ESPN and ABC are serving up a five-course banquet of basketball on Christmas Day: Heat-Knicks, ESPN, 12 ET; Celtics-Magic, ABC, 2:30 ET; Cavs-Lakers, ABC, 5 ET; Clippers-Suns, ESPN, 8 ET; and Nuggets-Blazers, ESPN, 10:30 ET.
For this quintuple-header, we're playing 5-on-5: That's five writers on five questions on five games on Christmas Day.
1. The Heat-Knicks rivalry of the late 1990s:
Good times or bad times?
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Low-scoring basketball. A stunning lack of beauty. And Jeff Van Gundy -- esteemed coach -- reduced to leg-grabber. Bad, unless you like rubbernecking.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: A little bit of both. The rivalry was terrific: great cross-team relationships (Zo-Ewing, Riley-Van Gundy), drama (Zo vs. LJ, Ward vs. Brown) and hard-fought games. But the basketball wasn't that great. This was knockdown, drag-out stuff. Football on a basketball court.
Chad Ford, ESPN Insider: Bad times. It was basketball at its ugliest. It's still hard to believe that Pat Riley followed up Showtime with what was, in my mind, the NBA dark ages of physical defense and 78-77 playoff contests. Mike D'Antoni is doing his best to erase the era, but alas, I still don't think the NBA has totally recovered.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Bad times. They nearly ruined the game. It took the league a decade to recover from the brutish, creativity-free play that Pat Riley instituted with both franchises. Think about it: We remember the fights, but very little about the plays that happened on the court.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: Depends if you like the Knicks or the Heat. In N.Y., that was the one rivalry the Knicks had in which they always prevailed. It wasn't that way for them against the Bulls. In Miami, it was year-to-year mental devastation.
2. Which was more real:
The Heat's 6-1 start or the Knicks' recent 7-2 stretch?
Abbott: The Knicks seem to have settled into roles (Jared Jeffries as stopper, Larry Hughes as backup point guard, Danilo Gallinari as gunner, etc.) that work reasonably well. The Heat are good when Dwyane Wade is otherworldly, and it seems unfair to expect that of him every night.
Broussard: The Knicks', mainly because the Heat are far from the elite team their 6-1 start suggests. The Knicks won't play at an 8-3 clip the rest of the way either, but they are a team that could finish anywhere from sixth to 12th in the weak Eastern Conference.
Ford: Neither. I don't think the Heat are as good as their early-season start, nor do I think the Knicks are as good as their recent winning stretch. While Dwyane Wade is terrific and Michael Beasley is a worthy sidekick, the supporting cast is weak. And the Knicks don't have a reliable go-to guy.
Hollinger: I think the Knicks' recent stretch of solid play is slightly more real, only because it included much more impressive wins -- most notably the game in Atlanta. I had trouble believing Miami could play at such a high caliber all season, but it's easier to believe that the Knicks might be able to sustain something near .500.
Sheridan: Tough question, have to go with the Knicks. Here's why: Mike D'Antoni's system works. That has been proved. And when the Knicks are hitting their 3s, they can stick with anybody. Their recent hot stretch began after they proved that in a home game versus Boston that they lost on a KG jumper at the buzzer.
3. Which sophomore would you rather have:
Michael Beasley or Danilo Gallinari?
Abbott: Beasley might be one of the only potential future MVPs who can be had on the cheap. But Gallinari is one of the biggest and best spot-up shooters in NBA history, and he plays some D, too. Any team could use a guy like that. Another question: What's more likely to go haywire: Gallinari's back or Beasley's judgment?
Broussard: Beasley. His talent is greater than Gallinari's and though he's got a long way to go, he's showing signs of maturity. Gallinari's a great shooter, but Beasley's got more versatility.
Ford: Beasley. He's a more complete player. He rebounds, he can score inside and he doesn't have a bad back.
Hollinger: Beasley. Gallinari is a better shooter, but Beasley is the better athlete and has more ways to develop his game in the future. Additionally, there's the issue of Gallinari's back. Gallo will be a great shooter for many years, but Beasley is the only one of the two with All-NBA potential.
Sheridan: Beasley. I'll take the multidimensional player over the one-trick specialist every time, and it's a bonus that Beasley can shoot 3s, too. Plus, Gallinari gets attacked every night on defense.
4. Who would you rather have the next 10 years:
Dwyane Wade or Mike D'Antoni?
Abbott: Mike D'Antoni didn't get to the Finals with a transcendent point guard. Wade got there with Jason Williams. Wade.
Broussard: Are you serious? I'd rather have Dwyane Wade than any coach. Wade is going to go down as one of the top shooting guards ever. Wade's already shown he can win a title. D'Antoni's a good coach but he's yet to prove his style can win it all, and he's yet to prove he can win big without Steve Nash (before or after Nash).
Ford: D'Antoni. Wade will be 28 next month, and he's had a history of injuries. The way he plays, I don't think he'll be effective in the league past the age of 32 or 33. Meanwhile, I still believe D'Antoni is one of the best coaches in the league. Give him talent and not only will he win, you'll enjoy watching him do it.
Hollinger: Is this even a question? This is a players' league, and the coaches will be the first ones to tell you that. D'Antoni might be able to get 45 or 50 wins out of 40-win talent, but at the end of the day if he has 40-win talent there's only so much he can do.
Sheridan: Both are great guys whom I've gotten to know well through their time with Team USA, so from a personal perspective that's a tough call that I give to Wade on the Marquette tiebreaker. If I'm a fan, I take Wade. Fans, after all, want to see players play.
5. Which would be the better destination for LeBron James:
Miami or New York?
Abbott: Knicks, duh. Whoever is asking these questions is clearly forgetting that we're part of a vast New York-based media conspiracy.
Broussard: Heat. LeBron and Wade would have a shot at winning the title next year and every other year they played together after that. With the Lakers looking awesome this year and for the years to come, LeBron (and Wade) is going to need a stud teammate to beat L.A.
Ford: Neither. Both teams lack the supporting young talent that James needs to build a dynasty. If either team uses all its money on King James, who's going to fill out the rotation? I think the Clippers, Thunder and Nets (all have cap room) are all better positioned if LBJ's real goal is winning championships.
Hollinger: Miami, by far, because the Heat already have another superstar for LeBron to play alongside. The Heat also have a young, talented forward in Michael Beasley, a first-round pick (unlike the Knicks), and the combined lure of South Beach and Pat Riley to woo additional free agents and/or veteran help.
Sheridan: Heat. Of the three teams with mega cap space (Miami, N.Y., N.J.), the Heat are the only team that has a max guy already in place. And if they add LBJ, they still have money left over to get Boozer.
5-on-5: Heat-Knicks | Celtics-Magic | Cavs-Lakers | Clippers-Suns | Nuggets-Blazers