Because the NBA is inherently predictable—at least relative to other professional sports—the league's Christmas Day games rarely feature a dud.
Since embracing Christmas as their version of the NFL's Thanksgiving—the NBA has had Christmas games since its inception, but the tradition has really only become a true staple over the past decade or so—one could easily argue that the NBA's holiday has been far superior to its longer-lasting counterpart's. There aren't any yearly commitments to the woebegone Detroit Lions or Tony Romo fourth-quarter interceptions in David Stern's league.
Well, at least there weren't.
Stern's final year as commissioner on Christmas Day features arguably the Association's worst slate in recent memory. Four of the 10 participants are at .500 or worse, and numerous injuries to top stars threaten to siphon the intrigue from some of the matchups—especially early in the day. The plight of the NBA Eastern Conference has officially ruined a holiday.
But let us discuss the alternative here. Sure, these games aren't great shakes, but how many years can you tell relatives you made a donation on their behalf to the Human Fund without someone in your damn family finally catching on? TVLand is bound to get Seinfeld eventually; Great Aunt Susan is not going to be happy when she finds out about your malfeasance.
So, with the alternative being lying to your family, I suggest watching NBA games. All day. Here's a look at how you can do that.
|Chicago at Brooklyn||12:00 PM||ESPN||WatchESPN||BKN 88, CHI 82|
|Oklahoma City at New York||2:30 PM||ABC||WatchABC||OKC 107, NY 93|
|Miami at LA Lakers||5:00 PM||ABC||WatchABC||MIA 104, LAL 87|
|Houston at San Antonio||8:00 PM||ESPN||WatchESPN||SA 101, HOU 96|
|LA Clippers at Golden State||10:30 PM||ESPN||WatchESPN||LAC 114, GS 108|
Christmas Day Storylines
So...How Hard Is Everyone Pressuring Their Families to Eat Between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.?
If we wanted to create an extensive analogy comparing the NBA schedule to Christmas dinner, well, Brooklyn-Chicago is the creamed corn you eat only so your aunt doesn't feel bad. Or the five-minute conversation you have with your 32-year-old cousin whose greatest joy is his Magic cards. Or the whole anything that doesn't involve the giving or receiving of presents.
Even when the NBA announced the Christmas Day schedule, Brooklyn-Chicago was never going to be an aesthetically pleasing contest. Both sides were expected to be among the league leaders in defensive efficiency, squads filled team-wide toughness and 94-88 final scores. But basketball doesn't always have to be filled with whirring passes, corner three-pointers and rim runs.
Two defensive-minded, good teams can and do put on many of the season's best games. Unfortunately, this game is a dumpster fire, and it's a damned shame.
The expected challengers to the Miami throne out East are well below .500 heading into their matchup.
Brooklyn has been a wreck since the opening tip. Jason Kidd looks wildly overmatched and half-dead in his first stint as a head coach. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce lost a step-and-a-half on their trip from Boston to the borough. And it hasn't helped matters that injuries have ravaged this roster, though one could have expected that considering the age of the core players.
Nearly every major figure has missed an extended stretch of games. The only two players who have appeared in every game are Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston, which is, like, kind of a problem. Even when good things are starting to happen—you know, like a short winning streak and the slow return of key veteran cogs—one big slap in the face changes everything.
Brook Lopez's season-ending foot injury kills any chance the Nets had of coming back and being a contender. The East is dreadful, so they may wind up sneaking into the playoffs. They're just not having an impact without their best player.
For all of the criticism Lopez rightfully gets about his rebounding struggles, he has developed into one of the league's best two-way bigs. Per SportVU, Lopez was the league's third-best rim-protecting player before going down—ahead of even Roy Hibbert.
The Bulls, somehow, are more depressing. Derrick Rose's season-ending knee injury was the first damper to the holiday parade, and how Chicago has responded has somehow been even more disappointing.
A season after bucking up and earning the No. 5 seed despite Rose being out all year and a rash of injuries, Tom Thibodeau's squad has cratered. The Bulls are 4-11 since Rose's injury, a calamity on offense and not even all that great defensively. They sit outside the playoff race in the East, making this right about the perfect time to work through some of that holiday nonsense.
How Badly Will the Thunder and Heat Defeat the Knicks and Lakers?
Answer: probably by lots and lots.
While not quite as dispiriting as Brooklyn-Chicago, the day's second and third matchups aren't exactly great shakes either. The Thunder roll into Madison Square Garden with their nine-game winning streak just snapped by the Raptors, but there may be no more feared team in basketball at the moment.
Russell Westbrook has worked his way out of his early shooting slump, averaging 23.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists over the his past five games. Durant, again leading the league in scoring, could become the eighth player in NBA history to average 28-8-5 if his assist totals inch up a little bit.
With Kendrick Perkins' minutes on the slow decline and Steven Adams' on the rise and Jeremy Lamb doing his job, this Oklahoma City squad may not even need the oft-predicted move for a bench scoring threat.
The Knicks, on the other hand, yiiiiiiiiiikes. It seems you cannot go a day without the latest controversy enveloping this team. One day they're firing Mike Woodson, the next they're trading for Kyle Lowry, the next James Dolan is putting the kibosh on such a move because of the scorn he'll receive for dealing future assets.
At 9-18, we have enough of a sample. This isn't a good basketball team, though Tyson Chandler's return may help push them toward mediocrity. Maybe a classic Melo Game (assuming he plays) is resting in there somewhere and we get a closer-than-expected contest. I just wouldn't expect much from a team that's gone out of its way to immolate itself thus far.
And then there's the Heat.
Not only does Miami receive the indignity of having to travel on Christmas as an NBA champion, it also has to face a Lakers squad whose infirmary rivals any in the league.
Kobe Bryant is obviously the biggest and boldest omission from the lineup, and he's joined by the Steves (Nash and Blake) and Jordan Farmar. Los Angeles' guard rotation was so depleted it had to sign Kendall Marshall from the D-League just to have a natural ball-handler.
We might wind up seeing a classic Heat game where LeBron and Co. toy with an undermanned opponent for 43 minutes before going into warp speed to close it out. It would neither shock me nor be all that egregious an offense. But, either way, meh.
Can the Western Conference Save Christmas?
In 1988, John R. Cherry III and Jim Varney told the story of an American hero named Ernest. Despite all his shortcomings and wacky hijinks—oh, how those hijinks were just so wacky—Ernest was a kindhearted fellow whose greatest joy in life was bringing that feeling to others. When he learned of the dastardly imprisonment of Santa Claus in a rogue scheme to bring down the most wonderful of all holidays, he sets out to save Santa, find a replacement and save Christmas.
More wacky hijinks, followed by a happy ending, followed by credits. For one and all, and to all a good night.
I tell this heartwarming story about the greatest biopic of an American hero ever created to inform you that playing the role of Ernest in 2013 will be the NBA's Western Conference. Barring some unforeseen developments, most basketball fans will be stuck in a mediocrity malaise when prime-time programming is due to commence.
We will dutifully watch these because the alternative (spending more time with the family) is simply out of the question. But we will not enjoy it—unless Bargs does something stupid again. Then we will enjoy it immensely. Actually, they should just have #BargsCam as a special Christmas treat.
Alas, should we survive the stirring family conversation and mediocre basketball, the NBA's not-awful conference should reward us with two thrilling nightcaps. Assuming Gregg Popovich doesn't go all Scrooge, the Spurs should be back at full strength when they play a quietly elite Houston team.
The Rockets have quietly been viewed through skeptical lenses all season long—which is at least partially attributable to the undercurrent of dislike for Dwight Howard—but the numbers show we should be paying far more attention.
They're working at a differential consistent with a championship team. Keep in mind they've been doing this without full health in their guard rotation and with Omer Asik's lower lip planted in the full outward and pouty position.
San Antonio, being that it is San Antonio, is just very good at basketball. Top-10 offensive efficiency, top-five defensive efficiency. Wash, rinse, repeat. Manu Ginobili's resurgence has atoned somewhat for Tim Duncan's down year, while the team's young players continue feeling out what their new role is.
The teams' first matchup was a fun, well-played matchup that came down to the last minute. Assuming everyone plays, this should be a similar outcome.
And things only get better from there, as Christmas gets capped off with the league's two most entertaining teams squaring off. Only people who hate fun and puppies and leftover Christmas dinner aren't excited for this matchup. Anything can and will happen. Steph Curry could go for 50, Blake Griffin could leap over David Lee's forehead, Andrew Bogut and Matt Barnes could get into a WWE-style tables, ladders and chairs match at half court.
Warriors-Clippers is the big gift your parents make you wait to open as you rummage through socks and books and other crap. Brooklyn-Chicago, you are the bag of generic-brand socks. Clippers-Warriors, you are the plasma-screen TV.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
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