NBA Spotlight: The Top 5 Christmas Day Performances Fans Would Love to See
It's been a truly surreal year replete with Olympic miracles, heart-wrenching athletic realizations, and one impending then improbable apocalypse.
What other surprises might you still have in store for us, 2012? Whatever they are, don't forget NBA fans on Christmas Day.
Please —as the most hyped year since 2000— give us substance in the form of an awe-inspiring performance by one or more of the NBA's best.
If you need some suggestions, 2012, here are some good ones.
5) Chris Mass Giving
Chris Paul leads one of the most balanced scoring squads in recent years, and his assist totals this year show off his greatest gift: getting his teammates the ball right where they need it.
From Blake Griffin to DeAndre Jordan to Lamar Odom and a soon-to-be-back Grant Hill, Paul's team is filled with great instincts, off-the-ball movement, athletic ability and long, long arms.
The Clippers face the Nuggets for the first time this season on Christmas Day—a team that is their true rival in terms of balanced offensive scoring—hoping to prove their top-to-bottom roster is a sterling representation of that most gracious of Christmas traits: sharing.
Mr. Paul will make this happen. The only question is how good will the performance be?
For NBA fans on a such a special day, a dream showing for CP3 would see the man score around 20 points, notch 5 steals and absolutely confound the Denver defense with 20+ assists en route to a sizable Los Angeles victory.
Along the way perhaps six Clippers will reach double figures—this is highly likely considering four average in double figures, and two are only three-tenths of a percentage point off.
For the naysayers, that would be Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler with 9.9 and 9.7 points per game, respectively.
4) Lin-Ing on Christmas
With such an ardent following, Jeremy Lin has had to start the season under the searing spotlight of global recognition. Add to that the shadow of Yao Ming's put-China-on-the-NBA-map career in Houston, and you see the extent of the young point guard's extreme need to prove his, perhaps, premature super-stardom.
Still, the kid has crazy talent, and, most importantly, the confidence to step up in relatively large games, like the massively televised Christmas Day game on ESPN versus the Chicago Bulls.
After beating Chicago by an unnecessarily close margin back in mid-November with Lin having a rather horrid shooting night (going 2-for-9 with four points plus five turnovers), Houston needs their point guard of the future to show up big on a big day versus a team that will have the best point guard in the league back soon enough.
Lin can rise to this challenge, as he has before. Check for 30+ points, nine assists and only a couple turnovers to get the worst doubters back on board a bit.
Those stats earned in fiery reminiscence with more than a few fearless forays to the hoop, and several tide-changing triples to pull out of the abyss of an early-season shooting slump (FG% of .380 through December), will give Lin a necessary boost to his fans, and, more importantly, to himself leading into the second half of the season.
3) First Meeting
There are no catchy titles, no on-court Christmas cheer and, definitively, no love lost here.
Oklahoma City's December 25th road matchup with their season-ending, defending champion, even-odds nemesis, the Miami Heat, will be prideful, touchy and intense like a quarter-speed viewing of an atomic explosion.
Though the Thunder are markedly different due to the departure of Heat-cooler James Harden, the team has, literally, always been in the hands of one man: Kevin Durant.
The pain, the purpose, the pressure is all there for the Thunder's indomitable leader and he revels in it.
After a few Finals' losses in which the outcome was decided by six points or fewer, namely Games 2, 3 and 4, Durant, who averaged 28.33 PPG in those losses, could and should have scored more.
Sharing is great around the holidays, but in order to beat the Heat, Durant has to inspire fear in the hearts of his enemy by way of dominant personal offense.
For the man-child who became the youngest scoring leader in NBA history, this means a Christmas Day filled with deep, un-guardable triples, unnatural finesse for easy close-in buckets and soft mid-range jumpers coming after a seven-footer-shouldn't-be-doing-that crossover at the top of the key.
Sure, Bosh, Battier, as well as Joel Anthony and Josh Harrellson, will get their shot at defending KD, but come on, is he not one of the most —if not the most— un-guardable players in NBA history? All defenders usually see are his arms or one of his knees in their chest.
So a Christmas gift performance from Durant to NBA fans could read something like this: 50+ points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals.
If anything at all could lessen the Heat's confidence, pending another Finals matchup, a performance like this could and should.
2) L.A. Holiday
All right, Kobe Bryant is 34 years old.
Yes he is, and he's averaging nearly 28 points per game and shooting one of the highest percentages of his career at nearly 49 percent from the floor through 18 games.
