5 Things to Look Forward to on NBA Christmas Day 2013
Injuries have wreaked havoc on the NBA's 2013 Christmas Day schedule, unfortunately, but there are still plenty of reasons to tune in.
Despite spraining his ankle on Monday night, Carmelo Anthony sounds optimistic about his availability for the Xmas clash between his New York Knicks and Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder at 2:30 p.m. ET. Assuming he's able to suit up, we'll be treated to a head-to-head duel between the league's two top scorers.
And while Brook Lopez's broken foot, Derrick Rose's torn meniscus and Kobe Bryant's fractured left knee have stripped some of the luster away from the Brooklyn Nets-Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers matchups, both games will still be jam-packed with must-watch storylines. (LeBron James, meet Nick "Swaggy P" Young.)
Things should really start heating up in the evening, as we tip off with a battle for Texas supremacy between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs at 8 p.m ET. In the final game of the night, we'll see the Western Conference's top two point guards going mano-a-mano as the Los Angeles Clippers face off against the Golden State Warriors.
Despite the litany of injuries, here's a glass-half-full view of what NBA fans can look forward to on Christmas Day.
Note: All statistics and records are current through games played on Dec. 23.
In no particular order...
Roy Hibbert's Twitter Account
Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert is none too pleased that his team won't be taking the court for a national audience on Christmas.
When asked about the Pacers' exclusion from the NBA's Christmas Day schedule, Hibbert replied, "I'm going to leave that one alone," per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.
He has every right to be upset. While the nine-win Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks each get a Christmas game, the 23-win Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers will be sitting at home. As Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix suggests, the NBA should just offer Pacers-Blazers as a pay-per-view special in lieu of the injury-ravaged early games.
Complaining About Christmas Jerseys
The short-sleeved Christmas Day jerseys unveiled by the NBA earlier this fall already have some detractors.
Before the Miami Heat's Dec. 20 game against the Sacramento Kings, LeBron James told reporters that the team's shooters "are already upset about" the special uniforms, per the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman."I can't have my shooters out there worrying about some sleeves and not shooting the ball," James said.
It's a stone-cold lock that at least one shooter will inevitably blame the sleeved abominations for a subpar performance on Christmas Day. If only Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd or New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson could explain away their teams' respective struggles so easily.
Chicago Bulls vs. Brooklyn Nets: A 2013 Playoff Rematch
Game information: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
No Christmas Day matchup has been more devastated by injuries than the 12 p.m. game between the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets.
Since losing Derrick Rose to a torn meniscus in late November, the Bulls have completely collapsed. They went 4-11 in their first 15 games sans D-Rose and only remain in the playoff hunt due to the Eastern Conference's unyielding mediocrity.
The Nets, meanwhile, can't fall back on such a simple excuse. The highest-paid roster in the league touts a 9-18 record and just lost starting center Brook Lopez to a season-ending broken foot, leaving little room for optimism in Brooklyn.
While this Bulls-Nets matchup appeared far more intriguing a month ago, there's still reason to tune in. For one, it'll be a rematch of the only 2013 first-round playoff series that went seven games—something the Nets assuredly haven't forgotten after suffering a crippling Game 7 loss at home.
Nate Robinson isn't around to rescue Chicago this time around, but the Bulls continue to remain frisky under the leadership of Tom Thibodeau. Expect this to be a hard-nosed, low-scoring slugfest between two teams desperate to turn their respective seasons around.
OKC Thunder vs. New York Knicks: A (Hopeful) Clash of the Scoring Titans
Game information: 2:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Let's all take a minute to pray to the basketball gods that Carmelo Anthony's sprained left ankle won't prevent him from suiting up on Christmas Day. If it does, we'll be robbed of a mano-a-mano showdown between the league's two top scorers.
Anthony injured the ankle in the third quarter against the Orlando Magic on Monday night, finishing with 19 points in 24 minutes. Following the game, he expressed optimism about his availability on Wednesday, telling reporters (via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News): "It's Christmas in the Garden. I don't want to miss that game."
If he can't go, the New York Knicks stand little chance against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, who sit at 22-5 heading into Christmas Day. When 'Melo went down, the Knicks nearly unraveled against an eight-win Orlando squad; can you imagine what the Thunder would do to them?
Assuming Anthony does play, however, NBA fans will be treated to the league's top two scorers facing off head-to-head. Durant, the three-time scoring champion, currently leads the league with 28.1 points per game this year, while Anthony, who edged K.D. for the crown last year, ranks second with 26.3.
Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix summed up the impact of Carmelo's injury well: "A Carmelo-less Christmas would seal this year as the 'Christmas Day Schedule That Looked Great In August But Sucks Now.' "
Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James Meets Swaggy P
Game information: 5 p.m. ET, ABC
Two weeks ago, the main storyline for this Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers Christmas Day game appeared to be another duel between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
The basketball gods thwarted those plans, however, when Bryant suffered a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his left knee against the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 17. He's expected to be out for roughly six weeks with the injury, leaving the Lakers in dire straits against Miami.
Here's the consolation prize: Instead, we'll get to watch the world's best player, James, take on the player who irrationally believes himself to be best in the world, Nick "Swaggy P" Young.
Anyone who attempts a 720 layup in a non-preseason NBA game earns the title of "wild card" by default. On any given night, Young could go off for 30-plus points, shoot 2-of-26 or fall anywhere in between on that spectrum.
Until Bryant returns, Young assumes the role as the Lakers' No. 1 perimeter scoring option. He'll almost assuredly attempt to go shot for shot against James during this game, which should result in no shortage of hilarity.
Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs: A Battle of the Bigs
Game information: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
After starting the day with three potentially lackluster matchups, the NBA's Christmas Day schedule will finally heat up at 8 p.m. ET when the Houston Rockets take on the San Antonio Spurs.
Unlike the day's first three games, which feature two postseason locks in total, both the Rockets and Spurs appear destined for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. If the postseason started today, in fact, Houston would be travelling to San Antonio to kick off a first-round series.
Given the playoff implications here, both teams should come out with guns blazing. The Spurs will look to out-execute the Rockets, while Houston will rely on its pace-and-space offense to lead the way against San Antonio.
The real draw, however, will be seeing if Houston's Dwight Howard can hold his own against the Spurs' crafty veteran, Tim Duncan. Whichever player wins the battle in the paint could end up being the decisive factor between the two teams on Christmas.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors: "Best in the West" PG Duel
Game information: 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The NBA saved its best for last on Christmas Day, as the two best point guards in the West will square off in the nightcap between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Since joining the Clippers right before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Chris Paul has reclaimed the "best point guard in the league" throne rather convincingly. Of all players with at least 100 minutes under their belts during the 2012-13 season, CP3 ranked third in the league in both PER (26.4) and win shares (13.9), per Basketball-Reference.
Stephen Curry, meanwhile, established himself as the league's best shooter last season by breaking Ray Allen's single-season record for made three-point field goals. Curry lit the Bay Area on fire by drilling 272 threes in 2012-13, three more than Allen knocked down during his record-setting 2005-06 season.
When it comes to pure point guard ability, Paul crushes Curry in the head-to-head showdown. Throw in their respective shooting prowess, however, and the winner of that matchup becomes exceptionally more debatable.
Both the Clippers and Warriors have plenty of talent outside their dynamic point guards, but the CP3-Curry duel will be the main attraction in the final Christmas Day game of 2013.