Arguably the biggest day of the NBA calendar, Christmas Day has turned into a day of which rivals match up and the league’s best go head to head. With the 5 games featured on the 25th we will look into how the team’s match up and what will be most interesting going into the holiday’s games.
Two of the biggest Eastern Conference franchises, this game seems particularly interesting. At their best either squad can seem well above average, especially offensively for the Knicks and defensively for the Celtics. Pay close attention to the point guard battle in which former MVP Derrick Rose goes head to head with Isaiah Thomas.
Both guards are going into the game on higher notes than usual with Rose averaging close to 18 points per game on a great 51 percent from the field for the month of December and IT with a massive 28 points per game on 47 percent shooting.The most intriguing statistic relating to Thomas’ huge final month of play has been how he is leading the league in fourth quarter PER with an astonishing 42.5 rating. This number would put him above that of even league leaders Russell Westbrook and Demar DeRozan. If the game is at all close, look for coach Brad Stevens to defer to his star guard to carry the Celtics over.
Other points of emphasis is how the Celtics guard Kristaps Porzingis. KP isn’t having the best of Decembers with a drop in points, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage for the month. However, he has now had four of his last six games with over 20 points, including a 34-point explosion in Phoenix. Al Horford should get the assignment on the 7-footer, and how he defends him especially off the dribble and from beyond the arc will be pivotal for the Celtics.
The Knicks have won four of their last seven and sit at 16-13, but I don’t think they’ll have enough to slow down a Celtics unit that is both defensively equipped to slow down scorers like Rose and Carmelo Anthony with the combination of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. As well as being offensively strong enough to give the Knicks headaches.
Winner: Boston Celtics
Not much needs to be said about this one. NBA fans have had this date marked down on their calendar ever since the schedule was announced. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are of course the teams that have been featured in the last two NBA Finals. This will be the first time the Warriors head to Cleveland since their Finals defeat in seven games.
As if the storyline could get any more dramatic, as we all know Kevin Durant joined the Warriors this of season. A long time nemesis of Lebron James, Durant’s Thunder were defeated in the 2012 Finals at the hands of LBJ and the pair have long gone back and forth as the top small forwards in the league.
LeBron versus Durant, Kyrie Irving versus Stephen Curry, and Kevin Love versus Draymond Green – the entire game is one big head-to-head matchup. But what fans should pay particular attention to is how either team comes out. With the likelihood of a another Finals rematch high, will they pull out all the stops in this meeting, or keep some strategy hidden? Can the Warriors’ massively downgraded interior defence stop LeBron and Kyrie inside? Can the Cavs slow down the Warriors’ elite outside shooting? Hopefully all will be revealed come Christmas Day.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
This game will go under the radar and rightfully so, but it may end up being quite the contest. The Bulls are struggling, big time, losing seven of their last 10 and slipping to ninth in the East at 14-15. By contrast the Spurs are fairing nicely at a very quiet 24-6, something not many people seem to mention.
When at home the Spurs have a lower points per game (100 versus 106) and field-goal percentage (.451% versus .477%) so they seem to struggle offensively more at home, which will only aid the Bulls’ eigth-ranked league defense.The Bulls will be able to go down low to Robin Lopez, and with Dwyane Wade’s slashing attack the weak interior defense of Pau Gasol, who is a downgrade from Tim Duncan in the paint.
Most interesting will be how Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard match up: both 20 points per game scorers, they are two of the best in the league and scoring and defending. Whoever gets the win in this individual matchup may well win the game. I know I also am eager to see how Pau goes against his old team of which he was an, all-star.
Winner: San Antonio Spurs
Someone say triple-double? Russell Westbrook is on an absolute tear, one which the league hasn’t ever seen quite before. Two radically different squads, the young Wolves lead by star Karl Anthony-Towns will try and roll into Chesapeake Arena and slow down the energetic Thunder.
Ultimately the game will be decided on the glass, and the Wolves are by no means a good rebounding team while the Thunder hold one of the highest rebounding differentials in the league at +4.0 thanks mostly to Westbrook’s heroics, with help from Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. Whether or not the Wolves can slow down the Thunder’s second chance opportunities will go a long way in deciding if they can slow down their individual scorers.
The Wolves young core has shown signs of promise themselves with Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine, who just had himself a 40-point game. If they can keep this up against strong defenders like Adams and Andre Roberson remains to be seen.
When it comes down to it, it will likely be the Westbrook show in all it’s thunderous glory, and that might be too much for Minnesota to handle.
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
They are geographically the closest teams in the league but are at wildly distant stages in their franchise life cycle. The Clippers have started off hot this year sitting in the third seed with a record of 22-9, having won six of their last 10 and come to Christmas off an impressive win against the Spurs.
On the flip side the Lakers are now 11-22, having lost nine of their last 10. Posting the 29th worst league defense, it seems almost impossible that they slow down the Clippers’ 109 points per game – though they have beaten other tops teams this season, like the Warriors. Also, their young core of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram may be able to do something on the day. Even with the subtraction of Blake Griffin due to injury, the Clippers seem way too good at the moment to lose this one.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers