NBA Christmas Schedule: Bold Predictions for Opening Day
Sure, the free agency period hasn't even begun, but who's to say that we can't already make way too early NBA predictions?
The official opening day schedule has been released, and it features just about every thing you could possibly wish for on Christmas. Not only will we get the gift of having the NBA back on TV, but we also receive the gift of watching 10 of the most entertaining teams to watch from the opening game at noon to the closing game at 10:30.
The schedule starts off at 12 with the Boston Celtics taking on the New York Knicks in a re-match of their first round series, where the Celtics took advantage of an injured Knicks team by disposing of them via sweep.
Possibly the best game of the day comes right after at 2:30, which represents an NBA Finals re-match between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. The Heat were heavily favored in the series but would ultimately fall in six games, and Dallas will be looking to defend its crown with a quality start against the last team they defeated.
We then move on to the 5pm game, where reigning MVP Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls will be taking on Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Both teams suffered from embarrassing playoff losses last year, and they'll both be looking to start out on the right foot.
At 8:30, we'll get a quality showing by two teams showcasing the most gifted young players in the league, with Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic taking on Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the Magic attempting to do all they can to keep Howard in Orlando and Durant and the Thunder looking to make a statement following their disappointing loss to Dallas in the Conference Finals, we're sure to have a good one, as this could be the most entertaining game of the day.
We finish off Christmas with a wild card of a game that features Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers taking on their division rivals, the Mark Jackson-led Golden State Warriors. The Clippers will be attempting to make a postseason push this season, while the Warriors will be searching for an identity under their new coach.
In what is sure to be a grand Christmas, we offer a bold prediction for each matchup as well as a prediction for how the game will fare.
The Golden State Warriors Show off Great Improvement on Defense vs the Clippers
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One of the most unheralded stories during the off season has been the Golden State Warriors' acquisition of Mark Jackson as their new coach to replace legendary head coach Don Nelson, who worked with the team from 2006 up until last year. Nelson had led the Warriors to one playoff appearance in his time with the team, with that one appearance being the team's monumental upset over the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, which was followed up by a six-game series loss to the Utah Jazz.
For years, Nelson's overall philosophy of this team was to run and gun, much akin to the division rival Phoenix Suns minus the MVP point guard and the plethora of quality three-point shooters. The Warriors were one of the NBA's greatest offensive teams for years as they would average as much as 110 points per game, but their defense offset it as the Warriors were by and far the worst defensive team in the league.
Now the team brings in a new era with rookie head coach Mark Jackson leading the way. Jackson had played in the NBA as a point guard for the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers and played a key role on both squads, which includes helping to lead the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals. He's in the top five in career assists with over 10,000 and was always known as a solid defender and a terrific offensive facilitator.
Jackson has yet to announce his philosophy surrounding this team, but the chances are high that there's going to be a greater emphasis on defense. If every NBA champion in the history of the game has proved anything, it's that a great defensive team will beat out a great offensive team ten times out of ten. Offense is inconsistent; defense is something that can always be the same if you apply the same amount of pressure.
With a game against Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers capping off opening night, we should expect to see the Warriors attempt to play a more refined and fundamental game of basketball rather than just trying the tired method of attempting to outscore the opponent. Going against a team that could quickly make it out of reach with the offensive firepower and athleticism that the Clippers possess, the Warriors will put a cork on it and shall make this a game that doesn't end up in the 110's.
Expect a close Clippers victory, but also expect great improvement out of the Warriors defense thanks in part to Mark Jackson preaching an emphasis on the other side of the court.
Prediction: L.A. Clippers 101, Golden State 95
The Boston Celtics Continue Their Reign over the New York Knicks
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Tough to say whether or not the New York Knicks will have Chris Paul by opening night, but for the sake of argument, we'll say that he hasn't arrived and that the Knicks have the same team as last year with Chauncey Billups, Amare Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony leading the way.
Facing off in a re-match of their first round series that the Boston Celtics swept, the Knicks will be looking to make a statement in their first game of the season by attempting to defeat the team that had beat them rather easily in their playoff series. Unfortunately for the Celtics, they won't have the benefit of going against an ailing Knicks club, as Stoudemire and Billups will both be healthy come opening night barring any preseason injuries.
The Knicks were greatly limited against the Celtics in last years postseason, as Billups would only play in one game before bowing out for the rest of the series while Stoudemire would be hampered the entire series and would only average 15 points and eight boards per in a limited four games. Anthony was the only hope for the Knicks, as he averaged 26 points, ten boards, and five assists per while putting on one of the greatest individual displays of basketball you'll ever see in the playoffs.
The Boston Celtics will be returning with their usual lineup besides the current dilemma at center, which we expect will be solved by free agency. Unless the Celtics plan on starting Jermaine O'Neal again, there should be a new center manning the fort and attempting to fill the shoes of Kendrick Perkins. Besides the center, the Celtics are still equipped with one of the NBA's top four man squads in Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett.
This game won't be as close as many envision it to be. The Knicks have tremendous offensive fire power and youth on their side, but the Celtics are too committed on defense and too fundamental of a team to fall on opening day. Unless Garnett, Pierce, and Allen are on tired legs due to the lack of a training camp and the lockout, the Celtics should come out as victors and continue their dominance over the Knicks.
