We at Halftime want to wish everyone a happy Jrue, Justin, and Aaron this Holiday season! However you celebrate, one thing’s for sure: if you don’t plan on watching basketball on Christmas, you deserve some Norris Cole in your stocking.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. New York Knicks
When the NBA picked their Christmas Day matchups, I’m sure they had something a little better planned for their 12:00 slot, but here we are. Just last month, this seemed like a classic Eastern Conference matchup revived with two of the most interesting unicorns in the game. Now, the Sixers are 1-9 in their last 10, and are looking to use Christmas as an end to their skid. The Knicks are sitting in the eighth spot in the conference and are 2 games above .500, but here we are.
Philly’s struggles have mostly been based around turnovers, with rookie Ben Simmons, for all his playmaking ability, still struggling to bring the ball up.. The team is significantly better with Center Joel Embiid on the court, as their entire offense runs through the big man. If Embiid is on for the Sixers, then Monday afternoon could go well for the road team. The Knicks exist in an odd state of rebuilding, but with some early success. Kristaps Porzingis, New York’s young phenom, leads the team with almost 25 points per game, and New York’s success will likely be based on how well the Latvian can take on his matchup, likely Ben Simmons or Robert Covington.
Prediction : Sixers 109-101
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
While we finish unwrapping our remaining gifts and stocking-stuffers, the defending NBA champions and runners-up will be treating the basketball world to an encore of last year’s Finals, and most likely a preview of the upcoming season finale. In a vacuum, the Warriors (26-7) are looking to shake off an ugly 96-81 home loss to the Nuggets, while the Cavaliers look to win their 20th game of their last 22 opportunities. However, any NBA fan would tell you that the narrative of this matchup goes far beyond any meaningless regular-season record.
Approaching age 33, Cavs forward Lebron James continues to defy meaningful predictions of his decline; Lebron has posted one of his most impressive seasons to-date, averaging 28 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists while shooting 57% from the field and over 40% from three-point range. Furthermore, James has achieved these numbers without Kyrie Irving, the former Cavs star who demanded a trade over the summer and was subsequently shipped to Boston. Simply put, Lebron has shown no signs of slowing down, and will look to exact revenge on the Warriors: the only thing standing in the way of James’ pursuit to catch Michael Jordan.
The Warriors continue to be the sport’s most well-run machine. Even following defeats, the rest of the league can only chuckle and chalk up the rare loss to Golden State not caring about the regular season. And why would they? Even without 2-time MVP Stephen Curry in the lineup, the Kevin-Durant Warriors have gone 7-1. This is not to say that Curry is dispensable; rather, it proves the might of Golden State even without the baby-faced assassin, though they probably cannot win a second straight title without his services. Curry won’t play in this game, so look for the spotlight to focus in on Lebron versus Durant, a six-year old rivalry reprised one more time.
Prediction: Warriors 101-91
Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics
The Wizards are underdogs with a great opportunity this Christmas, playing at the East-best Boston Celtics. The matchup is the first that the Wizards and Celtics have had their grueling seven game series in the 2017 playoffs. The seemingly eternal debate of “Who’s better – Kyrie Irving or John Wall?” has finally given way to some conclusivity this season, with Kyrie having a career-best season and John Wall struggling in multiple areas, but the rest of the lineup isn’t so clear cut.
Despite the Celtics’ significantly better record, Boston is coming into the Christmas game 5-5 of their last 10 while Washington is 6-4. Washington is playing their third game in four nights after their bouts against Brooklyn on Friday and Orlando on Saturday, further disadvantaging them against the already at-home Celtics.
The Wizards backcourt features the high-powered offensive duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, who are combining for 40% of Washington’s scoring and account for more than half of the team’s assists. Beal is having a career season – he’s putting up career highs in points, assists, rebounds, and free throws. The same cannot be said for Wall. The all-star has played less than two thirds of the Wizard’s games so far due to injury and has struggled to get back into shape. The Celtics will trot out Kyrie Irving and defensive specialist Marcus Smart for their backcourt; healthy competitors against this Wizards squad.
The mix becomes interesting after that – Boston center Al Horford will match up and take the edge over Wizards’ starter Marcin Gortat. Celtics wing Jaylen Brown will have his hands full against the Wiz set of Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter, and the forward matchup of Aron Baynes against Markieff Morris is a decided advantage for Washington. The Wizards could easily step up to the plate to beat this cold Boston team – or they could lose by 35 like they did against the Nets on Friday.
Prediction: Boston 97-90
Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
No two teams were more active in this past offseason than the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets. While the Rockets paired Chris Paul with their superstar James Harden, the Thunder acquired some much needed help for Russell Westbrook in the form of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the trio has not had nearly as much success as the duo of Harden and Chris Paul. The Rockets sit near the top of the western conference, boasting a 25-6 record. Meanwhile, the Thunder have slowly rebounded from a horrid start and crawled to a 17-15 record. A victory on Christmas Day for the OKC would provide some momentum to continue to change the narrative on the team’s outlook. Though the Rockets have been impressive this season, the team has dropped their last two games against weak teams in the western conference, the Lakers and Clippers. A win against the Thunder would function as a much needed return to form for the team if it hopes to best the Warriors in its chase for the top spot in its conference.
On top of that, James Harden is making sure that nothing will stand in the way of him winning MVP honors this season. After losing out to Westbrook in last year’s race for the award, Harden has put up numbers than can only be described as historic. Fresh off consecutive 50 point games, the first time a player has done so since Kobe Bryant in 2007, Harden enters Monday’s contest averaging 32.5 points and 9 assists per game. It’s fairly safe to assume that he will add to his resume for this year’s award with an impressive Christmas day performance as previous winners before have.
Prediction: Rockets 106-98
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Thank you for subscribing to Lonzofacts, the daily Ball family trivia messaging service! Did you know that Lonzo Ball is shooting 38% from 3 on more than 5 attempts per game in the month of December, including 44% from deep over his last five games? He even shot a normal pull-up jumper once! In the same stretch, fellow rookie teammate Kyle Kuzma has averaged 26 points per game on 68% true shooting. And yet, despite all the optimism in Laker land, Zotime went just 1-4 in those games. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Jimmy G. Buckets is finally showing us that the G still stands for “gets”, despite his change of scenery. Butler is averaging a Kuzma-esque 26 points per game in December after a rough start to the year in which he averaged 17.5, a figure that would’ve been his worst for a full season since 2014.
Like Butler, both teams are starting to find their identity this year – the Lakers and their 7th ranked defense force the kinds of misses that lead to points in transition. Minnesota, on the other hand, is 20th in the league in pace (The Lakers are first), running methodical isolations centered around stars like Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and the player the Lakers will be attacking all game, center Karl Anthony-Towns. Towns is one of the worst, if not the worst, defenders in the league on backdoor cuts. Unfortunately for the Wolves, backdoors in the half-court are Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton’s bread and butter. But for however bad Towns’ defense may be, Minnesota simply has more talent. Between their star power and Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope literally driving from jail to play in the game as he serves a DUI sentence, the Lakers will fall just short.
Prediction: Wolves 109-107