By Brian Gilmore
Last year, as a result of the NBA’s lock-out and labor dispute, the season officially began on Christmas. It may have meant an intense 66-game season, but was that really any different?
In recent NBA history, Christmas Day is really the day the league serves notice that the real season has begun. Many people haven’t watched the first 30 or so games but they finally tune in on Dec. 25th. Anyone remember the Bernard King 60-point game in Madison Square Garden? Yep, that was on Christmas ’84. It was also 20 years ago Michael Jordan showed up and out with 42 points against the Knicks on Christmas ’92. Presents for every NBA fan.
Let’s review who these teams are right now on the Christmas Day ’12 Extravaganza and pick ‘em.
The teams faced off twice this season and the Nets have come away with the winning ball. They don’t like each other and the last game ended up with a fight in the stands and an ejected Rajon Rondo. Lip readers should have lots of fun with this one. For a full preview check out this preview.
Truth is, the Celtics, the legendary Boston Celtics, are in transition from the “Big Three” years, and it is beginning to show. They are at .500, and the Big Ticket (Kevin Garnett) and Jeff Green do not always put up the necessary numbers for them to win games. Rondo is solid as always as is Paul Pierce but anytime Garnett or Green are slightly off, it is trouble. They defend well but have trouble scoring; thus, their games are close all the time. As a team, they share the ball but don’t rebound it well at all. This is why they are struggling in the Eastern conference they once dominated.
The New-Look Nets, the Brooklyn Nets, are also up and down. They play great defense but don’t score very well either. One obvious issue is Deron Williams, their star point guard, who isn’t shooting as well as usual and his assists are down. This, without a doubt, affects the entire team. A recent short losing streak is a little deceptive, as they are probably slightly better than their record. Yet, with a team with this much young talent, one has to believe they would play even better.
It was just last March that D’Antoni said goodbye to New York. His Lakers saw the Knicks once already and as the Knicks always do at home, ‘Melo and the boys won 116-107. The short-handed LA faced a sure-handed NY but things should be different since the Lakers D’Antoni got what he always wanted – a Nash for Christmas.
The Los Angeles Lakers are back in the saddle but that comes with some defintion. Paul Gasol is back ready to make it work but more importantly, so is Steve Nash. Nash will make the offense work better and once Gasol and Howard figure out how to play together, they will be quite formidable offensively. Kobe Bryant is probably pleased but he can’t jack up 40 plus shots in any game or even 25 plus shots a game if the new lineup is to work. This team’s strength is inside out – feed the post and let Nash work the game from there. Interesting stat: in losses, Kobe is averaging 33 points per game. Is that enough to tell the Black Mamba that jacking it is the ticket to defeat?
The New York Knicks are one of the pleasant surprises of the year. They defend and they have solid veteran leadership as well – Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler. But the fuel to the Knicks is Melo, meaning Carmelo Anthony. As he goes, so goes the Knicks. Can he be the comeback like Dirk was to Dallas in 2011, and get it done with Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler, a solid coach (Mike Woodson) and a nice compliment of players including Melo’s scoring intern off the bench, J.R. Smith? Knicks fans would love to see that.
Rematch! The two best teams with the league’s two best players meet again. We last saw Lebron James and Kevin Durant as teammates for the US in the Olympics. But before that it was the NBA Finals where King James got the proverbial monkey off his back and won the championship for the Heat. These two teams are leading their respective conferences. The Thunder don’t typically do well on Christmas (and they’re even worse on the road with an 0-9 record.)
The Miami Heat, as expected, is perhaps the best team in the league. This is so despite the fact that several key players have been up and down. The team is on a 4-game winning streak after dropping one to the hot GS Warriors. Dwyane Wade is having trouble in games as is Shane Battier. The long, grueling season from last year might be taking its toll mentally and physically but there is plenty of season left to get even better. The Heat still don’t rebound as well as one might expect and their defense is not as good as it should be. But all of this should scare the league: they still are, as I stated, the best team in the league.
The OKC Thunder could challenge them for best team in the league ranking. The team has won 13 straight. Kevin Durant is the league’s best offensive player. Russell Westbrook is re-defining the point guard position by thinking score and create. The Thunder is fast and long and they defend. Their experience last year in the playoffs has served them well and you can see it on the floor. Can they win the title this year? Can they beat the Heat today?
It is hard writing about the Rockets-Bulls game. Both teams seem incomplete. The Houston Rockets should still have Yao Ming and the Chicago Bulls don’t have Derrick Rose. Yet, this still should be a solid game with two solid teams performing at a high level. The Bulls love to play at home for Christmas (they’re 7-0 on 12/25 at home) but Houston is coming in on a 3-game winning streak.
The Bulls are the same with Rose and without: they defend, they rebound, they are mentally tough. They’re just not as good at it because a D-Rose is still D-Rose. Their points are hard to come by but they make it much harder for visitors (they’re 2nd best in scoring defense. How’s that for midwestern hospitality?) Right now, they have been forced to ride other players – Luol Deng and Joakim Noah especially – and both have answered the call. Carlos Boozer is also solid but the team just isn’t the same right now without Rose.
The Houston Rockets are all offense since they picked up James Harden from Oklahoma. They are first in offense and share the ball as well as any team in the league. They rebound but they do not defend but this could be partly the product of the Rockets choosing to go high octane. But they have interesting parts to go with Harden: Jeremy “Linsanity” Lin and former Bull Omer Asik who is averaging a double-double in the paint are the two main cogs. Their lineup like most good teams is stacked. This game shouldn’t disappoint as the young fellows love the big game day stage (just ask the Knicks.)
Denver doesn’t do Christmas in LA well. Maybe they miss the snow. The Nuggets have lost 4-of-5 to the Clippers at Staples Center. Making it even scarier, Paul Pierce and the Boys from LA are Hollywoooood Swingin’. They have won 13 games straight and are only 1/2 a game back of 1st in the West. This should be a nice night cap.
Los Angeles belongs to the Lakers, but right now, the city is on loan to the other, LA ballers, the LA Clippers. They have a lot of parts. Chris Paul is the key; if the famous trade last year that had Paul with Lakers had gone through, it isn’t likely King James would have a ring now. The Clippers also have Blake Griffin who is one of the more talented power forwards in the league. But the team also defends well, scores easily and is incredibly deep. Grant Hill is on this team as is Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford for some level-headed veteran leadership.
Denver is still kind of adjusting to the post-Melo, post-Nene era, and it is a struggle though George Karl, tough as nails and crafty too, has them playing hard each night, every night. The Nuggets are solid in every category except defense which probably explains their mixed record (15-13). But like the Clippers, the Denver Nuggets are loaded with talent. They have Andre Iguodala, the real A.I., Ty Lawson, at point, and the ever solid, Andre Miller providing veteran stability. Kenneth Faried is a presence in the paint even though he is only 6’8” and Javal McGeee, though he continues to have his moments, can be a dominating presence off the bench in spurts. This game should be fast and fun.
So who will win these games? Make your picks!
I will go with the Nets, Lakers, Thunder, Clippers, and the Bulls. Not because I have the inside track but just because I have to pick one of them to win – just like guessing what’s in the boxes under the tree.
Regardless of the results, it should all be nice. Happy Holidays.
Brian Gilmore is a writer and poet, and also blogs for thebigideas.tv. He can be followed @bumpyjonasdc