Noah, Kobe and, definitely, Swaggy P will provide enough highlights to justify the “primetime” time slot.
Derrick Rose: Projected Top D.O.G.
For You, My Friend, A Lump of COAL!
This is your chance. Your time to shine. It’s here…Carlos Boozer, revenge is now! After all of the push fouls, horrendous defense, and continuous fourth quarter benchings, Boozer has the chance to stick it to his former team and ruin Christmas. It would be a “nightmare” scenario for Bulls fans if “Mr. Holdat” himself is the one who helps snap their 4-game streak.
Conversely, Pau Gasol’s ridiculous inside-out game might bury his former team before they find a foot to stand on, which is much more likely. But that’s not as fun, is it!?
Golden State Warriors (23-4) at Los Angeles Clippers (19-10)
Staples Center: 10:30 ET, TNT
And here it is, our D.O.G. Game of the Night! Stephen Curry and the blazing Warriors will try to pick up a win on the road versus their division rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. In what promises to be a high-octane tilt from both sides, Dubs-Clips is the perfect nightcap as Christmas winds down.
All of the match ups are intriguing: Stephen Curry v. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin v. Draymond Green and Jamal Crawford v. the Warrior bench. Though Golden State boasts a top 5 defense, Los Angeles has many points of attack they will try and exploit. Without Andrew Bogut, you better believe Doc Rivers will make sure Griffin gets enough touches to go to work down low. Since the Clips were blitzed by the Dubs on November 5th (121-104), Paul, Griffin and co. will be focused and ready to go.
Anticipate a fun, up and down showcase of a few of the league’s top offensive talents: Curry, Klay Thompson, Paul and Griffin.
Chris Paul: Projected Top D.O.G.
Underdogs: JJ Redick (LAC) & Marreese Speights (GSW)
Redick will be an important piece for the Clips in this one. His ability to space the floor and come off screens will make life difficult for Golden State throughout the game. Look for 15-18 points and 3-4 triples from him.
Speights, on the other hand, gives the Warriors an interior presence who can knock down open jumpers. He holds a clear advantage over the Clippers’ second unit bigs (Glen Davis Hedo Turkoglu), so a huge night may be in order. Anticipate 14-16 points and 8 rebounds.