Christmas Day NBA Preview
Writer: Caleb Akpan
The NBA has played games on Christmas Day for over 70 years. For sports fans, the holiday wouldn’t be the same without hoops and in 2019, the league offers another excellent slate of top-tier matchups….including a game at the legendary Madison Square Garden. Games have been tough to predict this year, with about 25 of 30 teams still in their respected conferences’ playoff races, but Christmas could prove to set the tone for the rest of the season.
Milwaukee Bucks @ New York Knicks
12:00 PM EST
The earliest game of the day will also probably be the least competitive. The Knicks are one of 5 teams in the league that don’t have 10 wins as of December 18. Their greatest player, Kristaps Porzingis, still has yet to play after tearing his ACL last eason. Meanwhile, the Bucks are already over 20 wins and currently second in the East. With a 27/13/6 statline, Giannis Antetokounmpo is firmly in the MVP race, and this game should give him the chance to up those numbers...if he plays all four quarters. This game will probably be a blowout, but at least that would give big basketball fans time to spend time with their families on Christmas morning.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Houston Rockets
3:00 PM EST
2018 MVP James Harden vs 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook. THIS is the kind of Christmas Day matchup you want to see. Surprisingly, the Rockets have struggled a bit this season, just getting back over .500 after being 14th in the West earlier this month. The Thunder have Westbrook leading them with triple-double average (20.7/10.7/10) once again and a record good for third in the West. A victory against OKC would provide Houston the statement win they need to truly jump start their season, and they’ll probably get it. Look for Harden and Westbrook to both go for triple-doubles and a big Chris Paul performance. CP3 tends to show up for big games like this one, as shown in last year’s playoffs. He’ll want to show national audiences that he’s still got it and that the Rockets are heading back to their 2018 season form.
Philadelphia 76ers @ Boston Celtics
5:30 PM EST
Last year, the 76ers/Celtics playoff matchup underwhelmed, with Boston taking care of Philadelphia in five games without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. On Opening Night, the C’s demolished Philly again in an 18-point game where the Sixers just never seemed to get it together. The Sixers’ response? Trade for Jimmy Butler to try and equal Boston’s star power. Now, Christmas Day will give the new-look squad their first chance to go at Boston and show they’re not your same Sixers. Both of these teams are right at the top half of the East, as expected, and another playoff matchup seems inevitable. This might be the toughest of all the matchups to predict, but Philly has something to prove - look for them to come out with a fire and try to spoil Boston’s holiday celebrations.
Los Angeles Lakers @ Golden State Warriors
8:00 PM EST
There’s always one game on Christmas that is must-see TV. Since he’s been in the league, those games have usually involved LeBron James and after signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, these big Christmas games have somehow gone to another level. Appropriately, LeBron’s first Christmas game will be against his greatest rival, the Golden State Warriors: still as stacked as ever, and that means that this game might disappoint. Expectations are high for a classic, but outside of James, most of the Lakers squad will have never played in as big of a game as this. Contrast that to Golden State’s big-game experience, and if the Dubs are focused, they could end up doing away with LA early. Let’s hope that a big LeBron performance keeps this one close.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Utah Jazz
10:30 PM EST
The Utah Jazz are 14th in the West going into December 19th’s slate of games, but they’re not as bad as that placement sounds at 14-17. The Western Conference is insanely competitive, and they could be at .500 by Christmas if they went on a winning streak. That would put them in a position to go above .500 at home against their old rival in Portland, but even if that isn’t the scenario, they could use a big win regardless of record. Portland is currently fifth in the West at 17-13 and while they’re not a Golden State-level powerhouse, they are a divisional rival for the Jazz, and that could mean something considering how tight the West is this season. Much like their playoff opponent from last season in Houston, Utah seems to be counting down the days until they get back into their 2018 form, and Christmas could be that time.