The NBA on Christmas Day. You couldn't ask for anything better could you? 5 mouth-watering games to be shown one after the other, including two marquee match-ups: Boston Celtics vs Orlando Magic in Orlando, and the Miami Heat in LA to face the Lakers.
NBA Christmas Day Schedule:
Chicago Bulls @ New York Knicks (ESPN-12.00 pm ET)
Boston Celtics @ Orlando Magic (ABC-2.30 pm ET)
Miami Heat @ Los Angeles Lakers (ABC-5.00 pm ET)
Denver Nuggets @ Oklahoma City Thunder (ESPN-8.00 pm ET)
Portland Trail Blazers @ Golden State Warriors (ESPN-10.30 pm ET)
Here I will preview the 5 matches that are set to take place on Christmas Day, giving predictions on which teams I think will come out victorious. For 5 teams, it will be a very Merry Christmas indeed....
I'm sorry Portland and Golden State fans, but this is probably the least interesting match we have on Christmas Day, so I'll start with it first (that isn't to say that the match itself is not a good one).
Portland have really been unfortunate these last few years. After losing Greg Oden for most of last season, the Blazers believed that he'd finally be back this year. Unfortunately, another injury has ended his season, and maybe his career. It seems as if his body cannot cope with the physical demands of the NBA, which is unfortunate for a player who was projected to be a dominant center. If that wasn't enough, star player Brandon Roy has had a fairly miserable season. Averaging 20, 5 and 5 for most of his career, Roy has found his stats drop dramatically due to injury, and he isn't looking like the same player. A recent knee injury has meant that the 3 time All-Star will miss the next 3 road games for Portland, including the one at Oracle Arena.
The fans can have some optimism however. LaMarcus Aldridge has put in some big numbers in recent Portland games, which are beginning to translate into wins. Portland currently sit 8th in the Western Conference, and if Roy can come back in full health and with complete playing ability, Portland could become a feared team in the West again.
The Warriors, after starting the season at 6-2, now find themselves 10-18, and are consequently 12th in the Western Conference. As usual, defense has been the glaring problem for this offensive machine. Monta Ellis has had a great year so far, comfortably in the top ten in scoring and has shown a somewhat greater commitment to defense. A big blow to the Warriors has been the loss of Stephen Curry. His injury has kept him out of the last few games, but with him being close to returning, the Warriors may have plans to bring him back onto the court against Portland, which is obviously a big boost for the team.
Normally, the Warriors have proved to be a difficult opponent for any team on their home floor. This year, they're a pedestrian 6-6 at home; not good enough for a team that had playoff ambitions at the beginning of the season. If their offense isn't near to 100%, they're always at risk of being punished at the other end.
Portland streak: W 3
Golden State streak: W 1
Portland road record: 5-11
Golden State home record: 6-6
Portland projected starting 5:
PG: Andre Miller; SG: Wes Matthews; SF: Nicolas Batum; PF: LaMarcus Aldridge; C: Marcus Camby
Golden State projected starting 5:
PG: Stephen Curry; SG: Monta Ellis; SF: Dorrell Wright; PF: David Lee; C: Andris Biedrins
The Warriors can be really good or really bad. If the 'good' team come out on Friday, the Warriors have more than a decent chance to win. Portland are very steady, and are looking to build on this 3 game win streak. Their defense is certainly more disciplined than the team on the other side of the floor, but how will missing Brandon Roy affect them? Wes Matthews has done a terrific job in his place thus far.
Prediction to win: PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
If the Knicks-Bulls match-up is only the 4th most entertaining match we have on Christmas Day, the other three must be pretty darn good.
If you told both Tom Thibodeau and Mike D'Antoni that the Bulls and the Knicks would be sitting 3rd and 6th in the East Conference respectively, they would have never believed it prior to the season starting. Well, on the 22nd of December, that's exactly where the Chicago Bulls and New York find themselves. Remember, these are teams that finished 8th (Chicago) and out of the playoff spots (New York) about half a year ago.
