For any basketball fan, Christmas is synonymous with exciting NBA action. And with stars like Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kevin Durant scheduled to lace em up tomorrow, there are plenty of fireworks throughout the day.
Ok fine, not all of the games will be must-watch affairs (Heat-Pelicans, really?). But that’s cool, we’ve got you covered with a full “preview” anyway.
From LeBron and the Cavs shooting for revenge v. Steph & the Dubs to Kobe’s last Xmas performance, there’s a few interesting storylines to follow:
“The First Course”
New Orleans Pelicans (9-19) at Miami Heat (16-11); 12:00 ET, ESPN
While you open up presents, turn on Heat-Pelicans for a little white noise. Glance every once in a while and you’ll see Anthony Davis battle it out with Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside and maybe a few “flash”-backs from Dwyane Wade.
Aside from that, the defensive-minded Heat (allow just 94.9 ppg, 2nd in the NBA) could control the game and capture victory in a rather convincing fashion.
AD’s first Christmas appearance will be special and Tyreke Evans has the chance to explode (avg. 22.5 pts, 9.5 asts, 8 rebs his last two games) with Goran Dragic possibly missing the contest but for a team who struggles to score (averages just over 90 ppg), Erik Spoelstra will key in on Davis and make the others get the job done – something New Orleans has struggled with all year long.
Projected Top DOG: Dwyane Wade – Last Xmas, D. Wade tallied 31 points in a dub over his good friend, LeBron James. Wade usually rises to the moment (MIA is 4-0 all time on Christmas) and should put in another memorable outing v. NOP.
“The Game Before THE Game”
Chicago Bulls (15-12) at Oklahoma City Thunder (20-9); 2:30 ET, ABC
A team in flux (Chicago) + scorching-hot juggernaut (OKC) = blowout, right? Well, not exactly.
Though the Bulls haven’t won in OKC since the Vinny del Negro era (yikes), Jimmy Butler and co. will be raring to go after dropping three straight winnable games. For Chicago to pull off the upset, however, they must establish Pau Gasol down low and find seams for Derrick Rose to penetrate down the lane. If Rose comes to play, the rest of the team will follow his lead.
For OKC, everyone is coming up roses (ha!) these days. Winners of 9 out of the last 10, Billy Donovan’s group is turning the corner while Kevin Durant re-asserts himself (avg. almost 27 points on 53% shooting) as an MVP.
Jimmy Butler v. KD & Russell Westbrook v. Rose are the main draws. But despite a valiant charge by Chicago, expect OKC’s UnderDOGs to make plays on the way to victory.
Key Matchup: Derrick Rose v. Russell Westbrook
Last time the Bulls and Thunder squared off, Derrick Rose produced a virtuoso performance against his Westbrook, his fellow 2008 draftee. Rose poured in 29 points and 7 dimes on the way to a close win.
Though Westbrook is performing at an ungodly level (avg. 25 points and 9 assists), Rose ALWAYS gets up for games against elite PGs, so look for an aggressive nature from the jump.
Projected Top DOG: Kevin Durant – Back in the Christmas spotlight, under the bright lights, look for KD to continue his torrid play and drop 35-40 points.
Cleveland Cavaliers (19-7) at Golden State Warriors (27-1); 5:00 ET, ABC
A DOG Haiku…
LeBron versus Steph
Cavaliers out for revenge
Healthy, no excuse
In a rematch of the 2015 Finals, LeBron James and the Cavs travel to Oakland for a meeting with Steph Curry and the 27-1 Warriors.
Here’s a few narratives at play:
- “Watch the Throne” – For years and years, LeBron James has held his rightful spot as the unofficial, “best player in the universe.” But with Golden State’s unprecedented start and Steph’s ability to dominate (leads the league in points: 31.2 ppg, shoots 52%) without exceptional, physical traits (is he more relatable to fans as a result?), he now finds himself camped outside of the King’s castle with a clear path to the crown. A 40-point night, with another W of course, could silence any doubters who aren’t ready to proclaim Steph as the best.
- “Uncle Drew and K-Love: The Difference Makers” – Ask any Cavs fan and they’ll tell you a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would have put them over the top during last year’s Finals. Coach David Blatt is featuring Love a lot more this season, while Kyrie is working his way back after debuting a week ago. It’s a small sample size but let’s see if the two All-Stars are able to offset KlayDray.
- “Best. Start. Ever.” – If the Dubs prevail, they’re off to the best start through 29 games in league history. It’s crazy to think the closest team to the feat (’08 Celtics) did not seem anywhere near as deadly as Golden State across the board. Not only do the Dubs feature the league’s MVP in his prime, other, young complementary pieces (Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) are getting it done at All-Star levels…uncharted territory.
Projected Top DOG: Stephen Curry – On Christmas 2015, Steph will officially become the ruler of the basketball world.
“Keep it Locked”
San Antonio Spurs (25-5) at Houston Rockets (15-15); 8:00 ET, ESPN
Key Number: 408
Kawhi-etly, the Spurs are kicking ass this season. It’s kinda an oxymoron but Leonard, THE best two-way player in the NBA, has evolved into a bonafide Top DOG and is blending into the offense perfectly.
Through 30 games, SA has outscored opponents by 408 points, the second-highest differential in league history during that span. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are all geared up for another run and LaMarcus Aldridge is meshing well as a number 2 option.
Houston, on the other hand, is true, inconsistent .500 team. After suffering a close loss to Orlando on Wednesday, James Harden and the Rox still lack continuity on both ends. They can’t consistently find Dwight Howard down low, they can’t find a role for Ty Lawson and they can’t get stops when it matters most.
All of that adds up to a recipe for disaster against a well-oiled machine like San Antonio.
Projected Top DOG: Kawhi Leonard – Kawhi’s first Christmas, as a #1 option, won’t disappoint.
“Last Hurrah: Starring Kobe Bryant”
Los Angeles Clippers (16-13) at Los Angeles Lakers (5-24); 10:30 ET, ESPN
It’s Kobe’s last game on Christmas but should you really stay up late to tune in? Nope.
Instead, here’s an ultimate highlight mix for you to take a gander at as an alternative!
Seriously, our watchability meter teetered back and forth. On one hand, the idea of a Christmas miracle with Kobe leading the Lakers to an upset victory is enticing, though extremely unrealistic.
On the other, this game could be over by halftime and an extended look at Pablo Prigioni and Cole Aldrich doesn’t sound too fun. If you realllly feel like sticking around for the nightcap, just hope the Black Mamba continues his hot stretch (avg. 23.8 ppg over the last 5 games) and someone out of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson or Julius Randle can break out in front of a national audience.
Otherwise, this could get ugly…fast.
Projected Top DOG: Blake Griffin – This has all of the makings of a game where Blake has 20 and 10 at halftime.