By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Christmas time is here again, and there is no better way to celebrate this special holiday than to sit around the dinner table, spend time with your family and open gifts while hearing NBA games play in the background throughout the day.
Year after year, the NBA gears itself up with most of its greatest talents to provide a memorable showcase for lovers of basketball. This year, the league’s scope is arguably as wide as its ever been on its best holiday: featuring three of the four conference championship teams from last season and all but one of the top four teams from each conference currently.
Long-time rivalries are going to be part of this holiday menu, as will key clashes that could tell us a lot about how this season could unfold going to the playoffs and beyond. Take a look at what I believe you should look out for in these fabulous five contests:
Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors – The Celtics have had a successful start to their season, recently winning three straight and securing themselves at No. 2 in the Eastern Conference behind the leadership of newly acquired free agent Kemba Walker and the aggressive play of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
The Celtics have found a rhythm similar to their 2018 Eastern Conference Finals run and show no plans of slowing down. Although their Finals MVP left the “6” for the 213, the champion Toronto Raptors have showed signs of stability, sitting at fourth in the Eastern Conference and working off a five-game win streak powered by the play of last year’s Most Improved Player of the Year winner Pascal Siakam and their floor general Kyle Lowry.
I look forward to the guard/forward match-up between Tatum and Siakam. As battle of the scorers, I look to see Tatum (22 points per game) and Siakem (25 ppg) each put on clinics to keep their team afloat. The Walker-Lowry matchup should be anticipated as well, as each will control the distribution of the ball while also likely giving themselves chances to decide the game with clutch shots.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Philadelphia 76ers – Giannis Antentokounmpo and the Bucks have emerged as the league’s best team after coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season and they get their first Christmas game on ABC this year because of it.
Last year’s MVP, Antentokounmpo is having another MVP-worthy season with 31 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists a game. The Sixers have all the talent to make another deep playoff run, but so far have been more inconsistent than anyone, including Chuck and Shaq, would like.
We know Giannis and the Bucks are going to come out and play, but can the Sixers maintain positive play to challenge Milwaukee’s skilled and long front court even while Joel Embiid is on the bench? The team tends to struggle when he is not on the floor. Look for the other alpha males of the team — Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris — to keep the game competitive and close, and look for Embiid to accept the challenge of playing against that lengthy Bucks’ front court.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors – The Rockets have seemingly found their groove in recent weeks and James Harden finally has a Robin that works well with his Batman-esque style on and off the court.
Russell Westbrook has averaged 24 points so far this season, but most importantly he has impacted the game Houston in ways only he, and not Hardan, can, pushing his near triple-double averages again (8 rebounds and 7 assists a game) while being a defensive presence along the perimeter. Meanwhile, Harden has been as consistently explosive as ever, averaging 39 points behind 13 free throw attempts a game.
The Warriors are struggling and near the bottom of the league due to a swift rebuild highlighted by an injury plague that has hit all of its stars. Stakes are lower in this mid-afternoon game than I suspect the NBA expected them to be when they first scheduled this one. Expect the Rockets to dominate this game, and do not be surprised if Harden explodes for another 50-point performance.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers – It’s the Battle of Los Angeles, round 2. Smartly, the NBA has once again placed this most-anticipated match in the most primo spot — prime-time on ABC and ESPN simultaneously — and unlike the season opener this game will feature all of the players you want to see.
With LeBron James listed as expected to play and Paul George healthy after missing the season’s first month, we finally get the ultimate showdown that we have been craving. LA will be as lit as ever as the Clippers’ franchise duo of George and Kawhi Leonard try to out-do the Lakers’ King James and Anthony Davis, but so much of this game will be decided by each team’s role players and reserves, which is where I’ll be paying most attention.
I want to see an unexpected hero develop from this game with a Christmas performance he’ll remember for a long time to come. Collectively, the team that gets the most from its bench will most likely win.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Denver Nuggets – Finishing the night off in the Rocky Mountain State, we have two teams with top tier talent and a lot to prove, but the Pelicans are still missing their most anticipated addition — No. 1 pick Zion Williamson — and they’ve digressed from being a playoff contender to likely preparing for another year in the lottery.
Sitting as the No. 2 team in the Western Conference currently, the Nuggets have been rolling on a six-game winning streak with Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic each looking like all-stars. I expect both Murray and Jokic to handle their business and perform at a high level. However, look out for New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram, who shouldn’t shy away from the spotlight of a Christmas Day game, and could power the Pelicans to a statement win.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media