The One Matchup to Watch in Every Christmas Day NBA Game

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterDecember 23, 2019

The One Matchup to Watch in Every Christmas Day NBA Game

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Christmas Day NBA games are notoriously star-studded, and the 2019 version is no exception.

    From MVPs in LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Russell Westbrook to rising stars such as Brandon Ingram, Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray and Jayson Tatum, there's no shortage of star power for families to gather around the TV to watch after a morning of opening presents.

    With five games in total starting at noon and running deep into the night, this is the NBA's time to shine. Here are the top matchups to watch in every Christmas Day game.

Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors, Noon ET

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Jayson Tatum vs. Pascal Siakam

    While the Philadelphia 76ers were thought to be the second-best team in the East going into this season, it's the Celtics or defending champion Raptors who could be the No. 2 seed come April.

    The two main reasons? Tatum and Siakam, both of whom have been far better than expected.

    Tatum is finally enjoying a breakout in year three, averaging 21.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals in his 34.1 minutes per game. Now spending most of his time at power forward (90 percent of all minutes) on a guard-heavy Celtics team, his offensive repertoire has grown significantly with his ability to score from nearly everywhere on the court.

    Siakam is sidelined with a groin injury but hasn't been ruled out against the Celtics, with no official timetable for his return.

    Toronto obviously needs its star and the league's Most Improved Player from last season. And he's having yet another career year, averaging 25.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists with a 39.2 percent success rate from three (6.3 attempts per game).

    Siakim has a slight size advantage over Tatum (6'9" vs. 6'8"), although the 21-year-old Celtics star has the deeper bag of tricks he can turn to. If Siakam can't go, Celtics point guard Kemba Walker vs. Raptors franchise staple Kyle Lowry makes this a must-watch matchup as well.

    2018-19 Tatum guarded by Siakam: Eight points on 3-of-8 shooting (37.5 percent) in 4:53

    2018-19 Siakam guarded by Tatum: Nine points on 4-of-7 shooting (57.1 percent) in 9:55

          

    For tickets to Celtics vs. Raptors, go to StubHub.

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Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers, 2:30 p.m. ET

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Joel Embiid

    Here we'll see the league's reigning MVP (and likely current favorite) versus perhaps the most dominant big man in the game today.

    Milwaukee vs. Philly seems destined to be a future playoff matchup, with both teams full of All-Stars and high-level role players.

    Antetokounmpo is the main attraction, as he's taken yet another step from his MVP season. Putting up a career-high 31.0 points (second in the NBA) and 12.9 rebounds (sixth overall), Antetokounmpo is also giving the Bucks 5.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. He's done a phenomenal job of turning his greatest weakness into what's bordering on a strength, increasing his three-point shooting from 25.6 percent a year ago to 34.2 percent now on a robust 5.1 attempts per game.

    For Embiid, he might have the most well-rounded game of any center in the league.

    A load at 7'0" and 280 pounds, Embiid can bully his way inside the paint or step out and knock down a three-pointer. He leads the Sixers in scoring (23.1 points), rebounding (12.8, seventh in the NBA) and blocks (1.4).

    While not many players can physically overpower Antetokounmpo, Embiid is one who can.

    2018-19 Antetokounmpo guarded by Embiid: 43 points on 16-of-32 shooting (50.0 percent) in 13:07

    2018-19 Embiid guarded by Antetokounmpo: Six points on 3-of-6 shooting (50.0 percent) in 2:55

           

    For tickets to Bucks vs. Sixers, go to StubHub.

Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors, 5 p.m. ET

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    James Harden vs. D'Angelo Russell

    Harden finally gets a chance to exorcise his Warriors demons, this time without a healthy Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson to stop him. However, Steve Kerr is used to coaching on Christmas Day games and has another All-Star guard at his disposal.

    In this case, "Harden vs. Russell" doesn't mean a fight over who's taking the Rockets' last shot, but rather which high-usage guard can produce the most offense for his team.

