One of the grand traditions in American sports returns this Sunday as the NBA’s Christmas Day festivities bring five high-profile games to ABC and ESPN.
The action tips off at 12pm ET and the quintuple-header runs through midnight, so basketball bettors have plenty of gifts under the tree. Regional rivalries, perennial powerhouses, scintillating superstars, and, of course, a rematch from the last two NBA Finals highlights this year’s holiday schedule.
Boston Celtics @ New York Knicks – 12pm ET
Two teams jockeying for playoff positioning in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, Boston and New York are no strangers.
This meeting will mark the 532nd contest between the Celtics and Knicks, two of the original 11 NBA franchises, since the league was formed back in 1946. Boston leads the all-time regular season series 285-179, with a slim 36-31 margin in playoff games.
This season, the Celtics are led by the sizzling scoring of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging 26 points and six assists per game. The new-look Knicks have Carmelo Anthony as leading scorer, naturally, but second-year Latvian sensation Kristaps Porzingis is the team’s most exciting player.
Both teams are over .500 thus far, but each has good reason to feel a surge coming on as the season progresses.
Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers – 2:30pm ET
No preamble is needed for this one, what with the top team from each conference facing off for the first time since last summer’s classic seven-game NBA Finals.
LeBron James led the city of Cleveland to its first major sports title since 1964, ending the city’s infamous “curse” in dramatic fashion by coming back from a 3-1 deficit. The Cavs dethroned the Dubs in that series, and most basketball pundits believe a rubber match in this year’s Finals is inevitable.
After a few early hiccups, the Warriors have worked import Kevin Durant into the fold, to the tune of a league-leading 117 points per game.
Chicago Bulls @ San Antonio Spurs – 5pm ET
Despite the retirement of leader Tim Duncan, the Spurs look no worse for wear, and they’ve posted the second-best record in the stacked West with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge picking up the slack.
The Bulls have had middling results so far, falling back to earth following a hot 9-5 start. Jimmy Butler keys the scoring, Rajon Rondo runs the point, but new addition Dwyane Wade provides the star power.
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder – 8pm ET
The NBA has always been a star-driven league, and this game shows that attribute off to a tee.
Minnesota is experiencing a down year, but with star center Karl-Anthony Towns averaging more than 20 points and 10 boards in just his second year the team is enthusiastic about the future.
The future is now for Russell Westbrook, who was handed the reins of the Thunder roster when Durant bolted for the Bay Area. Amidst chatter that he could average a triple-double for the season, Westbrook is indeed putting up a 30-10-10 line thus far.
Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers – 10:30pm ET
The City of Angels has become Clipper country in recent years, but in their first year without all-world talent Kobe Bryant in two decades, the Lakers are showing signs of life.
They’re more than halfway to eclipsing last year’s win total of 17 already, following an impressive 7-5 run to begin the year.
As for the Clippers, a 14-2 start to the season has been tempered a bit in recent weeks, but they’re neck and neck with the Spurs and Rockets in the race for the West’s second seed.