Nothing makes for a merry Christmas like a slew of meaningful NBA games.
We're in for a very merry Christmas.
Though the Association is no stranger to stockpiling dramatic matchups, December 25 is a date fans and pundits alike have had circled since the schedule was released.
From the hostility that still exists between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, to Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant waging battle at the Staples Center, to LeBron James and Kevin Durant leading the way in an NBA Finals rematch, there will be no shortage of compelling storylines to follow.
But which ones should we be following more closely? Which aspects of each contest are more crucial than everything else?
On a day where there is plenty of competitive chaos to embrace, knowing what you absolutely need to watch for is half the pleasant battle.
As well as the first step to ensuring that your Christmas be as entertaining and fulfilling as possible.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 24, 2012.
The Nets have won their first two matchups against the Celtics, yet the third contest between these two teams holds more meaning than either of the previous games.
Sure, the Celtics will be looking for their first win of this series, but this will also mark the first time that Boston and Brooklyn square off since the brawl that ensued just shy of a month of ago.
It was a battle royal that culminated in a handful of fines and a two-game suspension for purported instigator Rajon Rondo, whose 37-game double-digit assist streak was brought to an end after his early-second-quarter ejection.
Emotions will be running high.
Kris Humphries—who may still be sporting some battle scars—is no longer as integral a part of the Nets' game plan, yet any time he spends on the court opposite Rondo and Kevin Garnett is crucial to the outcome.
Remember, Rondo has already stated his suspension taught him nothing, so there is still cause for Humphries and the rest of the Nets to watch their backs.
It's also worth mentioning that Boston and Brooklyn are clinging to the Eastern Conference's final two playoff spots as both teams struggle to find their identity.
As such, will this game be a perpetual grudge match from wire to wire? Will impulsive passion supersede common sense once again? Will the increased meaning of this game allow it to spiral out of control?
We'll just have to wait and see.
Tipoff: Noon ET
I get it—Steve Nash is back. But Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant are in weight classes all their own.
The first time the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks met, 'Melo and company got the best of Kobe and crew.
Anthony dropped 22 first-quarter points en route to scoring 30 in 23 minutes, before leaving with a sprained left ankle. Bryant, by comparison, logged 44 minutes of burn on his way to scoring 31 points of his own.
But that was then, this is now. And yet now is shaping up to be a lot like then—for Bryant and Anthony, anyway.
Kobe has scored 30 or more points in eight straight games and has led the Lakers to four consecutive victories, two streaks he will look to continue when the Knicks take the floor in Hollywood.
That said, it's going to be a dogfight.
Anthony has dropped 30 or more points in six of his last eight games and has led New York to the Eastern Conference's second-beset record.
Toss in the fact that Anthony's 28.3 points per game this season are second to only Kobe's 29.7 and we're likely in for a hard-nosed scoring war from start to finish.
"He's (Anthony) a weight class above," Kobe said, referencing literal size. "But I know where to fight at."
Will Bryant manage to outscore 'Melo? Can he propel his team to a fifth-straight victory? Or will it be Anthony that steals the show in Tinseltown?
We'll find out soon enough.
Tipoff: 3 p.m. ET
There will be a bevy of things to watch for when the Miami Heat host the Oklahoma City Thunder, none more important than the matchup between Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Once again, both players are having MVP-caliber seasons after, once again, taking their games to new heights.
LeBron is currently averaging 25.4 points to go along with 6.8 assists and a career-high 8.5 rebounds per game. He's also converting on 54.2 percent of his field-goal attempts and shooting a 44.2 percent clip from downtown, both also career highs.
Most importantly, though? James' no foul streak.
Heading into the game against the Thunder, LeBron has not committed a personal foul on either end of the floor in over 250 minutes, a stretch that dates back six-plus games to the first quarter of a December 8 matchup against the New Orleans Hornets.
Of course it is. So is the fact that he's played top-notch defense all the while.
You know who's also impressive? Durant.
Oklahoma City's star forward has led a James Harden-less Thunder to the best record in the NBA. He's averaging 27.9 points per game and putting up career-highs in rebounds (8.4), assists (4.2), steals (1.5), blocks (1.3), field-goal percentage (52.1), three-point percentage (47.2) and free-throw percentage (90.4) per night as well.
Make no mistake, this matchup is going to determine the outcome of this game.
Both players are playing at extremely high levels, firing on all cylinders, and have proven to be the backbone of their respective franchises.
Who's of more value to their team, though? Can LeBron keep his foul-less streak alive? And will Durant's quest for an efficient 50/40/90 season remain intact?
The outcome of this finals rematch will answer all those questions.
Tipoff: 5:30 p.m. ET
Omer Asik will return to the Windy City for the first time since leaving the Chicago Bulls as the Houston Rockets look to win their second straight over this Derrick Rose-less squad.
Houston is riding a three-game winning streak and currently boasts the seventh-most potent offensive attack in the league, scoring at a rate of 108 points per 100 possessions.
Despite laying claim to victory over Chicago the first time, a sweep of the season-series will not come easy to James Harden and company. The Bulls are allowing just 100.7 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best mark in the league.
Which means we're in for a good ol' fashioned offense versus defense battle.
The Rockets are just 3-7 when scoring less than 100 points and the Bulls are just 4-8 when allowing more than 90 points. So something is going to have to give.
Harden and Jeremy Lin will look to torch Chicago early, but is Houston up to the task of scoring on one of the most impenetrable defenses in the league?
Better yet, are the Bulls prepared to stifle a suddenly resilient Rockets squad, one that has won 10 of its first 12 matchups against Eastern Conference teams?
Answers will be bestowed upon us before Christmas is out.
Tipoff: 8 p.m. ET
Plenty of people wrote off the Los Angeles Clippers and wrote in the Denver Nuggets prior to this season—meaning plenty of people were wrong.
Despite boasting one of the most balanced rosters in the NBA, the Nuggets find themselves clinging to the seventh-best record in the Western Conference. And their quest for continuity isn't going to get any easier in Los Angeles.
Though Denver is in possession of one of the most balanced dockets in the league, Chris Paul and the Clippers have proved to be the most balanced team. They are the only team in the league to be in the top five of both points scored (110.1) and points allowed (99.7) per 100 possessions.
Jamal Crawford is playing at a Sixth Man of the Year pace, Blake Griffin has not let his battered body slow him from averaging a double-double and, once again, Paul has emerged as an MVP candidate.
Los Angeles has the second-best record in the league and has won 13 straight games. Nine such victories have come by double-digit margins and the Clippers have allowed less than 100 points 11 times during this span.
Given that this team is no stranger to the inconsistencies of Lamar Odom and the injuries of one Chauncey Billups, that's overwhelmingly impressive.
But is this a level of supremacy the Clippers can maintain against a streaky Nuggets?
We're a heartbeat away from finding out.
Tipoff: 10:30 p.m. ET