    Harden leads the NBA in scoring (38.8 points per game), a mark that stands as the third-highest in league history. Only Wilt Chamberlain (x2) has averaged more points per game over a season.

    The 2018 MVP also ranks first in the league in three-point makes (5.1), attempts (14.0), free-throw makes (11.3), attempts (12.8) and usage (37.9 percent), and he is eighth in assists (7.5).

    Russell's 21.9 points per game lead the Warriors, fueled by a 52-point performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 8. Russell, an All-Star last season with the Brooklyn Nets, and Draymond Green are the current faces of a Warriors team that should once again be title contenders when Curry and Thompson return next season.

    For now, Russell has the ultimate green light and is one of six players (including Harden) to average at least 20 points and six assists and shoot 34.8 percent or better from three this year.

    2018-19 Harden guarded by Russell: Five points on 2-of-4 shooting (50.0 percent) in 1:31

    2018-19 Russell guarded by Harden: Zero points on 0-of-1 shooting (0.0 percent) in 0:37

            

    For tickets to Rockets vs. Clippers, go to StubHub.

Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers, 8 p.m. ET

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard

    The marquee matchup of the day, Clippers vs. Lakers is the best it has ever been.

    James and Leonard are the main attraction, as the two have met in the Finals twice, each winning a title and MVP. Both have won titles and Finals MVPs without facing the other as well, with Leonard most recently delivering the Toronto Raptors their first championship last season.

    James, less than a week shy of turning 35, has yet to show signs of slowing down. He leads the NBA with a career-high 10.6 assists per game, propelling the Lakers to a 24-6 start with the help of Anthony Davis. The four-time MVP is also averaging 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals and shooting 49.6 percent from the field.

    If there's anyone who can slow James down, however, it's Leonard.

    A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard leads the Clippers with 25.5 points per game, barely eclipsing teammate Paul George's 24.2 per night. Leonard has expanded his playmaking this season, averaging a career-high 5.1 assists and improving L.A.'s play by 13.5 points per 100 possessions.

    While James is the better passer and stronger player of the two, Leonard is the superior defender and outside shooter. They'll inevitably be matched up throughout the game, making this one of the most anticipated Christmas Day games of the past decade.

    2018-19 James guarded by Leonard: Two points on 1-of-5 shooting (20.0 percent) in 3:22

    2018-19 Leonard guarded by James: Zero points on 0-of-3 shooting (0.0 percent) in 1:52

          

    For tickets to Lakers vs. Clippers, go to StubHub.

New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets, 10:30 p.m. ET

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Jrue Holiday vs. Jamal Murray

    The nightcap features one guard in his prime and another just scratching the surface of his.

    Holiday and Brandon Ingram remain the two bright spots for a 7-23 Pelicans team, with the former possibly auditioning for other teams at this point.

    The 29-year-old Holiday is one of the best guards on both ends of the floor and is putting up his third straight season of at least 19 points and six assists. His 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks are all career highs.

    He's been even better recently, as his last 20 games resulted in an All-Star stat line of 21.7 points and 6.3 assists, plus 39.4 percent from three.

    Murray, 22, is one of the league's most exciting young guards and has the Nuggets up to second in the West with a 20-8 record.

    After securing a five-year, $170 million max extension this past summer, Murray is averaging 17.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals to go with a sparkling 89.5 percent success rate from the free-throw line.

    This game also provides an opportunity to see the Pelicans' young talent (Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes) and the Nuggets' incredible depth (Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Jerami Grant).

    While Jokic can always take over, don't be surprised if this turns into a Holiday vs. Murray showdown to decide the game.

    2018-19 Holiday guarded by Murray: 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting (36.4 percent) in 5:47

    2018-19 Murray guarded by Holiday: 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting (41.7 percent) in 10:45

         

    For tickets to Pelicans vs. Nuggets, go to StubHub.

          

    Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on TwitterStats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise indicated.