Sunday, December 25, 2016
Skyhook Sunday: Previewing the NBA's Christmas Day action
When I think of Christmas Day, I have to confess that I first think of NBA basketball. As a Christian, this may not be the best thing to admit, but I comfort myself in knowing that Christmas Day derives from a pagan holiday that celebrates the winter solstice. It makes me feel more justified in associating Christmas Day with NBA hoops. Anyways, with that admission of guilt now out in the open, let me quickly dissect the five NBA games that will be played on Christmas Day.
Boston Celtics (17-13) at New York Knicks (16-13) (12:00 PM EST on ESPN): The first game of Christmas Day will the Boston Celtics at the New York Knicks. The Celtics come into this game as the 3rd overall seed in the Eastern Conference while the Knicks are the 5th overall seed just half of a game behind them. From a playoff positioning perspective, this game definitely matters. With the Knicks being at home and being behind in the standings, this game matters a little bit more to them. For the first time in a little while anyways, the Knicks are playing on Christmas Day while also being relevant in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
If the Knicks want to win this game, Kristaps Porzingis (19.9 points and 7.6 rebounds) and Carmelo Anthony (22.5 points) need to have big days while also not allowing Isaiah Thomas (27.0 points) to go off.
As for the Celtics, they'll want to see if they can get more guys than just Isaiah Thomas going. If they could get a big game from Al Horford and maybe have rookie Jaylen Brown score in double figures, that would be huge.
Overall, this game should be a fun game to start off the holiday. It's a classic Eastern Conference battle with playoff implications, which is always a good combination to have in any game.
Golden State Warriors (27-4) at Cleveland Cavaliers (22-6) (2:30 PM EST on ABC): One of the best parts of Christmas Day is that over the past few years, it's always included an NBA Finals rematch. This time, it's the Cleveland Cavaliers who are playing on Christmas Day as the defending NBA champions. A major storyline in this game is the absence of J.R. Smith, who will miss the next 12-14 weeks due to needing surgery on his right thumb. It will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers play without him in such a big game.
If the Cavaliers want to win this game, they'll want to get really quality production from their big three of Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and of course LeBron James. In addition, the Cavaliers will really want to set the tone early and establish themselves as the defending champions. By adding Kevin Durant the Warriors are a different team than last year, but the Cavaliers can still remind everybody that they are the defending NBA championship team by setting the tone early.
As for the Warriors, they need to get out to an early lead with Kevin Durant playing very well. If the Warriors can get out to an early lead with Kevin Durant playing well, not only will they get the win, but they'll also send a message to the rest of the NBA that this year is different than last year and that they are the odds on favorite to win it all.
Overall, this game will be a fun one to watch. Seeing Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry go up against LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love will be really exciting and also informative as it will give us a window into what our likely NBA Finals matchup will be.
Chicago Bulls (14-15) at San Antonio Spurs (24-6) (5:00 PM EST on ABC): The San Antonio Spurs, led by Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol are all playing fantastic basketball right now, putting tons of pressure on the Golden State Warriors. As for the Chicago Bulls, they are a sub .500 team that is making me look like a fool for picking them to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
In my book, this game is all about the Bulls. The Spurs we know are a contender and will be there late in the season come playoff time. But the Chicago Bulls we are yet to be convinced of as a serious contending team. If Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo are looking for an opportunity to jump start the Bulls' season, Christmas Day against the Spurs isn't a bad place to start. If the Bulls can find a way to get this win, this could be the beginning of something very good.
Minnesota Timberwolves (9-20) at Oklahoma City Thunder (18-12) (8:00 PM EST on ESPN): In my opinion it's somewhat of a puzzle of as to why this game was scheduled for Christmas Day. On the one hand, the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA to watch and the Oklahoma City Thunder likewise play a very exciting brand of basketball. On the other hand, the Thunder are a much more mature and seasoned team while the Timberwolves are still young and figuring it all out. In other words, the Thunder should blow the doors off the Timberwolves, not making for a very exciting game.
While the game itself may not be very close, what will be fun is to watch Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn of the Timberwolves throw alley-oops to each other and throw down nasty dunks in transition while Russell Westbrook plays like a human video game, getting another triple-double.
If you are looking for lots of dunks and possible Sports Center Top Ten moments, this game might be the best game to watch on Christmas Day. But, if you are looking for a competitive game that is close in the 4th quarter, this game is probably the last game you'd want to watch.
Los Angeles Clippers (22-9) at Los Angeles Lakers (11-22) (10:30 PM EST on ESPN): I always find Clippers-Lakers games to be fun since I find it strangely entertaining to watch two teams from the same city face each other. I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated by inner-city rivalries in sports. It's like when I was a little kid, my brother and I used to go to the local amusement park just to watch the roller coasters. I don't know why we found it so enthralling, but we did nonetheless.
Anyways, aside from this being the "Battle of Los Angeles", this game ought to be a snoozer. The only thing that could make this game close is that Blake Griffin is out multiple weeks after undergoing right knee surgery, so his absence gives the Lakers a flicker of hope to win. Still, even with Griffin out, the Clippers still have Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, and DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers are still the vastly superior team and should win rather easily.
If you haven't yet watched Brandon Ingram, the Lakers' first round pick (#2 overall), play this season, then that will be an added bonus for you. Brandon Ingram has tons of upside and so watching him play in his first Christmas Day game in the NBA could be kind of fun. Plus, D'Angelo Russell is making strides, averaging 15.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. So, much like the Thunder-Timberwolves game, if you are interested in watching a competitive basketball game, this is not the game for you to watch. If you are wanting to check in on the future of the Los Angeles Lakers and see young talent on the floor, then this game will be fun for you to watch regardless of the outcome.
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