The great-on-paper Lakers may be having Heat-like team chemistry woes as this season's progressed, but one thing the Lakers do more often than not when number 24 strikes with a nasty vengeance is win.
And sitting dejectedly under .500 (9-13) after 22 games is scaring the Lakers Nation, the administration, the coaches, the players and, most especially, Mr. Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant.
The team's frustrations of late have noticeably begun to pick at a scab Bryant hasn't touched since D'Antoni and Nash were on the opposite ends of the court, knocking out a mediocre Lakers squad with a post-Shaq identity crisis. Check out Bryant's gushing post-game comments following their recent woeful loss to the Cavaliers.
Bottom line: This bleeding has to stop while the season is young.
All these dire December games culminate in a tough Christmas Day matchup with the league-beating Knicks at the Staples Center — a tell-tale meeting for pre-season Finals favorites. If the Lakers can't find some cohesion in their current game plan by Christmas Eve, the team should just notice the wintery on-court demeanor of the NBA's greatest assassin —and get him the #@$ ball.
Though predominantly at Madison Square Garden, the greatest scorers of the last 20 years have repeatedly shown the Knicks' defense no love. Bryant, the ultimate showman, dropped an otherworldly 61 on them back in 2009.
So what do Christmas Day, the Lakers' losing record, teammate injuries and the New York Knicks all have in common as far as Bryant's concerned? What else, but pure motivation for the legendary alumnus of Lower Merion High School.
At a stage in his career, so similar to Jordan, where finding that extra spark is everything, this Christmas game may prove a perfect convergence of events.
A striking holiday line that any basketball purist would love to envision from Kobe is 55+ points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
It wouldn't be perfect of course without at least one third-row-deep triple shot like a brilliantly arced laser beam to the bottom of the net, or, one of a million crossovers, hesitations, jukes-and-dribbles, back-to-the-basket, turnaround moves that are just further proof of this man owning the best NBA footwork since Michael Jordan.
1) Happiest Time of the Year
Christmas is about sharing, caring, giving and receiving. On the court, it's hard not to say that Heat point-forward LeBron James does not epitomize all that and much, much more.
One of the few players in the league who does just as much stat-wise as he does in not-on-paper intangibles, the Chosen One became the champion this year by defeating all comers with a breathless, smothering defense and a brilliant, assertive offense.
The last step to get to the throne saw James' Heat face off with the Thunder, and although the Heat won 4-1 in the series, Miami knew that the Thunder's thirst for the ultimate prize had only been whetted that much more.
Now, on a day filled with peace and prosperity, the Heat and Thunder Christmas Day rematch will relive a bit of the furious battle fought between these amazingly talented teams.
Nothing's changed for James, who was quoted at the end of the Olympics saying, "...who I was and who I became in this last year, it's a big turnaround. That's what helped me get those accomplishments. And I just didn't take anything for granted." (interview with ESPN, transcribed by Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel, Aug. 20, 2012)
As far as the Heat's season has already gone, James is still taking nothing for granted.
Oh, the Thunder are in trouble.
Passes to Ray Allen for treys, alley oops to Dwyane Wade on the baseline, soaring hammer dunks on the break, vicious blocks and momentous rebounds are all in store for a Christmas game that could cement James' place in Christmas basketball lore.
James' stat line: 40+ points, 15 rebounds, 12 assists, four blocks, three steals and one turnover.
Of course, he doesn't really need to do this for them to win, but a monster triple-double, stat-filler on Christmas Day would be a first, right? Wrong, it's been done before by one Cleveland Cavalier named LeBron James on Christmas Day 2010 (27 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals in a 96-80 Lakers beat down).
So, James has already done it and looks to take nothing for granted in a rematch with what is likely the hungriest-to-win-a-title squad in the league.
Unfortunately for the Thunder—barring a major offensive explosion by Durant—the Heat haven’t lost their championship swagger; and right now there is definitely only one king.
2012: Year of the Christmas Day NBA Miracle
During the season of perpetual hope, no matter the true outcomes of the aforementioned matchups, all should be thankful to be to together and sharing the love of family and friends.
And to everyone touched by the strong youthful spirit of sport —from the child trying to shoot at the moon to the ex-high school athlete knocking down jumpers in the park to the best NBA players raining them down under the bright lights— let's not forget to feel grateful for every moment we spend playing this simple, beautiful game of basketball.
Thank you, 2012.