Here’s a few things to watch for on a Christmas Day full of NBA action.
While Thanksgiving features turkey and NFL games, Christmas Day means presents and marquis NBA matchups. Generally perceived as the de facto opening night of professional basketball of the year, the league makes sure it showcases its best and most high profile teams and players in a day of non-stop basketball action.
This year, a slate of five games starts at 11 a.m. Eastern Time and will run until close to midnight when it’s all said and done. The Boston Celtics will play the New York Knickerbockers at Madison Square Garden at 11 a.m.; the Golden State Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers at 1:30 p.m. at the Q in a rematch of the past two Finals; the Chicago Bulls will travel to Texas to take on the San Antonio Spurs at 4 p.m.; The young Minnesota Timberwolves will face triple double machine Russell Westbrook and his Oklahoma City Thunder in OKC at 7 p.m.; and a crosstown rivalry will cap the day of play as the Clippers will face the Lakers at the Staples Center starting at 10:30 p.m.
With so many games stacked up back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and with family and festivities percolating outside of the NBA world, it may be hard to stay fully focused on all the action the association has to offer. So here are a few things to look for whenever you do sit down to watch the games.
Boston Celtics at New York Knicks 12 p.m. ET on ESPN
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Madison Square Garden has a tendency to produce some excellent performances during nationally televised contests. John Wall hit the entire Knicks team with a filthy spin move two years ago. Stephen Curry announced his entrance into superstardom with 11 threes and a 54 point performance in a February game three years ago. And of course Michael Jordan feasted whenever he visited the world’s most famous arena.
Be on the lookout for Carmelo Anthony to be gunning, Isaiah Thomas to be breaking ankles, and Kristaps Porzingis to be unicorning.
A Christmas Day game at MSG is worth watching in and of itself because of the heightened potential for something great to happen. More specifically, the matchup between Boston and New York has potential playoff implications. The Celtics are third in the Eastern Conference, second in the Atlantic Division, and only a game ahead of the Knicks in playoff seeding. The Celtics have won four straight, are 11-7 on the road, and 4-1 against the other teams in their division, including a win over New York. The Knicks are 1-2 against their division, though they are 11-4 at the Garden, and will hope to use that home court momentum to their advantage.
Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Do I really need to spell this one out?
The league’s two best teams of the past three seasons are facing each other for the first time since one of the most entertaining Finals ever. A juggernaut Warriors team led by the first ever unanimous MVP in Curry let go of a 3-1 series lead to a LeBron James-led Cavs squad that vanquished a 52-year, city-wide curse with an iconic block.
It’s the day’s marquee matchup. If you miss this one, I don’t know if you’re a real fan.
Chicago Bulls at San Antonio Spurs 5 p.m. ET on ABC
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
After a hot start, the Bulls have mellowed out to a .500 record while the Spurs keep on Spursing, owning the league’s second best record. So you might think this game will be uninteresting as the Spurs should handle the Bulls easily.
It should be noted that the Bulls defeated the Spurs in a game earlier this month, using a peculiar yet effective method of deterring the Spurs’ best player. Kawhi Leonard was tasked with guarding Jimmy Butler, the Bull’s best player. Instead of working feverishly to try to sneak Butler an open look or partake in the ritual futility of trying to beat Leonard one-on-one, the Bulls stuck Butler in a corner and attacked the basket from the other side of the court, neutralizing Leonard’s defensive prowess.
It worked for them once, so it will be intriguing to see if and how the Bulls try this again, if it remains effective, and how Gregg Popovich will counter.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The Wolves are pretty bad as a team considering their core consists of a trio of 21-year-olds. But those young pups are precisely what makes watching an otherwise terrible Wolves team fun. You get to see Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins dunks as well as literally anything Karl-Anthony Towns does. There’s so much evident potential on this team that it’s exciting to think about what they’ll be in the future.
On OKC’s side, there is Russell Westbrook, demigod, maker of men, crusher of souls. There may not be a more mesmerizing player in the league this year than Westbrook; he’s worth watching any Thunder game against any opponent.
Here are some possible things that could happen in any given Westbrook game:
Triple double (a standard at this point)
Him running in transition (it doesn’t even matter if he ends up shooting or even taking the ball to the hole, the mere thought of him reaching full speed is both thrilling and horrifying)
Him yelling, stomping, acting with bravado
Any of those would be enough to warrant watching him play, not to mention you may very well get more than one.
Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Points. Lots of them.
The Clippers score the fifth most points per game in the league while the Lakers rank 13th. We know the Clips will get theirs, but we don’t know if Lou Williams and Nick Young a.k.a. SwaggyP will be hot or cold. If they’re on, look out.
With the Lakers you get a smidge of what you get with the Wolves as well. D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram—these kids are going to be good basketball players someday. It’s fun to see how and where they might develop.
As for the Clippers, you’re liable for a DeAndre Jordan mega slam (doesn’t it feel like we’re due for one?), a crazy hot night for Jamal Crawford, or another 20 assist night from Chris Paul. These are all on the table.
But if you’ve already had your fill of good food, family, and basketball for the day, no one will blame you for knocking out a little early.
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