Grading Every Christmas Day NBA Match-Up

‘Tis the season of giving, and the NBA hath given a lineup of games for public view, so perfectly spaced out as to be able to watch various games throughout the day. Some of the games are clear rivalry games that the NBA is trying to push, whereas others are just individual teams from big markets that the league wishes to put on display. With that in mind, I’m going to go game by game and grade the game quality as well as provide a short blurb about the teams. Here we go!

Bucks @ Knicks: D | Not much to be said about this one. The Bucks have been shaky lately, but the Knicks are so widely devoid of any play-making talent that it probably won’t matter. Even if the Knicks pull off a Christmas upset, it probably won’t be pretty. More likely than that is a good old fashioned blowout courtesy of Giannis.

Thunder @ Rockets: B- | At the beginning of the season this match would have probably seemed like a really good one. Both of these teams started out mysteriously cold, and since then the Thunder have fared better. Houston is still struggling against even middling teams, while OKC is defending at a high level and PG is delivering on offense. I imagine this will be a good game nonetheless, but Chris Paul’s hamstring injury decreases the likelihood that this is a close, compelling game.

76ers @ Celtics: B+ | The NBA is, very clearly, exhaustively, trying to push this rivalry. LeBron leaving Cleveland officially signified that the reigns of the East would fall to the next generation, and in addition to the opening game being the same match-up, it’s clear that this is the narrative the NBA wants for the Eastern Conference. That said, it should be one of the most high-energy games all day, and it’s also very likely to be a close and exciting game. I wish it wasn’t at TD Garden again, seeing as the opening night game as well as the Christmas day game will be at home for Boston which kind of tells me that the NBA wants to push this rivalry, but wants to push Celtics exceptionalism harder. Injuries on Boston’s roster, particularly to their big men, blow this game wide open for Philly, especially because Boston hasn’t seen the Jimmy Butler Sixers yet.

Lakers @ Warriors: A- | The Lakers have begun to get a sense as to what lineups work for them, and the Warriors have finally begun to reach some consistency after reintegrating Steph Curry. Strong defensive teams have slowed the Dubs down and forced them on to suboptimal shots, and when the shots don’t fall like against the Jazz, it won’t take much to overcome them. LeBron doesn’t usually flip the switch this early in the year, but on a big stage and in the every-win-matters West, I think we’ll probably bear witness to the King in his true form. This match-up is an indirect finals rematch, too, which is why I imagine it made the cut for the Christmas games.

Trail Blazers @ Jazz: B | This will probably be an interesting game, but there is significantly less story-line as a basis for its inclusion as a Christmas day game. In reality, it’s just a game between two teams who need a win. Donovan Mitchell’s efficiency has been problematic all year, but the Jazz still sport a respectable defense behind star center Rudy Gobert, who probably doesn’t get enough credit for the impact he has when he checks in. Regardless, the Blazers are currently in the playoffs and the Jazz are a good way’s out of it, but there’s still a perfectly logical route for the Jazz to get in; they just need to win and win now. They can’t afford to have bad nights against other fringe teams like Portland, who are perfectly beatable if things go right. I mean, if you’re competing with the Sacramento¬†Kings¬†for a playoff spot, you’re never really out of it. The Jazz are still in a better place moving forward than, say, the Pelicans, but that’s no reason to be content with an L on Tuesday night.

The games this year follow some pretty clear patterns. The legacy teams who sport a geographic rivalry and were renewed by young talent, the one-man-army versus the people who have bested him the past 2 years, and the rest are filled out with identity-seeking playoff contenders looking to make a statement. Except Bucks/Knicks. That game just plain sucks.

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The Other 29: 12/3/18

The NBA continues to break into the middle part of the season, with every team now having played 20 or more games. So, without further ado, here is this week’s docket of exciting and interesting games with non-Sixers teams:

Nuggets @ Raptors: The Nuggets (15-7) and Raptors (20-4) both sit in the upper echelon of their respective conferences, with Toronto leading the East and Denver at number 2 in the West. The aspect of this match is how Denver’s star big man Nikola Jokic will perform against Toronto’s deep rotation of defensive bigs in Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and occasionally flashes of defensive strength from Pascal Siakam. The biggest knock on Jokic, for obvious reasons, is his lacking defense-especially against other bigs. As complete as he is on offense, you can’t score points if you get benched for being in foul trouble, which has proven to limit Jokic’s ability to shift a game in Denver’s favor. Further developing storylines also include Kawhi Leonard, who despite sitting games now and again has stepped up offensively in the past few weeks, and continues to assert his defensive dominance.

Spurs @ Jazz: This game takes place Tuesday night, and it comes at a big crossroads for both teams. Despite being only two wins back from the 8th seed, both sit in the bottom 3 of the Western Conference, record-wise. Both teams are usually great defenses that have struggled incredibly often this year, as the Spurs have allowed 130 points or more multiple times this year, and the Jazz just look clumsy sometimes, despite having reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert. On offense, the Jazz need to find a way to continue to empower shooters like Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, although Mitchell’s success usually comes at a very high volume and with low assist numbers, making efficiency a problem as well. The Spurs have struggled to find a coherent gameplan, as often individual players have good performances, but not enough to match the amount of points they’ve been allowing lately. A win means a lot for both of them, and boy, they both need a reason to celebrate, too.

Warriors @ Bucks: Last week, the Warriors saw the Raptors for an overtime thrilled in which Kevin Durant scored 51, but the Dubs fell short. This time, GSW will visit another Eastern Conference leader in the Milwaukee Bucks, who despite their long win streak to start the season have begun to falter. The Bucks’ shooting has regressed a little bit as was expected, and it will be a test on Mike Budenholzer’s ability to manage how many shots players are taking if all of them aren’t shooting the lights out, and of course, how Giannis factors into all of that. The Warriors, thankfully, graciously, have regained Steph Curry from injury, which couldn’t have come enough for the Warriors or my sanity. I just can’t hear about Draymond and KD beefing anymore. It’s boring and dumb and the media is annoying me by trying to force a storyline, but that’s neither here nor there. It is perfectly reasonable to expect this game to be into the 125-135 range for both teams, especially once Steph has had a game or two under his legs again.

This stretch of the season has the potential to be a large stratifying force in both conferences. Will those in the hunt fall further behind? Can those in the playoffs solidify their position? Will the West ever get a clear pecking order, or at least win records that actually reflect a team’s capabilities? This is what keeps the middle of a season, what could normally be the doldrums of garbage time games, fun and interesting.