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NBA Christmas Day 2013 Matchups Lose Steam with Injuries to Key Players

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NBA Christmas Day 2013 Matchups Lose Steam with Injuries to Key Players
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NBA fans can usually wake up Christmas morning to a slate of great basketball around the clock. Over on the West Coast, it starts at 9 a.m. PT and runs throughout the day on ESPN and network television.

Christmas is usually a time where many teams will evaluate their progress from the beginning of the season to start making adjustments until the All-Star break. It's when most casual fans will begin tuning in so that they don't get lost in animated water cooler debates, and the slate of games offered on Christmas Day usually produces some of the league's most compelling storylines and gives a glimpse of some future playoff matchups.

In this regard, Christmas Day 2013 will be a bit of a bummer: Three of the matchups slated for the NBA's biggest regular-season ratings boon seem to be thoroughly one-sided. The two exceptions aren't going to make it to network television. How did such a promising slate in the preseason turn into an old-fashioned fruitcake? I'll cover some ground and provide a brief preview for each game, along with a broadcast schedule and prediction. All lines courtesy of Sportsbook.ag, retrieved Dec. 24.

 

Game 1: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets (-3) (Noon ET, ESPN)

The Derrick Rose-less Bulls face off with embattled head coach Jason Kidd and the Nets in Brooklyn for the first of five games Wednesday.

It's a rematch of last year's first-round playoffs matchup, where the Bulls won a knockdown, drag-out series in seven games behind the efforts of center Joakim Noah, forward Carlos Boozer and swingman Jimmy Butler. Butler, who suffered a sprained ankle in the Bulls' Dec. 19 matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, participated in contact drills in practices earlier this week, according to the Chicago Sun-Times and is likely to suit up against the Nets.

The Bulls are a respectable team without Rose—they are not a respectable team without Rose and Luol Deng, whose status is still uncertain

This matchup was supposed to be "Nets vs. Bulls: 2013 Reloaded." A healthy Derrick Rose for the Bulls and a new-look Nets that added a veteran shot in the arm via Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry in the offseason.

Instead, one has a completely toothless offense with or without its leading scorer and playmaker (Chicago), and the other has a listless, porous defense with or without All-Star center Brook Lopez (Brooklyn).

Both teams' best young talents (Rose and Lopez) are out for the remainder of the regular season. Regardless, look to Chicago's young point guard, D.J. Augustin (16.5 PPG, 7.5 APG, and 7-13 3-PT in past two games), to continue his hot streak and energize the Bulls past Deron Williams and the Nets. Or you can just open your presents, eat some cookies and go back to bed—there's really nothing exciting to see here.

Pick: 89-83, Bulls

 

Game 2: Oklahoma City Thunder (-9) at New York Knicks (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

It's Christmas in New York City, and if earlier this season is any indication, the glacially paced Knicks offense is going to gift its Oklahoma City guests a victory Wednesday night. The Knicks have had their struggles on offense all season, and conventional wisdom says this neck-breaking Thunder offense is set to trample through MSG en route to an easy win. 

I suspect there's still some fight in the Knicks, who might seize the opportunity to make a statement behind forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is listed as questionable, but he has a tendency to shine in nationally televised games and against high-caliber one-on-one matchups.

Then there's this intriguing stat: Carmelo Anthony's teams are 11-1 against Kevin Durant's teams when the two play against each other. Of course, a lot plays into it, including the performance of other players (and altitude when Anthony played for the Denver Nuggets).

But consider this: In their last four head-to-head matchups, Kevin Durant has shot a combined 38.5 percent—far below his career mark of 47.6 percent. Anthony has averaged a very respectable 47.8 percent—a couple ticks above his career mark of 45.6 percent—in the same span.

And of course, the most important stat: Anthony's teams won all four of those games. Does it mean Anthony has Durant's number on defense? Perhaps to an extent. Anthony is known for rising to the occasion against the league's elite players, almost to a fault. He's been accused of showcasing flashes of on-the-ball defensive brilliance when the moment calls for it—and mailing it in just about all other times.

A big win or even a heartbreaking close loss might be the real wake-up call the Knicks need to reinvigorate this languishing offense. Crazier things have happened already this season.

Pick: 99-94, Knicks

 

Game 3: Miami Heat (-9.5) at Los Angeles Lakers (5 p.m. ET, ABC)

Remember the good old days, when the Lakers actually had a serious shot at beating the Heat? When Laker fans salivated at the opportunity to face the Heatles and knock them down a couple notches? When Shaq defected to Miami and every diehard Laker fan was screaming for Kobe to take the big man down a peg?

Remember those days? Yeah, me neither. What was initially billed as a potential mismatch is actually really, really living up to its potential. Instead of another Kobe Bryant-LeBron James faceoff, the Heat see themselves up against a young, scrappy team led by veteran Laker forward Pau Gasol

The bigger storyline regarding this game was Heat guard Dwyane Wade's complaints about having to play an away game on Christmas. Wade's argument was that the defending champion ought to be able to play on their home court for Christmas, which is absolutely fair from a basketball standpoint. 

Unless Miami comes to Staples Center utterly unprepared for the hard-nosed, go-for-broke play of the younger Lakers, this will be a mismatch of epic proportions. Who's guarding LeBron? Xavier Henry? Shawne Williams?

Pick: 112-90, Heat

 

Game 4: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs (-7) (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

This was supposed to be a "changing of the Texas guard" game, but Rockets guard James Harden has been hampered by a high ankle sprain and is questionable for Wednesday night's game. Harden was a huge factor in the Rockets' victory over their cross-town rivals last month but will probably make a limited impact in his return from injury.

The Rockets will be hard-pressed to find many scoring options without the full assistance of their best perimeter player, but the game will be an interesting litmus test for Houston center Dwight Howard.

Howard, who mustered a mere 13 points and 11 rebounds against San Antonio in the win last month, has been on a tear in December: He's averaging 21.9 points and 14.5 rebounds on 62 percent shooting, including a 35-19 game against Detroit's aggressive front line last week. If Harden is limited or benched, this game will be won in the trenches and hinge on Howard's aggressiveness on offense.

Unfortunately, San Antonio is perhaps the most disciplined team in the league—the Spurs know how to get under a player's skin and play good, hard defense without getting called for fouls. Howard won't be able to rely too much on easy calls, and his frustration with San Antonio's particular brand of physical post defense might prove costly.

Pick: 95-87, Spurs

 

Game 5: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (-2) (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Who would have thought that a game between the Clippers and Warriors would be the most intriguing pairing on Christmas Day? East Coast fans might want to stay up late to tune in to two of the game's most exciting teams.

Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick is sidelined, but veteran gunner Jamal Crawford has stepped up ably in his stead, draining 10-of-22 from beyond the arc in his last two games and putting up 20 points a game during the Clippers' current five-game winning streak. After dropping three of their first four games in December, the Clippers are finishing 2013 in style, winning seven of their last eight heading into Wednesday night's matchup.

In contrast to the hot Clippers are the inconsistent Golden State Warriors. The team, which added veteran small forward Andre Iguodala to the lineup in the offseason, began the season with aspirations of contending for an NBA championship. As of right now, the Warriors are looking more like an early round exit.

Streaky shooting from Klay Thompson and a lack of bench production have hampered the Warriors in the early going, but look for tonight's game to be a no-holds-barred shootout in a game chock-full with young talent. Here's to thinking the baskets are charitable to Thompson on Christmas and that the rematch between Chris Paul and Stephen Curry lives up to the hype.

Pick: 124-119 (OT), Warriors

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