VIDEO: LeBron James and the Miami Heat will help supply the Christmas Day fireworks
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It can’t possibly get much better than what the NBA has lined up for its fans on Christmas Day. Ten teams, five great matchups and an all-day basketball showcase on the biggest day of the year.
And we get to see it all unfold, game-by-fantastic-game. And it all starts with …
Keep an eye on: The visiting Bulls are a superstar down with Derrick Rose in street clothes, while the Nets will play without an All-Star of their own in Brook Lopez. But that won’t stop either one of these playoff combatants from a year ago from going after each other in the Christmas Day opener. Tom Thibodeau‘s Bulls never back down from a fight. And the Nets have to prove to themselves and the rest of the basketball world that they are better than what they’ve shown thus far.
It certainly doesn’t help matters when Nets coach Jason Kidd talks like this after losses, “We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because, when things get tough, do we just give in? And most of the time right now we do.” But the truth hurts, especially on Christmas. And right now the Nets aren’t playing up to their payroll or the standard so many people predicted they would when this group was assembled over the summer. What better day to turn things around?
Keep an eye on: As if the Knicks didn’t have enough to worry about, Carmelo Anthony rolled his left ankle early in the third quarter of Monday’s win over the Orlando Magic and did not return to the game. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll be available against a Thunder team that has been steamrolling the competition this season. Knicks coach Mike Woodson just got Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton back from injuries, he can hardly afford to lose Anthony with his job seemingly on the line every night. Anthony insisted he’ll be ready to go against the Thunder. “I don’t want to miss that game,” he said. “It’s Christmas Day at the Garden. I’ll be there. Hopefully, I’ll be there.”
You don’t have to worry about Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook showing up and balling out. They do it every night. One of the top scoring duos in the league this season, they rarely miss an opportunity to make an impression on the biggest stage. They are also still smarting from their first home loss of the season (Sunday against the Toronto Raptors) and the only way to remedy that for this ultra-competitive bunch is to take it out on the Knicks in their lone trip to Madison Square Garden this season.
Keep an eye on: Kobe Bryant relishes showdown games as much as any superstar has before, during and probably after his time in the league will have ended. So you know it’s particularly painful for the Los Angeles Lakers’ star to have to sit this one out against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. But that knee fracture will have Kobe stuck in his Christmas suit behind the bench. The Lakers have to continue to tread water with Kobe out for at least five more weeks and hope that they can stick around the Western Conference playoff chase during that time.
The Heat have health concerns of their own to consider with Dwyane Wade continuing the season-long monitoring of his knees. While he doesn’t have to worry about a back-to-back scenario for this game, the Heat have been extremely cautious with him thus far — he sat out Monday’s overtime win over the Hawks due to “general soreness.” That strategy is paying off, too, as the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week is averaging 26 points on 60 percent shooting from the floor in his last five games.
Keep an eye on: Dwight Howard has to be enjoying this extended stretch of not being at the center of each and every controversial headline surrounding the NBA. After nearly two straight years of non-stop drama, the Houston Rockets’ big man is having a solid bounce-back season alongside fellow All-Star James Harden. A marquee matchup against a future Hall of Famer like Tim Duncan should be the perfect fuel to get Howard’s competitive juices flowing on this day. Duncan, after all, is the man who overtook Howard last year as the center on the All-NBA first team.
Finals heroes Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have not ascended to superstardom, as some might have imagined they would after the way both men played against the Heat to end last season. It’s just not the “Spurs’ Way” for youngsters to take on roles bigger than the ones Gregg Popovich has designed for them. Both Leonard and Green have struggled a bit amid the increased expectations this season. But it would be nice to see them both in the starting lineup against the Rockets, if only to bring some sense of normal to a season that has had little of it around the league.
VIDEO: All 10 Teams Of Christmas
Keep an eye on: A fitting end to a day loaded with this sort of action is undoubtedly having two of the league’s most exciting and entertaining teams dueling before arguably the best crowd in the league. The Warriors, with Andre Iguodala finally back in the lineup and comfortable, need all the quality wins they can get after getting off to a shaky start this season. The Warriors’ turnovers and oft-times porous defensive effort has not allowed them to take full advantage of the position they had assumed after last season’s playoff run. They’ve been to careless with all of it far too often.
The Warriors will face a Clippers team with similar issues. While Chris Paul continues to operate at a MVP level and Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford supply their usual All-Star-level production, the Clippers (believe it or not) miss J.J. Redick‘s presence on the floor. Paul needs a backcourt mate capable of spreading the floor on a consistent basis in order to take full advantage of the Clippers’ assets. Their defensive shortcomings, however, remain one of the biggest concerns for coach Doc Rivers. But you knew it would take more time for them to get adjusted on that side of the ball. And to be honest, that should be a moot point against the Warriors. The Christmas Day nightcap figures to be an offensive shootout anyway!