‘Tis the season to ignore your friends and family on Christmas Day and instead watch basketball from noon to midnight. We’re kidding… kind of. We’ve got an interesting slate of games throughout the day, including a battle between the past two MVPs, LeBron’s first matchup of the season against his biggest rival for the past half-decade, and the first Boston-Philly game in the Jimmy Butler era. We got together and talked about which games we’re looking forward to, which players we’re expecting to go off, some matchups we would have loved to see on the slate, and, obviously, who we think is going to win.
The Basketball Society writers joining us for today’s special Christmas roundtable are:
- Felix John-Baptiste (@TwoSmooth2)
- Evan Anderson (@Jordainian21)
- Eric Rose (@EricRose6)
- Max Mangigian (@PhillySportsMax)
- Cam Carter (@CamWriting_)
Which game sparks your interest the most and why?
John-Baptiste: Definitely the Lakers-Warriors game. The other games are definitely intriguing but outside of Celtics-Sixers, this is the game that brings about the most unknown. We’ve seen LeBron vs. the Warriors, but we haven’t seen LeBron with this collective roster against the Warriors. There’s been chatter about the Lakers potentially making additional moves before the trade deadline, however, it will be interesting to see which players rise to the occasion on the biggest stage against the reigning NBA Champions. In the grand scheme of things, this will be minuscule against the scale of the full season. The Warriors will get multiple cracks at the new look Lakers and may potentially match-up with them in the playoffs. Nevertheless, the excitement and buildup have been bubbling since the start of the season, and we finally get to witness it.
Anderson: I’m looking forward to the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors matchup. Last year, the same LeBron-Golden State matchup was played on Christmas and came down to the wire. Curry was absent from the floor that game due to injury but is back on the floor for this years Christmas. LeBron is on the Lakers now, which has still not fully gestured in my head, but it makes this game a little different. It should still be a crazy one.
Rose: Even though I’m biased, I think Sixers-Celtics would still be the most interesting even if I wasn’t a Sixers fan. The long history surrounding these two and the rivalry finally coming back after basically a two-decade-long hiatus just makes this the most appealing of the slate to me. The Sixers have struggled mightily against Boston of late, with the most notable being the 4-1 playoff series last year where Boston ran through a scorching hot Philly team without Kyrie or Hayward, but Jimmy Butler’s acquisition throws a wrench in what we know. Will Butler be enough to make the two teams more competitive? Will Embiid look like Superstar Embiid against Al Horford, or will the vet continue to nerf his game as very few others can? Will the Sixers’ lack of depth, which has been torching them recently, simply make this game a cakewalk for the Celtics? There’s a lot to look forward to in this game and I think we might get some questions answered.
Mangigian: I might be a homer, but the 76ers matchup with the Celtics, is the most interesting game on Christmas Day. A rivalry rich with history has been renewed as the two young teams battle for control of the Eastern Conference. The 76ers have struggled with Boston in recent contests, but Philly wants to change that narrative. While I do not like that national TV games create misleading narratives and overanalyze one game, opinions can change with a statement game on Christmas day. In my opinion, it has a chance to be the most watched game out of the slate, and it is because of the young stars on both sides. It should be a wild one in Boston.
Carter: The annual Christmas game in The Garden and Giannis will be there! I will be sitting down early at 11:30 am, excited for my Christmas gift to see if Giannis can jump over two Knicks players this time when he visits MSG. Giannis and Khris Middleton will be visiting a depleted Knicks team that has lost four straight. Sounds like a bunch of highlights from Giannis!
Which player matchup will be the most intense and competitive?
John-Baptiste: Jayson Tatum vs. Jimmy Butler. Tatum showed flashes of brilliance on the biggest stages in last year’s playoffs. He’s shown an improved ability to make difficult shots so far this season and could be poised for a fantastic career. He’ll be going up against a player who has made four NBA All-Defense teams on one of the biggest regular season stages. Can Jimmy slow him down, or will we see another breakout performance from Tatum? With all the depth at the Forward position, let’s see how Tatum handles his shot selection in this rematch.
