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Previewing the NBA’s Christmas Slate

Stephen Curry and LeBron James do battle in an NBA Finals rematch on Christmas Day.
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Christmas morning is the time for unwrapping your presents and enjoying the love and warmth of your family as you gather around the Christmas tree. The rest of the day, with a slight 30-minute break for Christmas dinner, is a time for pretending they don’t exist while you thoroughly absorb yourself in nonstop NBA action. That’s how basketball fans win the holiday.

With that in mind, here’s a quick viewing guide (all times ET):

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS AT MIAMI HEAT, 12:00 PM, ESPN

Start your Christmas viewing with a star from the past and a star of the future. The Heat’s Dwyane Wade will be playing in his 10th X-mas day game, which is second-most all-time. He’s also second in scoring on Christmas Day with 258 points. The Heat are highly competitive in the East, vying with about nine other teams for that No. 2 seed. Also, Hassan Whiteside is looking more and more like a potential star.

The Pelicans will be led by Anthony Davis, who’s the only player in the league in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and blocks. He’s regressed slightly from last year’s monster performance, but with a player efficiency rating of 25.12, he remains one of the league’s elite players.

According to the official NBA press release, “Miami has won 81.8 percent of its Christmas Day games (9-2 record), the second-best mark among active teams behind the Portland Trail Blazers’ 82.4 percent (14-3). With a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, the Heat would pass Portland for the best winning percentage on Christmas Day and notch a Christmas win for the seventh year in a row. ”

CHICAGO BULLS AT OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER, 2:30 PM, ABC

If you’re looking for a player who can light up the Christmas tree, look no further than the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, who’s averaging 31.8 points in five games on Christmas Day, second to Jerry West (32.2 PPG) among players who’ve played at least five times. Of course, he’ll see a stiff challenge in the Chicago Bulls, who currently boast the third-best defensive rating in the NBA. Jimmy Butler, one of the top wing defenders and two-way players in the league, will draw the task of defending him.

And while Derrick Rose isn’t what he once was, he had his best game of the season when he went against his friend, Russell Westbrook, earlier this year, scoring 29 points on 12-0f-25 shooting while dishing out five assists.

Both these teams have had some weird and topsy-turvy things going on this year, but if they both bring their best game, it’ll make for some great basketball.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS AT GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, 5:00 PM, ABC

If you can only watch one game on Christmas day, this is the one. Kyrie Irving is back and the Cavaliers will be at full strength. The Warriors have been rolling over everyone, but the Cavaliers have been heating up too and are on a six-game winning streak. They’re clearly the best team in the suddenly competitive East.

This will mark the seventh time that the teams from the previous season’s Finals are meeting on Christmas Day the following season. The champs and challengers have each won three of the previous six contests. Furthermore, this will mark the third time LeBron James will participate in the game. His Miami Heat avenged their loss to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and defended the challenge of the Thunder in 2012.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS AT HOUSTON ROCKETS, 8:00 PM, ESPN

Christmas is a time for old-man winter, so why not a game for old men? This set features three players drafted in the 90s: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Jason Terry.

The Spurs are steamrolling the league and seem to be on course for a conference finals matchup against the Golden State Warriors. San Antonio boasts an unprecedented 13.6 average point differential, which is just a tick ahead of Golden State and would be the best mark ever.

Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets, who lost to the Warriors in last year’s conference finals, have been struggling to find their way. They’ve already fired their head coach and have all but given up entirely on their big offseason acquisition, Ty Lawson.

But it looks like they might be getting a bit of traction, as they’ve gone 10-5 since a 5-10 start. If they come to play, Houston will pose a stiff challenge for San Antonio.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS AT LOS ANGELES LAKERS, 10:30 PM, ESPN

An interesting tidbit on this game: both coaches are familiar with playing on the holiday. Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Lakers coach Byron Scott each appeared in four Christmas Day games as players. Scott’s final Christmas Day game came with the Lakers in 1996, when he played alongside rookie Kobe Bryant.

Bryant is the all-time leader in Christmas games played (16) and points scored (383). The game is unlikely to be competitive because (spoiler!) the Lakers aren’t very good. That said, Bryant has been pretty solid lately and should put on a good show in his last Christmas game. He averaged 20.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists while shooting 45.5 percent overall ad 32.7 percent from three over the last eight games.

It’ll be one of the last times he plays for a national TV audience, so maybe he’ll have a big send off. That sounds like a very Kobe thing to do.

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