By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
‘Tis the season for all NBA fans to celebrate because the annual Christmas basketball showcases have officially arrived. Here’s what to look for in what will be a non-stop offering of Christmas Day games:
- Milwaukee Bucks vs New York Knicks – 12 P.M. ET (ESPN)
The NBA made sure that your Christmas morning would start off right with an early match-up between one of the East’s best and the holiday mainstay Knicks. The Bucks are bringing their “Fear The Dear” campaign into the Big Apple and the legendary Madison Square Gardenwith a chip on their shoulder.
Milwaukee comes into the holiday as the No. 2 team in the East and led by prohibitive MVP favorite Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo. Averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds, look for Giannis to bring a dominant presence against the young Knicks core of Tim Hardaway, Emmanual Mudiay and Kevin Knox.
Also, look for a breakout performance by the Knicks undrafted rookie guard Allonzo Trier from Arizona, who has proven on a nightly basis that he should not have been as overlooked as he was on draft night. I expect Trier to come out and further state that he’s one of the best of the class of ’18.
- Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets – 3 P.M. ET (ABC)
The Thunder-Rockets rivalry has always been powered by the match-up of former teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden. However, this year it’s time that we not forget Westbrook’s sidekick. Paul George has been electrifying as the permanent No. 2 option and a legit go-to option in the fourth quarter for the Thunder, he’s averaging 26 points on 39 percent shooting from three.
The chemistry between Westbrook and George seems to be resolved after last year’s trial run, and OKC is now sitting as a top-three team in the West. I expect George to come out with a big game, especially since there is no perimeter defender on the Rockets outside of PJ Tucker that can really check George. I will also be monitoring Harden and his overall performance as the main point guard in this game.
With Chris Paul remaining out due to injury, “The Beard” will have to go back to the ways of 2016, where he routinely scored triple-doubles or close while scoring 30 points in order to keep games close.
- Philadelphia 76ers vs Boston Celtics – 5:30 P.M. ET (ABC)
The re-emerging rivalry between the 76ers and Celtics could be one of for the ages. Here it gets its first Christmas showcase in years as we will see the three-headed monster of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and newest Sixer Jimmy Butler take on the overly-talented Celtics.
Boston has already outpaced its losses from last season while struggling to find the perfect rotation to accommodate their plethora of talent and winning ball games, their rhythm has been off course from time to time, therefore only having them sitting in the fifth seed in the East.
Individually, I’ll be looking forward to the Jimmy Butler-Jayson Tatum match-up.
Butler has proven he is one of the top two-way players in the league, and he will be guarding young star Tatum who’s averaging 17 points a game along with 40% shooting from three. Whoever more effectively shuts down the other defensively in this match should give their team a higher chance of winning the game.
- Los Angeles Lakers vs Golden State Warriors – 8 P.M. ET (ABC/ESPN)
This game will be the game of the day and the sporting event of the holiday, featuring the latest chapter in the personal rivalry of the two best players in the league — LeBron James and Kevin Durant as well as the newest clash between James and the only team that’s regularly got the best of him, now made more interesting by the King being in the same Western Conference as the defending champs.
With much speculation of Durant leaving the Warrior dynasty after this season to possibly join LA, the game becomes that much more intensified.
We all know that Durant and James always shine when the lights are on them in big stages, but in this game I will be focusing on how the young Lakers core of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball react to defending two-time MVP Stephen Curry and sharp shooter Klay Thompson on this national televised stage.
Also, be on the lookout for if KD and the King talk after the game, it may be a conversation concerning Durant coming to the Lakers next season. After all, they are friends and James has made it very clear that he would love to play with Durant.
- Portland Trailblazers vs Utah Jazz – 10:30 P.M. ET (ESPN)
The Trailblazers are a top-five team in the West, powered by the back-court duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who are averaging 48 points a game together and are very difficult to defend. However, they will be going up against the intelligence and defensive focus of head coach Quinn Snyder and his Jazz.
Utah has not looked like as much of a threat in the West this season as last but they still have shown to be a tough team to play against on any given night.
I will be looking forward to the shooting guard matchup between Donovan Mitchell and McCollum. Both are volume shooters who if they get hot could tip the scales in favor of their respective team.
Joshua M. Hicks is the lead columnist of WARR