The saying ‘Basketball never stops’ has never been more appropriate.
Despite Christmas being a day for over-indulging and spending time with family, it’ll be business as usual for some of the NBA’s biggest superstars, with five games taking place on the 25th.
Here’s our rundown of the matchups, as some of the league’s best face off.
NBA Christmas Games 2019 Preview
Milwaukee Bucks @ Philadelphia 76ers
In a meeting between two of the leading contenders for the number one seed in the East, the Sixers welcome the Bucks to Philadelphia on Christmas Day. In Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, two of the league’s most talented bigmen are on show. Giannis has thus far shown the sort of form that will see him grab a second consecutive MVP award. The Greek forward was already dominant, but the addition of a semi-reliable three-point shot has made him borderline unguardable. His exploits have seen the Bucks stroll to a league best 27-4 record this season, making them favourites for the number one seed in the East once again.
It’s been more of a mixed bag for a Sixers team that a lot was thought of prior to the season beginning. Whilst their record is a respectable 21-10, the Sixers aren’t making the sort of waves out East that were expected prior to the season. Ben Simmons may have finally hit an NBA three-pointer, but he still lacks confidence in his shot, making him too easy to guard during crunch time. Embiid is once again averaging a double-double but his shooting from beyond the arc still leaves a lot to be desired.
What the Sixers do have in their arsenal is a formidable home record, Embiid and co have lost just twice at Wells Fargo Center this season, seeing off the likes of the Celtics and Nuggets during that run. This has all the makings of a Christmas classic as we find out just how seriously we should be taking both teams’ Championship aspirations.
Boston Celtics @ Toronto Raptors
Another two Eastern Conference powerhouses meet north of the border on Christmas Day, as the Boston Celtics travel to Canada to take on the Pascal Siakam-led Toronto Raptors. The Cameroonian forward is not only putting forward a serious case to become the first player to win consecutive Most Improved Player awards, but he’s also propelled himself into the conversation for league MVP. Career highs in multiple statistical categories has seen Siakam fill the considerable void left by Kawhi Leonard after the forward decided to make the switch to Los Angeles. He’ll be looking to take down the Boston Celtics who arrive in great shape after getting Kyrie Irving off the books in the summer.
Rumours of Irving’s negative influence in Boston were unsubstantiated last season, but it’s fair to say that having lost the guard to Brooklyn, the Celtics have looked reinvigorated. Brad Stevens’ outfit lie second in the East, and have been led by the selfless performances of Kemba Walker – who just looks glad to be out of Charlotte. Whilst Jayson Tatum still hasn’t quite hit the heights of his rookie season, the forward is quietly averaging an efficient 21 points per game, a respectable total for a team like the Celtics who like to share the ball.
Both teams will be looking to establish why they should be considered the main rivals to Milwaukee in the East in the basketball betting, so there’ll be plenty on the line on Christmas Day.
Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers
Whilst this can’t quite be considered an away game for the Clippers given they share the Staples Center with the Lakers, there can be no doubt that they face an uphill task on Christmas as they face off against Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
The famous Purple and Gold have raced away to a 24-6 start this season, with the combination of LBJ and AD proving too much for most teams in the league. With a much more dependable supporting cast around them than the Lakers could muster last season, James and Davis are feasting inside the paint thanks to their freakish athleticism and the runaway train looks difficult to slow down. If anybody’s capable though, it’s their LA rivals the Clippers. Doc Rivers’ team has had somewhat of a more understated start to the season, but find themselves just behind the Lakers in the Western Conference standings. Standing them in good stead is their suffocating defence, and with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley in their ranks it’s no surprise the Clippers are one of the best defensive teams in the league. Leonard and George are also offensive juggernauts, equally adept at getting to the hole as shooting for three.
In the battle for Los Angeles and the number one seed in the West, this game could be a crucial Christmas cracker.
New Orleans Pelicans @ Denver Nuggets
The main question hanging over this particular game on Christmas is whether Zion Williamson will be fit enough to play a serious part. The number one pick from the 2019 draft has been out of action all season, but is due to return to the court at some point in the next few weeks. The rookie could well hold the key to turning the Pelicans’ fortunes around this season.
What was thought to be a potential play-off team in the West is looking more and more like another lottery team in New Orleans. Brandon Ingram has played well since joining, but with a record of 7-23, the Pelicans might be hoping they strike gold in the draft again in the summer.
The Nuggets are another franchise who could be forgiven for thinking that this season could and should have started a lot more positively. Denver might be 20-8, but there have been rumblings of discontent, particularly surrounding the performances of superstar centre Nikola Jokic. The Serb, who has a reputation for being in less than peak athletic condition, has failed to replicate his excellent form from last season, shooting a measly 29% from three-point range and averaging just 17 points, that’s in stark contrast to the 20 points averaged last season.
Despite this, the Nuggets should still have enough to ensure they give the home fans the perfect Christmas present in the mile-high city.
Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors
It’s understandable that prior to the season starting, the NBA saw this as a prime Christmas Day game. The Warriors, coming off the back of a Finals loss, should be back to their highly competitive best. The Rockets, rejuvenated by the acquisition of Russell Westbrook, breathing down the necks of the Lakers and Clippers.
Things are never that simple in the NBA though, and with the injuries to Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell, to add to the already injured Klay Thompson, it’s fair to say the Warriors (6-24) don’t find themselves in the best position.
Despite being 20-9, the Rockets could perhaps be disappointed in their start to the season too. Westbrook is managing just 23% from three-point range, and despite being arguably the best scorer in the league, James Harden’s shooting splits aren’t particularly impressive. It’s still unclear as to how Westbrook and Harden will fit together. Both are ball dominant guards who are good facilitators, it’s difficult to see how the pair can gel when their games are fundamentally so similar.
Despite these teething issues, the Rockets should still prove too much for a Warriors team that’s so seriously depleted.
Stats correct as of 12:30pm 23/12/2019
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