The Knicks made some big changes to their roster in the summer of 2010. After many years of attempting to lure the 3 most coveted free agents in 2010 in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, New York had their hearts broken when neither of the 'Big Three' decided to go to the Big Apple. However, they made a big splash for offensive powerhouse Amar'e Stoudemire as well as point-guard Raymond Felton. Now, they're playing with a renewed belief, with better team offense (although their defense at times is a little iffy), and the crowd now have faith in a team that looked to go on a barren run of mediocrity for the next few years.
Landry Fields, a rookie picked in the second round, has been more than just a pleasant surprise. He has been an integral part of the team's current success. The Knicks have currently been in a mini-slump, ever since Paul Pierce and the men in green narrowly defeated the Knicks. Amar'e Stoudemire's streak of 30+ PPG has ended, and the team will need to get back on track if they are to beat their Christmas Day opponents. Beating Oklahoma City on Wednesday night was a good start.
As good as New York have been, the Bulls have been even better. They are led by the sensational Derrick Rose, who has not only become a big-time scorer, but has also improved on his ability to see the floor and make plays. Joakim Noah had also continued to grow year after year, turning into a real gem for the Bulls at center, but unfortunately, he is set to miss this game and many games to follow after sustaining a nasty hand injury. Carlos Boozer, having come back from his own injury, has settled very nicely into the Bulls team, rebounding the ball very well and also relieving some of the scoring off Derrick Rose's back.
With Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose on the floor, in addition to hot-shooting Luol Deng and Kyle Korver, you would think that Chicago are known for their offensive power. On the contrary. Chicago are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, thanks to defensive-minded Thibodeau, who was a former assistant of Doc Rivers at Boston. The Bulls have some tough-nosed defensive players such as Ronnie Brewer and Joakim Noah, and they rebound the ball outstandingly.
Chicago streak: W 2
New York streak: W 1
Chicago road record: 7-6
New York home record: 7-7
Chicago projected starting 5:
PG: Derrick Rose; SG: Keith Bogans; SF: Luol Deng; PF: Carlos Boozer; C: Kurt Thomas
New York projected starting 5:
PG: Raymond Felton; SG: Landry Fields; SF: Wilson Chandler; PF: Danilo Gallinari; C: Amar'e Stoudemire
The teams have already met once, with New York getting an impressive win in Chicago. Now they'll be looking for the same result on their home floor. The Bulls are missing their key defensive stalwart down low in Noah, and that could be very problematic as the Bulls will struggle to contain Amar'e Stoudemire. The Bulls will need a big performance from Boozer, and an even bigger one from Rose. How will Chicago handle what surely will turn out to be a feverish New York crowd that is hungry for some Christmas delight?
Prediction to win: NEW YORK KNICKS
I'm sure we all were delighted at the thought of watching a Christmas Day shootout between two of the best small forwards in the league in Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately, that personal battle cannot take place anymore, after the terrible news of the death of Anthony's sister. This means that Carmelo Anthony will be returning to Denver some time after Christmas, thus missing this match.
The Nuggets have done fairly well this season. They had a rough start but then more recently they have been picking up a little bit of momentum, and more importantly, they have been a real challenge to some of the elite teams in the NBA (the Spurs can testify to this). They have also had to endure the loss of their star player on a number of occasions. The Nuggets will be happy to have Chauncey Billups back, as they will hope that his veteran leadership will carry them past a youthful and energetic Thunder squad. The Nuggets also have defensive anchor Kenyon Martin back at the power forward position.
Denver are a very physical team, and they like to impose their force on other teams and keep defences under pressure. Without Carmelo in the line-up on Saturday, Denver will be looking at the likes of Chauncey Billups, Nene, Martin and other veterans to be aggressive and challenge the young thunder defense. Nene, shooting the best FG% in the league, could potentially have a big game against the much older and slower Nenad Krstic defending him.
