If there’s one thing the NBA has gotten right over the years, it has to be Christmas Day basketball. Once the present giving’s done what better way to spend the day than watching some of the best teams take to the hard court?
In fairness, bumping the schedule up to five games might be a bit excessive, but that’s what we’ve got this year. Here then is a quick bite-size rundown for you to devour before tip-off.
Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets
12:00 PM ET
Tradition meets glamor in the Barclays Center as the Celtics (13-13) meet the Nets (14-12) to kick-start the 13-hour (or so) basketball marathon.
The Celtics have struggled so far this season, but are managing to keep a head above water in terms of the playoff race. This is the sort of team that will be dangerous come April.
Brooklyn meanwhile started hot but has been off the boil of late. Deron Williams and Co. will be looking to right the ship sooner rather than later, and a win over a divisional rival would be a big festive treat.
Odds: Brooklyn is favorites (-4.5) with the over/under at 189.
Take: Brooklyn – The Nets broke a three-game skid with a win over Philadelphia on Sunday. Expect there to be some joy in the borough this Christmas, as the Nets win outright and cover the spread. Take the total to go over.
New York Knicks @ Los Angeles Lakers
3:00 PM ET
The first of two Christmas Day games at Staples Center sees New York (20-7) visit the Lakers (13-14) in one of the most high-profile games the sport has to offer.
The two sides are authors of the biggest stories in basketball so far this year; the Knicks for their remarkable start to the year and the Lakers for a disastrous first two months. All eyes will be on this one.
New York defeated the Lakers 116-107 on Dec. 13, and will be looking for a season sweep over the Hollywood side. The Lakers have Steve Nash back and are winners of four straight. The team will be looking to build a Clippers-like win streak and thrust its way back into the postseason picture.
Odds: The Knicks may have dusted off a pair of losses with a win over Minnesota on Sunday but the Lakers open this one as three-point favorites. The over/under is a whopping 212.
Take: New York – Times are tough in Hollywood at the moment, and the Knicks have a lot of firepower to contend with. Expect this to be another in a long line of Laker headlines, with New York covering the spread. Take the total to go under; no matter how offensively minded these sides are, 212 is a huge number.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Miami Heat
5:30 PM ET
The biggest game of the day, and perhaps the season so far, sees Oklahoma City (21-5) travel to South Beach to meet Miami (18-6) in a rematch of the 2012 NBA Finals.
So far this season, the Thunder has been on top form, nonchalantly dismissing any letdown as a result of James Harden moving on to Houston. The Heat has had a few slip-ups along the way – most notably a loss to Washington – and hasn’t looked engaged every night, but there’s no way LeBron and Co. won’t be up for the visit of Durant and Co.
This one promises to be an absolute barnburner.
Odds: The Heat is three-point favorites at home, with the over/under at 204½.
Take: Oklahoma City – The best in the west tops the best in the east in this one, as Kevin Durant and Co. out rebound and outlast the Heat. Take the Thunder to cover the spread – as it has done in 16 of 26 games this season – with the total going over.
Houston Rockets @ Chicago Bulls
8:00 PM ET
After the double-helping of Knicks-Lakers and Thunder-Heat, there’s a huge possibility that the remaining fixtures on the schedule will be a letdown. Don’t bet on it.
Houston (14-12) visits the United Center to take on Chicago (15-11) in a game that could go either way. The Rockets are hardly the bastions of consistency this season, but they do have the firepower to hand with a Bulls side that is hanging in there itself. A somewhat tepid start to the season has been replaced by better play and a team effort, as Tom Thibodeau’s side awaits the return of Derrick Rose.
Odds: Chicago is 4½-point favorites at home, with the over/under at 195½.
Take: Chicago – Gritty, edgier, and workmanlike, the Bulls have been impressive of late. However, take the Rockets to cover the spread, and the total to go under.
Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers
10:30 PM ET
Finally, Denver (15-13) makes the trip west to take on the Clippers (21-6) at Staples Center. Be sure to spare a thought for the arena crew that has to change the court panels between the Lakers and Clippers games.
The Clippers are the talk of the Pacific Division, an up there in terms of the Western Conference. The high-scoring side, including its high-scoring bench, has added stability and solid play to a highlight reel of action, and look like the best team in franchise history.
Denver suffered at the hands of the schedulers early this season, with far too many games on the road. Chalk another road game up here. A win would really set the Nuggets – an underrated side this season – on the right track.
After meeting on Christmas day, these two get to do it all again on New Year’s day, this time in Denver.
Odds: The Clippers open as favorites (-8), with the over/under at 204.
Take: LA Clippers – The high-flying Los Angeles side will give the Staples Center something to cheer about with a straight up win over the Nuggets, covering the spread at the same time. Take the total to go under.
Happy holidays, folks!