NBA on Christmas
It’s one of the most exciting days on the NBA calendar with much anticipated Finals rematch and more
This season is no different as the five-game schedule features a much-anticipated Finals rematch, super rivalries, some of the biggest names in the game and a slew of emerging stars.
Here is a closer look at each game:
New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics, Noon ET (ESPN)/ 1AM, Dec 26, 2016 PH
The Atlantic Division rivals take to the court for the eighth time on Christmas Day. The Celtics lead the series 4-3, with the last meeting taking place in 2011. New York has played an NBA-high 50 games on Christmas Day and Boston’s 29 appearances are tied for the fourth most in league history.
The Celtics are seeking their third straight trip to the playoffs under coach Brad Stevens. No player embodies the team’s identity of relentlessness more than 2016 All-Star Isaiah Thomas. The 60th pick of NBA Draft 2011 presented by State Farm has scratched and clawed his way into becoming one of the top guards in the NBA.
Thomas leads a blue-collar bunch that also features defensive studs Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder and four-time All-Star Al Horford, who has been a great fit in his first season with the Celtics.
The Knicks made several offseason changes in order to compete better with teams like Boston, acquiring 2010-11 Kia NBA MVP Derrick Rose and 2013-14 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. Rose has given New York some much-needed quickness at the point of attack under new coach Jeff Hornacek.
Noah and Rose are finding their roles on a roster highlighted by forwards Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. The 32-year-old Anthony still ranks among league leaders in scoring and has developed terrific chemistry with Porzingis. The 7-3 forward from Latvia, who was the 2015-16 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year runner-up, continues to impress with his skill and versatility.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors, 2:30PM ET (ABC)/ 3:30AM, Dec 26, 2016
This game marks the eighth time that the teams from the previous season’s Finals are meeting on Christmas Day the following season. Cleveland and Golden State are squaring off for the first time since staging an epic seven-game Finals series in 2016, when the Cavaliers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win their first NBA title. The teams also played last year on Christmas in another Finals rematch, with the Warriors grinding out an 89-83 victory.
Cleveland brought back the same championship core this season, led by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. James, the Kia NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month for October/November, is playing some of the most complete basketball of his illustrious 14-year career. Irving has continued to build on his outstanding Finals performance, while Love is enjoying his most productive stretch as a Cavalier.
The Warriors’ addition of Kevin Durant has gone according to plan, with the 2013-14 Kia NBA MVP fitting in seamlessly with his new teammates. With Durant, reigning two-time MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson carrying the offense and Draymond Green filling the stat sheet and anchoring the defense, Golden State looks poised to make another championship run under 2015-16 NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr.
Chicago Bulls vs. San Antonio Spurs, 5PM ET (ABC)/ 6AM, Dec 26, 2016
Christmas will have a different look and feel for the Spurs and Bulls this year.
For the first time in 19 years, the Spurs are without Tim Duncan, who retired after leading San Antonio to five NBA titles and 19 straight playoff appearances. Thankfully, Kawhi Leonard is still in the fold.
The reigning two-time Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year has become the face of the Spurs, who are once again among the league’s elite teams under coach Gregg Popovich. Former Bulls big man Pau Gasol was signed to fill some of the void created by Duncan’s retirement. Gasol and Leonard are joined in the frontcourt by a third All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge, now in his second season with San Antonio.
The Bulls, meanwhile, said goodbye to longtime stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah as part of an offseason makeover that brought 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade back to his hometown. Chicago also signed four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo.
Paramount to Chicago’s success this season has been the continued development of two-time All-Star Jimmy Butler. The 27-year-old swingman has established himself as one of the best two-way players in the league. Butler has also developed excellent chemistry with Wade in their short time together.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 8PM ET (ESPN)/ 9AM, Dec 26, 2016
Five years ago on Christmas, the Thunder showcased a young core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka in a victory over the Orlando Magic. Oklahoma City would go on to reach The Finals 2012, losing to the Miami Heat.
Over the past three years, the Timberwolves have assembled an impressive young core featuring the last two Kia NBA Rookies of the Year – Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins – as well as two-time reigning Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine. Minnesota is hoping to replicate the Thunder’s rise from upstart to contender in the coming seasons, and the Timberwolves hired Tom Thibodeau as their new president and coach to oversee that process.
Towns, the unanimous Rookie of the Year last season, is already playing at an All-Star level and possesses the ability to affect the game in so many ways. Wiggins and LaVine are two of the most explosive athletes in the league. The team is also expecting big things from rookie Kris Dunn, the fifth pick of NBA Draft 2016 presented by State Farm. The first Christmas Day game in franchise history provides a great showcase for the Timberwolves to show off their prized youth.
The Thunder, meanwhile, continues to ride the exploits of Westbrook, who became only the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double through 20 games of a season, joining the legendary Oscar Robertson, who averaged a triple-double in 1961-62. Behind Westbrook, newcomer Victor Oladipo and young big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City is contending to make the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 10:30PM ET (ESPN)/ 11:30AM, Dec 26, 2016
The Clippers and Lakers will both be home for Christmas, as they meet for the first time this season at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Dec. 25.
The Clippers have looked like a team on a mission in 2016-17 after last season’s disappointing finish that saw LA lose stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to injury during a first-round series loss against the Portland Trail Blazers. Griffin, Paul and 2015-16 All-NBA First Team selection DeAndre Jordan are producing All-Star-caliber seasons and leading a starting lineup that has also gotten stellar performances from three-point marksman J.J. Redick and defensive ace Luc Mbah a Moute.
Along with a potent starting lineup, the Clippers have relied on a stingy defense and solid bench production from newcomers Marreese Speights and Raymond Felton. A strong start has put the Clippers on track for their fifth consecutive 50-win season.
The Lakers are off to a positive start, too, under first-year coach Luke Walton, who has connected quickly with his players and made full use of his roster. Youngsters Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell are showing tremendous promise, while veterans such as starting center Timofey Mozgov and high-scoring reserve guard Lou Williams have provided stability and production.
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Photos via NBA