Five games on Christmas Day
There are five games on the Christmas Day schedule, including Bulls at Nets (ESPN, noon ET), Thunder at Knicks (ABC, 2:30), Heat at Lakers (ABC, 5), Rockets at Spurs (ESPN, 8) and Clippers at Warriors (ESPN, 10:30). Our 5-on-5 writers give their thoughts on the busy slate.
1. Which game are you most eager to see?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Clippers at Warriors is the Christmas Day dessert course. Both teams want to play with pace, and neither team is particularly fond of the other. That's a combo that usually produces entertaining basketball with a healthy dose of hostility.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Bulls versus Nets ... kidding! Clippers versus Warriors. Both teams play an entertaining brand of basketball, but more importantly, there's no love lost in this matchup. These are two division rivals that have a genuine level of bad blood between them, and when you add in a nationally televised game on an important holiday, we'll likely see a playoff-level atmosphere from the teams and the rowdy Oracle Arena crowd.
Andrew Lynch, Daily Dime Live: The Rockets at the Spurs, assuming James Harden is able to go. If not, give me the Clippers and Warriors. But there's something about the Rockets, the team analytically built for offensive perfection, against the aesthetic efficiency of San Antonio, a team that dares you to settle. The old guard against a once and future contender sounds like fun.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Spurs-Rockets. An Oracle expedition will cause me to miss this one, but it'd be my top choice were I couch-bound on Christmas. The Spurs have an elite defense, but their starting lineup features slowish big men Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Can San Antonio find a way to stop Houston's athletic, 3-point-shooting power forwards? Maybe it won't matter because a bearded man dressed in red will give San Antonio the gift of wide-open 3-pointers. I'm talking about James Harden, of course.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Rockets-Spurs. Both teams move the ball and shoot it very well, and it likely will be a needed dose of expert-level play by that time in the day. Generally, there's going to be a lot of talent on the floor, and it will be played at a high tempo. While people often focus on individual matchups, I'd much rather see a flowing game, and that's what this promises to be.
2. Which individual matchup are you most eager to see?
Arnovitz: Stephen Curry vs. the world. Curry has rendered the individual matchup as we know it irrelevant. On Halloween night, Curry burned Chris Paul, at least nominally, for 38 points. But the vast majority of those buckets came on contested jumpers against Paul, occasionally in a 1-on-2, 1-on-3 and even 1-on-4 situation.
Elhassan: Prototype versus Latest Edition. Wednesday's games feature three separate head-to-heads between players who have "lifted" many stylistic elements from an older player. Kevin Durant is a more lethal, efficient version of the complete scorer Carmelo Anthony is. (Hopefully Melo can give it a go after spraining his ankle.) James Harden is the modern version of Manu Ginobili (although I wouldn't argue that the "new" model is better than the original). Steph Curry and Chris Paul both borrowed heavily from Steve Nash's game, albeit different parts. It's a shame we won't also get to see Derrick Rose versus Deron Williams, in the battle of big-framed PGs!
Lynch: Chris Paul versus Stephen Curry. The game is currently geared toward point guard production, and these are two of the very best. Each has a distinct style, with Paul the distributor and Curry the gunslinger, but Paul can knock down his fair share of open triples while Curry is no stranger to creating looks for his teammates. Paul has the defensive edge, which could decide the outcome.
Strauss: Chris Paul versus Steph Curry was fun the last time they faced off and combined for 80 points. Let's do that one again. Both offer transfixing, unique styles. Paul controls an entire offense, while Curry makes his living by terrifying opposing defenses with each step he takes on and off the ball. For some added spice, the Clippers and Warriors give all appearances of hating each other.
Windhorst: Chris Paul and Stephen Curry. They are simply two of the most exciting players/highlight makers in the league. Curry is a threat to shoot the moment he steps over half court, and Paul is a threat to throw a lob from anywhere on the floor. There have been so many injuries, though, the choice in this category has taken some hits.
3. Which team playing on Christmas has impressed you most?
Arnovitz: The Oklahoma City Thunder. We knew they could score with Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, but the Thunder have leveraged their length and speed to assemble a Pacers-like defense -- the best we've seen in the West.
Elhassan: None! Every team playing on Christmas is either playing at an expected performance level (Rockets, Spurs, Thunder) or below expectation (Bulls, Nets, Knicks). No overachievers in this group.
Lynch: San Antonio. I'll learn to stop underestimating the Spurs one of these years, but I had my doubts before the season. They keep making all of the right moves, however. Gregg Popovich knows precisely how to get the most out of his players without playing them too long, and their defense has been spectacular.
Strauss: The Thunder just keep creating talent. I didn't think much of Steven Adams or Jeremy Lamb as lottery picks, but they've been valuable for OKC this season. Reggie Jackson has really impressed. He's always attacked the basket with a deft kind of violence, but now he's gaining court awareness.
Windhorst: Thunder. They are criticized for roster moves, lineups and their offensive system, and they have dealt with injuries. Yet there they are, right at the top in the West with a top-five offense and defense and a bunch of young players who are stepping up.
4. Which team playing on Christmas has disappointed you most?
Arnovitz: The Bulls were inevitably going to falter when they lost Derrick Rose, yet even without Rose, the defense seemed sturdy enough to allow them to maintain position as the third- or fourth-best team in a hapless Eastern Conference. Needless to say, it's been far uglier than that in Chicago.
Elhassan: It would be too easy to pick one of the M.A.S.H. unit teams, as injuries have played a significant role in dampening the spirits on several teams, but I really think the Clippers are underachieving on some level, even factoring in the injuries to J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes.
Lynch: The Knicks. Both New York teams have underwhelmed, but what's most disappointing for the Knicks is that there are avenues of improvement seemingly available. Better lineups and a commitment to 3s wouldn't fix everything, but they'd certainly be better than where they are now -- and that shows in the short spurts where things have gone right in New York.
Strauss: Brooklyn. It's amazing to see someone spend so much on a roster he can't keep healthy. Perhaps Mikhail Prokhorov could have used his nickel mine money to buy an army of trainers. Then again, if Jason Kidd felt threatened by Lawrence Frank, he might never recover from the sight of a syringe-wielding army.
Windhorst: Nets. Their injury situation is obviously the major reason, but even when they've been reasonably healthy, they haven't been even close to the team we thought. Or they thought.
5. Yes/No: Both of this season's NBA Finals teams are playing on Wed.
Arnovitz: Yes. This really comes down to whether you have the Pacers or Trail Blazers ticketed for the Finals, because they're the only members of the NBA elite celebrating a traditional Christmas this season. I'm staying with the Heat in the East, and feel confident that among the Spurs (my preseason pick), Thunder, Clippers and Rockets, there's sufficient coverage in the West on this question.
Elhassan: Yes! Miami and the Clippers were my preseason picks to meet in the Finals, but I've maintained all season long that the top of the West is extremely competitive, so I am pretty confident that one of the Spurs, Thunder, Warriors or Clippers will be playing in June!
Lynch: Yes. The question is whether Miami will represent the East, since one of the five Western Conference playoff teams playing on Christmas will likely win the West. And as long as the Heat have LeBron James, I'm picking them to beat out the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.
Strauss: Yes. Can I pick against a team with Michael Beasley? Can I pick against a team that still gives Derek Fisher minutes? Apparently not, in both instances.
Windhorst: Yes. I picked Miami and Oklahoma City in October and will stick with them even if the Pacers and Spurs have also played beautifully.