The festive season is in full swing, and the NBA is ready to keep you entertained when you reach your limit of family stories. With a bumper week of action coming up, which games in particular will be worth keeping an eye on?
The NBA has done well in recent years to establish itself as a strong option for a place in your Christmas schedule. Nearly 95,000 spectators chose to spend part of their 2013 Christmas in an arena watching professional basketball, and the league has worked on setting up a slate of marquee matchups in the race for the 2015 title.
The holiday season actually begins with a free day – Christmas Eve does not have any games scheduled, to allow the true basketball nerds an opportunity to travel home and re-acquaint themselves with their families.
But from midday Eastern Time on the 25th, the action is relentless. The first of five back-to-back nationally televised games threatens to be a blowout though, with John Wall leading his Washington squad into Madison Square Garden to take on the woeful Knicks.
The Knicks and, later, the Lakers are storied names with fans across the country, but older relatives may be dismayed at the current states of these famous teams. Pau Gasol will be one player looking forward to the Bulls-Lakers showdown – after winning two rings in L.A., the Spaniard moved to the Windy City in the summer and has adapted well, putting up 18 points, 11.5 rebounds and two blocks per game, his best numbers since 2010-11.
Another player anticipating a showdown with old friends will be the oft-discussed LeBron James, whose Cavaliers were handed a Christmas trip to Miami. LeBron’s old running partner Dwyane Wade has been frisky lately, warming up for the big day with a 42-point showing against Utah last week, but Chris Bosh has sat out the last five matches as Miami has dropped eight of its last 12.
The other two Christmas matches feature Western Conference heavyweights. We head to Texas first for a matchup between the West’s top two seeds in 2013-14, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The pair strangely languish in 7th and 10th spots, respectively – the Thunder’s early season injury woes were well-documented, and they have quickly caught up to the tail-end of the playoff race.
The Spurs have dropped to the back of the West’s strong top seven after a remarkable week in which they became the first team to play consecutive triple-overtime games since the Baltimore Bullets in 1951.
They lost both amid a flurry of incredible shot-making, with Marc Gasol draining an insane three-pointer to keep Memphis alive first before Damian Lillard broke the Spurs’ spirit in the second match, leading Portland to victory with a career-high 43 points.
The defending champ Spurs and the Thunder are both relatively comfortable with the structures of their squads, and they will be confident of taking on anyone and possibly setting up a third Western Conference Finals matchup against each other in the last four years.
The coaches may elect to save any new tactical innovations for stopping the opposition until a more meaningful game in May or June, but neither team will want to overly disadvantage themselves with a poor playoff seeding, so we may be treated to a good old-fashioned heavyweight slugfest.
The final match of the day has plenty of slugfest-potential too, with the L.A. Clippers hosting the Golden State Warriors in the return match of last year’s festive encounter in Oakland. Klay Thompson came up with the game-winning block in that bruising matchup, which saw Blake Griffin ejected for a couple of tangles with the Warriors’ feisty frontline.
The teams, of course, went on to face each other in the 2014 Playoffs, with the Clips prevailing in a classic Game 7. The Warriors were missing Aussie center Andrew Bogut for that series, and his comeback has been one of the many factors spurring Steve Kerr’s team to a league-best 23-3 start to the season.
The highlight of Boxing Day sees the top two in the Southwest Division squaring off, with Memphis hopeful that Zach Randolph and Tony Allen will return from minor injuries for Houston’s visit.
Two of the East’s upstarts clash on Saturday as Atlanta visit the entertaining Milwaukee Bucks, whose spirits were dampened last week with the news that rookie forward Jabari Parker has suffered a knee injury and will miss the rest of the season. The Hawks are rolling, with 15 victories in their last 17.
And although most of the nation’s attention will be on the final day of the NFL season on Sunday, there are another pair of fantastic Western Conference matches, with Houston visiting San Antonio and Dallas hosting Oklahoma City. Dallas’s newly acquired point guard Rajon Rondo will have his hands full with OKC’s livewire Russell Westbrook. The Rondo trade had a fair mix of supporters and detractors, and the integration of a great playmaker into what was already the league’s best offense adds another layer of intrigue to this fascinating NBA season. Enjoy the show!