The Thunder are one of only a handful of teams that have won 20 games this season up to this point. Just two years ago, they were bottom feeders in the harsh Western Conference. Nowadays, they've become one of the most dangerous teams in the league, with one of the best Batman-Robin combination in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. While Durant continues to rack up the points (no.1 scorer in the NBA), Russell Westbrook has had a phenomenal season up to date. His production has dropped when Durant's in the line-up, but his importance to the team and his impact on the floor is just as crucial to the team's success.
Oklahoma City, while having two of the most explosive offensive players around, have based their reputation on the defensive capabilities. The emergence of Serge Ibaka, and the tenacious defense of Thabo Sefolosha have given the Thunder team a much appreciated breath of fresh air. Jeff Green has moulded into a very solid and consistent player on most nights, a deadly threat on the odd occasion.
Denver streak: L 1
Oklahoma City streak: L 1
Denver road record: 4-9
Oklahoma City home record: 10-5
Denver projected starting 5:
PG: Chauncey Billups; SG: Arron Afflalo; SF: JR Smith; PF: Kenyon Martin; C: Nene Hilario
Oklahoma City starting 5:
PG: Russell Westbrook; SG: Thabo Sefolosha; SF: Kevin Durant; PF: Jeff Green; C: Nenad Krstic
Had the Nuggets been playing at home, they'd be almost definite favourites (with or without Anthony), as they boast a very impressive 12-2 record at the Pepsi Center. However, a road game in the NBA is never easy; let alone one against the Thunder who have a nice record of their own in Oklahoma City. Without Carmelo Anthony, it will prove to be a much tougher ordeal. Durant must take advantage of the fact that JR Smith (not a future defensive player of the year by any stretch of the imagination) is guarding him. It could be a long day for the Nuggets if they come out of the gates slowly.
Prediction to win: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
They have a 14 game win streak under their belt. They have the best record in the Eastern Conference. They are constantly doubted. "They're too old" or "they belong in a retirement home" are common phrases you might hear from the haters. Well, when you have the best record in the East and you're the most successful franchise in NBA history, you will receive a lot of hate. Problem is haters, the men in green relish the hate. They live off it. Right now, there isn't a better team in the NBA heading into Christmas. The Boston Celtics are playing darn well, and they're doing it without All-Star point-guard Rajon Rondo, who you can add to the Christmas Day absentee list.
The Celtics will be looking for recent repeated performances without Rondo. Led by a trio of future Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the 'Green Machine' have been a terrifying force defensively (as they always have been), and their offensive efficiency is equally as daunting for opponents. Nate Robinson has fitted in nicely as the point-guard while Rondo has been absent, and Shaquille O'Neal has been a revelation since the start of the season, doing more than expected while filling in the place of the injured Kendrick Perkins.
On the other hand, there might not be an elite team that is performing as badly as the Orlando Magic in recent times. When General Manager Otis Smith realised that this team would be unable to contend with the current squad, he decided it was time for change. How effective were the trades he made? We'll find out on Saturday. At the moment however, obtaining Gilbert Arenas from the Wizards (giving away Rashard Lewis) and acquiring Hedo Turkoglu, Earl Clark and Jason Richardson from Phoenix (giving away Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and Michael Pietrus) has proved to be unsuccessful. But like all new teams, merging and developing chemistry takes time, as Orlando have found out in losses with the new look side to Atlanta and Dallas.
Howard has been beastly all season, but now, without a legitimate back-up center (previously Gortat), Orlando lack the size in the paint to provide another down low threat on offense and some defensive solidarity. Howard's stamina will be tested until Orlando can find a center from somewhere, and a lot of responsibility will be heaved onto the shoulders of Brandon Bass and newcomer Earl Clark. Orlando have always lived and died by the 3 point shot, and Christmas Day against Boston will be no different.
