12/24 By Nick Perry
It’s almost Christmas. For a great many people that day commemorates for you or your kids the merciful end of the sadistic, fundamentally un-American torture of not using your property when you buy it, and to ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas and Bing Crosby and Jose Feliciano taking over all your favorite radio stations. (If, like me, you still prefer the radio to Spotify.) For a great many it’s just one day in a holiday break that is pushier than a St. Augustine missionary displaced by a mysterious time warp only to become a boutique shoe salesman in Brooklyn. For a great many it’s the day Christ was born and I’ll leave the sweeping generalizations and speculations on what devout Christians actually do on Christmas at the door for I truthfully have no idea but I’m pretty sure it involves less iconoclastic imagery than yule logs and egg nog. (And, you know, maybe we should put Jesus in the iconoclas–nevermind, shutting up.)
In the NBA, it’s another day of nationally televised “meaningless” games–an opportunity for haters and trolls to repel once more from their perches in the shadows to decry favorable officiating, declare the game’s “softness,” and bemoan the peacocking hero ball they believe plagues the game. They don’t really get NBA Christmas, they just do NBA Christmas.
However, for the devout fan, NBA Christmas is not just a commemorative holiday: it’s rapturous. Settled into his or her couch beside a 24 pack, a personal ham and Twitter, harboring no concerns over which games are going to be blacked out on League Pass because Tim is watching Celtics-Kings in Sacramento (I know they played in Mexico, shut up) because Tim thought Sacrafuckingmento might be a good place to live after college, and the distinctive joy of getting every major national commentator that Disney has to offer. Agreed, it’s tragic that that does mean no Marv, Kenny, Ernie, and Chuck but could you really imagine 14 consecutive hours of Reggie Miller? On Christmas? Pure evil that is.
What it really boils down to, though, is that players really do tend to get up for the national stage. Bad teams want to leave an impression, good teams want to prove they’re for real, and each guy out there, either through sheer terror or a sadomasochistic lust for pressure or some combination of both, want to prove to the world that they have the biggest swinging, best functioning dick on the court. With dicks in mind, let’s see what we have to look forward to:
Game 1: New Orleans Pelicans (9-19) at Miami Heat (16-11)
Commentators: Mark Jones, Kara Lawson, Israel Gutierrez
Why Watch: You’re still drunk and need a pick-me-up. I hate to give this ignominy to Jones, Lawson, and Gutierrez, but they are the worst commentator crew simply by lack of experience and real involvement with the league. They’re all perfectly fine play-by-play people but they don’t bring any intangibles to the table like the former players and coaches who always weave in some personal testimony that make The Association just that much more accessible and familiar. But really why watch: because this is my UPSET ALERT. We’ll get there in a second.
Guys Who Randomly Go Off: Alonzo Gee and Tyler Johnson. Bear in mind here when I say go off, I’m talking like 12 points in 10 minutes for Gee and 14 points, 7 assists from Johnson. We’re just talking exceeding expectations here. Both of these calls are dependent on Goran Dragic’s availability. Obviously Johnson will get some more run at the point if Beno Udrih is the only true PG the Heat have available. As for Gee: I really can’t explain it. I just have a hunch he’ll get hot for a few minutes and help launch a Pellies rally that gives them the momentum going into the fourth.
Who Wins: Pelicans. Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside are going to have a hell of a time with Anthony Davis. Both are capable defenders but exploitable ones. Bosh isn’t fast enough to keep up with Davis on pick and rolls and Davis is such a crafty passer that even if Whiteside helps, there will be a pass to another crafty player, Tyreke Evans, who is one of the slipperiest dudes in the NBA. I think a healthy Pelicans team picks up the pace on a Dragic-less Heat and manage to squeeze out a high scoring win behind solid 40-minute showings from Davis and Evans that outshine the Dwyane Wade and Bosh old guard.
Game 2: Oklahoma City Thunder (20-9) vs. Chicago Bulls (15-11)
Commentators: Mike Tirico, Hubie Brown, and Chris Broussard
Why Watch: The second weakest commentating crew, what with Tirico sharing more in common with C-3PO than a breathing human, Hubie Brown barely containing his (justified) disdain for this crew, and Broussard just making shit up all the time. But, truthfully, I think these guys can probably hit the snooze on this one. The reasons to tune in here are two: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. You should always tune in for them. Add in that Jimmy Butler has hit his stride and just about punched a ticket to the All-Star Game and you’ve got three of the ten best two-way players you’ll see all day.