Prediction: Boston 97, New York 89
Kevin Durant Hits the Game Winner Against the Orlando Magic in a Tight One
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In what is sure to be a tremendous battle between two stellar teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be opening up their schedule and their quest back to the Conference Finals with a game against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
The Magic have been at the center of plenty of trade rumors over the past few months as a result of Howard's impending free agency in the summer of 2012. There's no doubt that they won't stop either throughout this offseason and the course of the regular season up until the point where Howard is either traded, re-signed to the Magic, or picked up a new team during free agency.
Howard and the Magic are coming off of an extremely disappointing showing in the postseason, where they succumbed in six games to the division rival Atlanta Hawks despite Dwight coming through with 27 points and 15 boards per. The absurd amount of three-pointers that the Magic attempted and missed would contribute to the series loss, as Howard's frustration with the team would only grow.
The Magic won't be the only team in this matchup that took a beating in the postseason, as the Thunder are also coming off of a disappointing end to their title run. After quality series victories over the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies in the first two rounds, they would be given a match-up against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Thunder appeared to have a grip on the series after stealing a game in Dallas, but would then drop the final three games of the series before losing. The saddest part about it is that the Thunder held a lead in the fourth quarter of every loss, and it would be Dirk Nowitzki, not Kevin Durant, coming through and making the comebacks.
This time around, Durant, Russell Westbrook, and company are on a mission, and they're going to start it off against Orlando. They're out to make a statement by going back to the Conference Finals and then making a significant push towards their ultimate goal of making and winning the NBA Finals.
Their game against the Magic will be the best of Christmas, as it will come down to the wire with the game tied up and the seconds waning down. With the Thunder in possession, it'll be Durant nailing a 20-foot jumper over Hedo Turkoglu to give Oklahoma City the emphatic two point win on opening night.
And Dwight Howard will start booking tickets to Los Angeles.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 104, Orlando 102
Kobe Bryant Goes for at Least 40 Against the Chicago Bulls
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Kobe Bryant loves to put on a good show, and what better place to put on a show than on opening day in a game against the team that had the NBA's top record last year in the Chicago Bulls.
Both teams are coming off of extremely disappointing endings to their season, with high hopes and expectations wiped out in nearly the span of a week. In Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers' case, their title defense came up well short as they were shockingly swept by the eventual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs.
MVP Derrick Rose would lead the Bulls to domination in the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs and appeared ready for the NBA Finals following a blowout win over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the Heat would win the next four games following their Game 1 loss, as LeBron James' defense on Rose would prove to be too much to a team that needed more than Derrick to win.
While Rose is severely disappointed by the ending of his team's chances of making the Finals, no player was more angry by his teams performance than Bryant, who suffered his first postseason sweep since losing in the second round to the Spurs in 1999. Losing is something that Kobe isn't too accustomed to, and there's no way that he's going to allow his Lakers to go on a five-game losing streak if you add in the team's sweep at the hands of Dallas.
Both teams were disappointed by their blunders in the postseason, and they're both out to exact revenge on those that had wronged them. Derrick Rose will have an excellent showing by going for 30 points and nearly a triple-double, but it'll be Kobe Bryant stealing the show, as he'll go into his usual takeover mode before scoring 45 points and leading his team to a close victory.
The game will be close up until the fourth quarter, when Kobe begins his usual onslaught of unsuspecting teams.
Prediction: L.A. Lakers 105, Chicago 96
The Heat Come Back with a Vengeance Against the Dallas Mavericks
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At first I was going to speak of the Miami Heat's motivation in this game when they watch the Dallas Mavericks receive their championship rings, but word is coming in that the Mavs will not be receiving their hardware on opening night.
Instead, the Miami Heat will have to rely on their big three and their talent level alone if they want to topple the same team that had beaten them in the NBA Finals only a few months prior. In that series, it appeared that the Heat had full control as they took Game 1 and then had Game 2 wrapped up with a 15-point lead and only eight minutes remaining.
It was at that point in the postseason that the Mavericks would officially take over and LeBron James would disappear. While the Heat were attempting to give the ball to James to pad his stats despite Dwyane Wade being the one to lead the way the entire game, the Mavericks were hitting shot after shot and would make a stunning comeback that would be capped off by a game-winning layup thanks to Dirk Nowitzki.
The Heat would then come right back with a game winner of their own in Game 3, courtesy of Chris Bosh. However, James' disappearance was too much for Wade and Bosh to handle, and the Mavericks would win the next three games en route to their first ever NBA championship while exacting revenge on the same team that had beaten them in 2006. Nowitzki would take home Finals MVP, and the Mavs would have bragging rights for the extended offseason.
By a twist of fate, the teams now face each other on opening night in Dallas, where the Mavs will be at least hanging up their first ever championship banner. The crowd will be foaming at the mouth at the chance to heckle and jeer LeBron James and the Miami Heat some more, while the Mavs will be attempting to get a fourth consecutive win over the Heat and start the season on the right foot.
However, this time around there will be no disappearing act by LeBron James, as he will contribute a near triple-double while dropping 25 points. The headlining act for the Heat will be Dwyane Wade, as he'll score 35 points and give the team some breathing room in the final minutes to help the avoid another Mavericks comeback.
Miami has had their struggles in Dallas in the regular season in the past, and the Mavericks will be playing their hardest with Nowitzki dropping 30, but it won't be enough as a determined Heat team just barely eeks out a win in one of the best games on the day.
Prediction: Miami 97, Dallas 93