2018 NBA Christmas games preview
Adrian Dy on Dec 21, 2018 09:14 AM
OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 25: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors shoots a layup against the Los Angeles Clippers on December 25, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Here's what you need to know ahead of the NBA's traditional Christmas Day slate of games.
(Games reflected in PHL time)
1:00AM - Milwaukee Bucks @ New York Knicks
Bucks X'mas record: 2-2 (last appearance - 1977, lost 131-122 at KC Kings)
Knicks X'mas record: 22-30 (last appearance - 2017, lost 105-98 vs PHL)
Recent history: The two teams have played each other twice already this season. On Oct. 23, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a 124-113 victory. Round 2, which took place on Dec. 2, went the other way though, as Emmanuel Mudiay and the Knicks eked out an OT win, 136-134. THAT also happened to be the game when Mario Hezonja stepped over Antetokounmpo following a dunk, which led to the Greek Freak saying he would "punch him in the (groin) next time" (Giannis later apologized for those comments).
“I’m a role model for a lot of kids...and I felt bad about that. What I said, I meant it...I have to choose better words.”— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 3, 2018
Giannis on his post-game comments in New York: pic.twitter.com/pksb0OU6Lp
Bucks players to watch: MVP candidate Antetokounmpo continues to shine despite not having a three-point shot in an era where just about every player has one. No matter, as his teammates have picked up the slack around him. Guys like Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez are all perfectly willing to hoist up long-bombs under Coach Mike Bundeholzer's system. One player who will be looking for a little Christmas bounce is recent trade acquisition George Hill, who as of writing, has scored in double-digits just once (an 11-point game in a win versus New Orleans) for his new club.
Knicks players to watch: It's unlikely Hezonja will get a ton of minutes - he's down to just 13.9 per game in December, after hovering around 20 per the month prior. Instead, expect rookie Kevin Knox to do the bulk of the damage for New York, especially since he's found his groove in December after a slow start to his NBA career. He might have to do more too, with Tim Hardaway Jr. dealing with plantar fasciitis. That might leave the door open for Courtney Lee to get some shots; the veteran missed all of October and November before making his season debut earlier this month.
4:00AM - Oklahoma City Thunder @ Houston Rockets
Thunder X'mas record: 6-13 (last appearance - 2017, won 112-107 vs HOU)
Rockets X'mas record: 5-5 (last appearance - 2017, lost 112-107 at OKC)
Recent history: The Thunder won the first of four meetings this season against the Rockets, 98-80, back on Nov. 9. It was a big win, the Thunder's seventh back then, and it came without Russell Westbrook to boot. It was also former Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony's last game with the Rockets - he shot a miserable 1-of-11 from the field for 2 points.
Thunder players to watch: Last season, despite having Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to flank him, this was clearly Russell Westbrook's team. Now, Anthony is gone, but it seems like George has found an extra gear. He's so far averaging a career-best 25.5 points on 44.7 percent shooting, along with 7.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 2.1 steals. That's allowed Westbrook to do a bit more of everything, and true to form, he's once again averaging a triple-double. Center Steven Adams has also stepped up his game, and is norming a double-double, 16.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, for the first time in his career.
Rockets players to watch: Simply put, the Rockets have looked much better these past couple of games because James Harden, the reigning MVP, has looked much better. He's been good for 32.5 points on near 50 percent shooting in the past 10 games, and as a result, the Rockets have one five straight (prior to today's game against the Heat). The rest of the team's first five, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon, are their usual solid selves, but some consistent performances from guys like Gerald Green, Brandon Knight, Gary Clark, and Danuel House Jr. would go a long way towards a return to the West Finals.
6:30AM - PHI @ BOS - NBA Premium
76ers X'mas record: 17-13 (last appearance - 2017, won 105-98 at NYK)
Celtics X'mas record: 13-18 (last appearance - 2017, lost 111-103 vs WAS)
Recent history: The Celtics and the 76ers opened the 2018-19 NBA season, and it was a rout in favor of Beantown, 105-87. It was the first game back from injury for Kyrie Irvin and Gordon Hayward, though both had subdued outings. It should be noted though that the 76ers will look quite different, as they've since acquired Jimmy Butler in a trade.
76ers players to watch: The 76ers now have a big three of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Butler, with Embiid posting some MVP-caliber numbers (26.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks). They're still looking for more from their supporting cast however, though rookie Landry Shamet scored a career-best 17 in a rout of the Knicks recently.
Celtics players to watch: Boston is dealing once again with injuries, so it's a good thing they go deeeep. While not having Aron Baynes and Al Horford down low hurts, that should result in rookie Robert Williams getting more playing time and experience. Away from the center spot, Kyrie Irving is still balling, and Gordon Hayward is beginning to find a groove as the team's sixth man. We haven't even mentioned young guns Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, or the tenacious Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier either, figures who helped key in their victory earlier this season.
9:00AM - LAL @ GSW - BTV, S+A, NBA Premium
Lakers X'mas record: 22-22 (last appearance - 2017, lost 121-104 vs MIN)
Warriors X'mas record: 12-15 (last appearance - 2017, won 99-92 vs CLE)
Recent history: The Warriors are the reigning back-to-back NBA champions, and this is the first time this season they'll be playing the Lakers. However, bannering that squad will be a familiar face - GSW's Finals foe for the past four years, LeBron James, who signed in Tinseltown during the offseason.
Lakers players to watch: Safe to say LeBron James is going to want to have a strong game against his frequent Finals foes. Luckily, the Lakers should be at full strength, with Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo returning from their G League rehab stints. How the team's "kids," namely Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, and the aforementioned Ingram play, could be a preview of their postseason performance. Also fun will be JaVale McGee going up against his old squad - after getting his second championship ring in a pre-game ceremony to boot!
Warriors players to watch: Obviously, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will be looking to put on a show on Christmas. The rest of the team though has question marks. Will Klay Thompson finally shake off his shooting woes? Can Draymond Green bolster his quest for Defensive Player of the Year? At what level will Andre Iguodala play? And can young'uns Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell hold their ground against the more veteran McGee and tyson Chandler?
11:30AM - POR @ UTA - NBA Premium
Blazers X'mas record: 14-3 (last appearance - 2010, lost 109-102 at GSW)
Jazz X'mas record: 4-2 (last appearance - 1997, won 107-103 vs HOU)
Recent history: The two teams have yet to play each other yet, but prior to the Dec. 26 tiff, they'll do battle on Dec. 22 in Portland.
Blazers players to watch: The dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are where the eyes immediately gravitate towards, but Jusuf Nurkic's play will be key. The Bosnian Beast has been up and down since the season after they traded for him, but so far this December, his double-digit scoring games (5) are barely ahead of his single-digit ones (4). Luckily for Portland, a revamped bench has helped them look much more competitive, with second-year player Zach Collins giving them a bouncier alternative at center.
Jazz players to watch: Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell has been facing some sophomore struggles. He's not shooting as well as he did, forcing up a lot of attempts, and he's also not finding his teammates as much assists-wise. That goes for point guard Ricky Rubio as well, and it's a shame, because Rudy Gobert is having a spectacular campaign (career-best 14.5 points, plus 12.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 blocks). In addition, as shown in their recent win against the Warriors, if they can feed guys like Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver when they're waxing hot, this team is tough to beat.
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