Anderson: I’m excited about the Russell Westbrook and James Harden matchup. Those two are always aggressive and can score the ball in different ways. Westbrook has stepped up as the season has progressed so far, averaging a triple-double. Harden has scored 50+ points in two games so far, along with a recent 47 point performance, and he’s bound for an impressive performance on Christmas Day as well. There just better be defense, otherwise, it’ll be a very high scoring game for each team.
Rose: I’m with Evan on this one. Harden vs. Westbrook has to be the most intriguing matchup of the day. With Chris Paul out, Harden will have to go dad-mode against a very good Thunder team and we have the potential to see two 40-10-10 stat lines in the same game, making this one must-see television.
Mangigian: Ben Simmons vs. the Boston Celtics is the matchup I will be keeping my eye on. Simmons has struggled greatly against the Celtics, and I know Simmons will be ready to prove the country wrong. The Boston Celtics have found ways to neutralize the 6’10” point guard, and that is a credit to Brad Stevens and his game planning. Simmons will have to change his approach and find a way to be productive on offense early in this one, or it could get ugly. It is paramount that the 76ers take care of the basketball against teams like Boston and Toronto, and Simmons has had trouble doing that. I want Simmons to have less than four turnovers in this one, and a strong showing against a team he will be fighting against for the foreseeable future.
Carter: Donovan Mitchell and CJ McCollum is a perfect matchup to top your NBA diet off with. Two scoring guards who are able to go for 40 individually. Utah dismantled Portland by 30 on December 21st with McCollum scoring 12 points on 15 attempts, and Mitchell managed to top McCollum’s performance with a whopping three points on 1-10 shooting. I’m sure they both would like to have better showings. I expect a competitive game and a new game plan from head coach Terry Scotts to get 3J going.
Which superstar do you expect to have the best day?
John-Baptiste: Stephen Curry. He seems to be on a mission this season to remind everyone that he is a superstar although Kevin Durant has won the last two Finals MVPs. Expect him to shoot the lights out at home on Christmas.
Anderson: Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s been having an MVP type season this year, averaging 27 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists per game. Playing on Christmas Day already gives players that extra motivation to win, but playing in The Garden on Christmas Day is different. What helps is that the Bucks score the most points per game in the league at 117.8 and are playing a poor defensive team in the Knicks who have a 113.2 defensive rating. The Greek Freek is bound to have a great game in The Garden under the spotlight.
Rose: I’ll go with Kyrie considering every star guard seems to have their season-best against Philly this year. The energy in TD Garden on Christmas Day combined with Philly’s suspect guard defense should have Kyrie licking his chops. Not to mention, he dropped just seven points against the Sixers on opening night and I have a feeling he’s going to want to make up for it on Tuesday. The Celtics as a team may be struggling, but if there’s any opponent where that record goes out the window, it’s the Sixers.
Embiid swats Kyrie, then finishes the play with a slam. 💪
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) October 17, 2018
Mangigian: Yeah I know I am writing only about the 76ers, and I am not apologizing. Joel Embiid is primed for a monster game Christmas Day against the Celtics. Embiid will have his way against Al Horford and company, giving Philadelphia fans the Christmas present they deserve. Boston embarrassed Embiid and the 76ers in the playoffs last year, and this could change the dynamic. I expect yet another big game from the potential MVP candidate, Embiid could easily have 40 points and 20-plus boards in this one. The 76ers will need it if they want to escape Boston with a win.
Carter: James Harden will probably have 40 points. Still in MVP form, Christmas will mark two weeks since the Beard has scored under 30 points, when he finished with 29 points against Portland on December 11th. Harden is currently averaging nine free-throws a game and since the 2012-2013 season, Harden has shot 1,300 more free throws (4,990) than the next closest player, who just so happens to be his opponent on Christmas, Russell Westbrook at 3,617 free-throw attempts. His hands will be full playing against a surging Thunder team that will throw multiple defenders at him.