Guys Who Randomly Go Off: Niko Mirotic and Dion Waiters. Niko has been losing playing time to Doug McDermott for awhile but he’s a more creative scorer than McDermott. Getting Ibaka out on the perimeter should be a part of the Bulls’ game plan and with twelve of his patented upfakes, Niko should be able to do a better job of getting him off balance enough to drive by for a couple of lay-ups or trips to the line. However, that is a direct function of whether or not he can get hot early as Fred Hoiberg will not waste any time benching Niko if his offense isn’t at least offsetting his liabilities on the defensive end. Waiters should benefit from a Bulls’ second unit that is sorely missing Mike Dunleavy. He has made progress in deferring looks to Westbrook and Durant and learning to trust that they’ll find him when he’s open. If either one of those guys shares the court with him while Butler is on the bench, the Bulls will be forced to double any time Durant touches the ball on the perimeter which should give Waiters room to operate.
Who Wins: Thunder. And not even close. The Bulls won in Chicago in November and the Thunder have gone 17-6 since. This isn’t the same team that limped out of the gate and then lost Durant for six games. They’ve breached elite status and they’re not dropping two to the Bulls. Especially not on Christmas.
Game 3: Cleveland Cavaliers (19-7) at Golden State Warriors (27-1)
Commentators: Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Heather Cox
Why Watch: With the exception of the Warriors double OT win over the Celtics December 11, this will be the best game of the season so far.
Guys Who Randomly Go Off: Kyrie Irving and Andre Iguodala. Maybe these aren’t random. But given Kyrie will be playing just his third game since fracturing his knee in last year’s Finals against the Warriors, I think it’s safe to say expectations are fairly low. Still, he was good in 17 minutes against (admittedly) the 76ers, posting 12 points on 42% shooting and adding 4 assists and 2 steals. He won’t play more than 30 minutes I don’t think, but against a Warriors team that turns the ball over a ton simply based on how fast they play, expect the wily Kyrie to rack up some fast break points. As for Iggy, last year’s Finals MVP has been inconsistent this season, but with Draymond Green on the court at the same time, the Cavs really just don’t have an answer for him.
Who Wins: Warriors in a tight one. Both of these teams defend the 3 ball very well, which is much more the bread and butter of the Warriors, but the Cavs, like everybody, will have to play a perfect game to beat the Warriors at home on national television. They won’t.
Game 4: San Antonio Spurs (25-5) at Houston Rockets (15-15)
Commentators: Ryan Ruocco, PJ Carlesimo, Cassidy Hubbarth
Why Watch: I actually don’t know anything about Ruocco and Hubbarth, but PJ is like your uncle who goes off to the VFW and gets drunk during Christmas Day and comes back spilling some hard truths about the choices you’ve made in your life. Otherwise, the Rockets have finally caught some fire, winning 7 of their last 10 and crossing .500 for the first time all season… before evening out again with a loss to the Magic. On preseason paper, this was probably the best game the schedule makers could draw up and it was looking like a dud until very recently. The Rockets have effectively abandoned the Ty Lawson experiment and, despite rumors of Dwight Howard’s distaste of playing second banana to James Harden (maybe he should be more concerned about Clint Capela?) the Rockets are suddenly a playoff team in the West again. Harden, the league’s second best offensive player, is going to have a hell of a matchup with Kawhi Leonard, the league’s second best defensive player that may just break the Internet around 9:47 PM EST.
Guys Who Randomly Go Off: Matt Bonner and Jason Terry. I mean, it’s Christmas. We can wish for a miracle shootout, right?
Who Wins: Spurs. JB Bickerstaff finally has righted the perhaps too easily unrighted ship in Houston and has the Rockets playing hard on both sides of the court. But the Spurs just have a way of shooting streaking teams in the face.
Game 5: Los Angeles Lakers (5-24) vs/at/who cares Los Angeles Clippers (16-13)
Commentators: Dave Pasch, Jon Barry, J.A. Adande
Why Watch: Dave Pasch and Jon Barry are shitheads and Adande is an LA homer and Around the Horn scrub who has no business commentating on anything let alone a national broadcast. As near as I can tell, these guys all fucking despise each other and it’ll be hilarious to listen to. The basketball? Maybe dim the screen and just listen to the audio?
Guys Who Randomly Go Off: Kobe Bryant and Jamal Crawford. Because the only guy who Kobe is worthy of getting in a shootout with at the moment is Jamal Crawford. And it’s going to be ugly. 15 points on 20 shots for both of them.
Who Wins: Clips. I mean, come on. The Lakers don’t belong on an NBA basketball court any more than the ‘6ers do.
By Nick Perry