Boston streak: W 14
Orlando streak: L 2
Boston road record: 10-3
Orlando home record: 9-5
Boston projected starting 5:
PG: Nate Robinson; SG: Ray Allen; SF: Paul Pierce; PF: Kevin Garnett; C: Shaquille O'Neal
Orlando projected starting 5:
PG: Jameer Nelson; SG: Jason Richardson; SF: Hedo Turkoglu; PF: Brandon Bass; C: Dwight Howard
Do Orlando have the firepower to pull of what would now be classified as an upset? Of course they do. When they're shooters are hot i.e. Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu (OK you get the picture), they are very difficult to beat. If Orlando are to win, Howard also needs to have a big game in the paint, in order to free up space for the perimeter players. However, Boston are fortunate in that they won't need to necessarily need to double team Howard, at least while the mountain of a man in Shaquille O'Neal is on the floor. It may be a difficult match-up for 'The Big Shamrock', but his length and bulk could prove to be frustrating for Howard to contend with. How much will Boston miss Rondo and his play-making ability? On this recent evidence, not so much.
Prediction to win: BOSTON CELTICS
The game we have all been waiting for. The game that we marked down on our calenders since the NBA released its schedule for the 2010-2011 season. The two teams we have constantly predicted to reach the NBA Finals this year. So far, these two teams don't look like anything less than a championship would satisfy them when it's all said and done.
What is there to say about the new-look Miami Heat? From a first-round humbling at the hands of the Celtics in the playoffs last year, to a whole new roster that would terrify the bravest of people, Miami have been on a roll as of late (with exception to the loss to Dallas in their last game). After receiving criticism all throughout the summer, Miami did themselves no favours after the first 17 games or so, by holding a shocking 9-8 record, even with the best efforts of 'The Miami Thrice' in Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Even after that, Miami struggled and started playing .500 calibre basketball, until they decided enough was enough. Now James and Wade are meshing together brilliantly, Bosh is beginning to play with All-Star consistency, and the Heat's defense is suffocating. They now find themselves second only to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference.
When you think Heat, you think James, Wade and Bosh. Far from it. Miami owe a lot of thanks to the outstanding defensive play of Joel Anthony, the hugely improved shooting of Carlos Arroyo and James Jones, and the veteran leadership from the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard. The Heat will be heading into this 'clash of the titans' game full of confidence and with the belief that they can defeat the Lakers at the Staples center.
It isn't often that the NBA champions (back-to-back) are the second page story on a so-called NBA newspaper. But with all the noise that is being made in South Beach (for obvious reasons), that is exactly where Kobe Bryant and co. find themselves. Not that they care. Ignore the champions at your peril. The Lakers record is almost identical to Miami's (21-8 for LA compared to 21-9 for Miami), and they won't even be bothered by the fact that they're only 3rd in the Conference behind Texas giants the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs.
Kobe Bryant has started the season fairly well. In fact, he is one of the best scorers in the league at this moment in time, but his percentages have dropped consequently. Pau Gasol, the secondary star in LA, has had a terrific season thus far, rebounding the ball well and being a constant double-double threat every time he steps onto the floor, therefore being able to relieve pressure from Bryant's hands. If there's one thing the Lakers have that Miami don't, it is the team chemistry. They retained the team that went all the way to the top last summer, and they hope that they can startle the new-look Heat squad on Christmas Day.
Miami streak: L 1
Los Angeles streak: L 1
Miami road record: 9-5
Los Angeles home record: 10-3
Miami projected starting 5:
PG: Carlos Arroyo; SG: Dwyane Wade; SF: LeBron James; PF: Chris Bosh; C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Los Angeles projected starting 5:
PG: Derek Fisher; SG: Kobe Bryant; SF: Ron Artest; PF: Pau Gasol; C: Andrew Bynum
Bryant-Wade. Artest- James. Gasol-Bosh. Some pretty good match-ups wouldn't you say? While all eyes will most likely be on those six players, in games like these, where the pressure is enormous, the stars may find themselves under-performing. It is consequently up to the 'X-factors' to produce, from the likes of Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher for the Lakers to Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller for Miami. One team has greater star power, the other team is better all round. Who will come on top in this gigantic Christmas Day battle? Kobe Bryant will certainly want to avoid a repeat of this time last year, when James led his former Cavaliers team to the Staples center and embarrassed the champions on their home floor. If Kobe has anything to say about it, James and the rest of the Heat may have to succumb to the sheer brilliance of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Prediction to win: LOS ANGELES LAKERS