As always, the NBA Christmas day schedule features 5 games, some more interesting than others.
Philadelphia 76ers @ New York Knicks, 12 p.m. ET
Two teams with a bright future, and what might be a rekindling of an old NBA rivalry, which is rooted in the high school basketball rivalry between the two cities. The Knicks are enjoying the post-Carmelo Anthony era, led by Kristaps Porzingis, who is averaging 24.7 points per game, and shows that not everything Phil Jackson did as the franchise’s president was bad. On the other side, the Sixers are sliding, losing five in a row and 9 out of their last 10, finding themselves four games under .500. If Joel Embiid will play (questionable per latest reports), the Sixers will get someone who might already be the best center in the NBA. However, the real treat for the eyes is Ben Simmons, a “redshirted” rookie, who is doing pretty much everything except hitting 3 pointers. The problems in the backcourt for the Sixers seem to be the next thing to address before this group, barring any injuries, becomes one of the best in the league.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors, 3 p.m. ET
The ‘Clasico’ of the NBA these last few years, giving us a Warriors team that lost at home by 15 points as a way to prepare for the Cavs. The loss ended an 11-game winning streak, so it’s hard to say the Warriors are worried. The Warriors don’t have the best record in the NBA, but it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t think they’re the best team in the league. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are having identical seasons (26.3 points per game for both, very similar shooting percentages), while Klay Thompson, Omri Casspi and Nick Young have been the deadlier executioners from beyond the arc. The Cavaliers got over their early bumps, and although their defense is still an issue, they’ve won 19 of their last 21 games, with LeBron James looking as the favorite for the MVP award. But the team’s most important asset is the bench unit, which means the Cavs need Dwyane Wade and Jeff Green to be on point in the most difficult game of the year.
Washington Wizards @ Boston Celtics, 5:30 p.m. ET
Last season these two teams gave us perhaps the best playoff series in the postseason. This season? The Washington Wizards are the epitome of inconsistency, with John Wall struggling with his shooting, Otto Porter struggling with the pressure of his contract and Marcin Gortat slowly showing his age. Meanwhile, despite Gordon Hayward’s early exit from this season, the Celtics are leading the East thanks to the best defense in the NBA. Yes, even with Kyrie Irving on the team. He’s leading 5 players in double figures while averaging 24.9 points per game. If the Wizards are to be the grinch that stole Xmas for the Bostonians, they need Wall to play like last season, and for their bench to step up.
Houston Rockets @ Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 p.m. ET
Potentially, the best and most enjoyable game we’re going to have on Christmas. There’s a rivalry thing going on, there is plenty of star power, and there’s the basketball that can be electric. While for the Rockets it’s individualism by design that flows through a certain team-play, for OKC it is pure individualism. The Thunder aren’t in that bad of a shape anymore, winning 4 in a row and 6 of their last 7. But their basketball can be painful to watch, and each week it’s someone else from the big three that’s at fault. Meanwhile the Rockets have the best record in the league and the best offense in the NBA, led by James Harden, averaging 32.5 points and 9.8 assists per game. Chris Paul is taking a backseat on this ride, and it seems to be working well for everyone.
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30 p.m. ET
No matter how bad the Lakers are, they’ll always be on telly when it’s Christmas day. This time? They’re hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves, winning 20 games in December (!!!), 4th in the West right now. Yes, their defense isn’t Thibs-esque yet, with Jimmy Butler struggling in the clutch, Karl-Anthony Towns having trouble on defense and Andrew Wiggins just not being what he was supposed to be. But it’s working. This team has a bench for once, toughness and experience, while the Lakers are figuring out that exciting youngsters doesn’t immediately put you back on track. It’d be especially difficult if Brandon Ingram, currently on day-to-day, doesn’t play.