What is the best team on the Christmas Day slate (excluding the Warriors)?
John-Baptiste: The Boston Celtics. They have the most continuity and the best coach of the bunch. If we ran a playoff series with them all, I’d pick Boston to win it all.
Anderson: The Oklahoma City Thunder. Currently, on a four-game win streak, the Big Three of Westbrook, George, and Adams have been playing efficient basketball together. Westbrook averaging a triple-double is the norm for him and heading into Christmas with that momentum and energy, it’ll be hard to stop. They’ve stepped up as a complete unit this month and on Christmas Day, they’ll be locked in.
Rose: I’ve really liked how the Thunder have looked this year and think that, as of right now, they might be the most impressive of the group. Russell Westbrook has gotten to the point where people don’t even bother talking about him averaging a triple-double for the third straight year. Paul George is somehow getting better, with career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The Dennis Schröder deal has given the Thunder a boost off the bench they haven’t had since sixth-man James Harden and allows Westbrook to not have to play 40 minutes a game, even if he wants to. Third place in the Western Conference is no joke and the Thunder will only get better if Andre Roberson comes back in time for the playoffs.
Mangigian: I believe the Boston Celtics are the best team on the slate other than the Warriors, even if they are not showing it right now. Brad Stevens is an unbelievable coach, and they have tremendous depth. The Celtics are my pick to make to represent the East in The Finals this year, and they have time to get right before the postseason rolls around.
Carter: The Oklahoma City Thunder when Paul George is the leading scorer and aggressive. The Thunder are currently third in the Western Conference at 21-11, PG is playing out this world right now, and Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double. The addition of Dennis Schröder has paid dividends for OKC’s bench, averaging 16 points, five assists, and four rebounds. With Andre Roberson coming back this season, this OKC team is a THREAT to Golden State come May.
47 points (25 in the 4th) and this dagger 3 from Paul George help complete OKC’s 23-point comeback against the Nets! pic.twitter.com/LDzieMAlBe
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) December 6, 2018
What is one matchup not on the slate that you would have loved to see? (You can include a team already playing)
John-Baptiste: Lakers-Celtics. Kyrie vs. LeBron. Enough said.
Anderson: I would have loved to see Spurs vs. the Raptors because of the blockbuster trade over the summer. DeMar DeRozan was hurt by the trade that took place this past summer and what better way to get revenge than on Christmas Day when everyone’s watching. We still don’t know yet whether Kawhi Leonard will stay with the Raptors after this season, but so far since he’s been traded there, they’ve been sitting in the number 1 spot in the East. That matchup would have been exciting to watch on Christmas.
This is a thing of beauty from DeMar DeRozan. pic.twitter.com/fcPRJjf172
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) December 6, 2018
Rose: I wish we would have been able to see Toronto and Golden State go head-to-head. In my opinion, these are by far the two best and most complete teams in the league and I think we’d be more likely to see a game like the 131-129 OT game in late November than the Raptors’ blowout of the Warriors on December 12th. There are a lot of interesting player vs. player matchups that could make for exciting games, but I don’t think you can go wrong with a duel between the two best teams in the league
Mangigian: I would have loved to see the Warriors play OKC. Another meeting between KD and Russ would be a great game the entire country could look forward to. Russell Westbrook plays the game with such a passion, that those games between GSW and OKC never disappoint.
Carter: I personally would have loved to watch the rising Sacramento Kings against a San Antonio team that Pop has above .500. Sacramento being lead by one of the fastest players in the league in De’Aaron Fox against DeMar DeRozan and company would have been a gritty matchup.
Pick your winners:
Bucks-Knicks 12 PM EST (ESPN)
Thunder-Rockets 3:00 PM EST (ABC)
76ers-Celtics 5:30 PM EST (ABC)
Lakers-Warriors 8:00 PM EST (ABC/ESPN)
Trail Blazers-Jazz 10:30 PM EST (ESPN)