The NBA's marquee day is taking some hits this year. There are key injuries that will likely keep out major stars in every matchup. Joel Embiid, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas, Lonzo Ball, the list goes on and on. However, this is a time to be merry and joyful, so let's go through the NBA's 2017 Christmas Day slate, the unofficial "start to the season," and find why you will want to watch and enjoy the Christmas slate.
Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks: The 'We Miss Embiid' Game (12 p.m. ET)
Joel Embiid is questionable for this game and it's a damn shame. When the NBA booked it, they were hoping for Embiid vs. Kristaps Porzingis: the Process vs. the Unicorn. That's a matchup worth ditching your family for. This, however? Not so much, though for surprising reasons. Here's what's interesting here:
- You want to know how valuable Porzingis is? Check out the top eight rotation players, outside of Kyle O'Quinn, another big, next to Porzingis and then without him. Net rating with Porzingis is good, and without him is bad.
|Player||OFF Rating w/ Porzingis||DEF Rating w/ Porzingis||Net Rating w/ Porzingis||OFF Rating w/o Porzingis||DEF Rating w/o Porzingis||Net Rating w/o Porzingis|
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Every rotation player beats the opponent when Porzingis is on the floor, every rotation player gets beat by their opponent when he's on the bench. You don't need a Ph.D. in advanced analytics to recognize what that means.
- The scoring forwards battle in this one is pretty interesting. Michael Beasley vs. Dario Saric. Beasley is coming off a season high in a win over Boston the other night. Saric has been relatively quiet as he tries to settle into a new role alongside Ben Simmons and Embiid. If Embiid is out, look for that to become a key matchup.
- It's not immediately clear how the Knicks are going to guard Simmons. Lance Thomas? Courtney Lee? Jarrett Jack has no chance. Frank Ntilikina has great length, but the size problem is just so pronounced here.
- The underrated matchup in this one? Bruiser Kyle O'Quinn vs. Amir Johnson. That's just a whole lot of veteran savvy going pound for pound down low.
- Expect: Porzingis to go supernova, especially after a dreadful performance vs. Boston.
- Don't expect: A Sixers win if Embiid doesn't play.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors: The 'You've Already Seen This A Ton But Your Mom Knows Who All The Players Are' Game (3 p.m. ET)
I'm not going to fake this here, since this is my last column on this website. There is nothing to be learned here.
- If the Cavaliers win, so what? Curry is (almost definitely) out, and the Cavaliers won last Christmas, then got Gentlemen Swept (five games, you give 'em one, to be polite) in the NBA Finals.
- If the Warriors win ... well, they're the Warriors? What do you expect? Plus, if you're a Cleveland fan, you throw out that Isaiah Thomas is missing.
- It's still Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James, which is always cool, but it just feels like such a vain enterprise for James, who has a great team around him this season with how the bench is playing and still has very little chance to beat Golden State in June. The problem with these games? They're only interesting in the context of what happens in the expected Finals, and that question already seems solved. I don't need to sell you on watching this game. You already know whether it's intriguing because of the star power or not.
- One underrated question? The Cavs have done great work defensively with their bench unit, but how does that translate to stopping Klay Thompson? Dwyane Wade can't chase him off screens, Jae Crowder struggles there, too. Could be a big game for him.
- Expect: An incredible sequence between Durant and James.
- Don't expect: To walk away convinced of anything new about the Finals.
Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics: The 'Half The Family Is Making Dinner And The Other Half Is Napping, So Sneak It In' Game (5:30 p.m. ET)
These two teams hated one another last season, but as Marcus Smart mentioned the other day, there are a lot of new faces. What makes this one interesting:
- The Celtics have started turning into a pumpkin over the past few weeks as their defensive rating has slid and their offensive rating has jumped. They are dependent more and more on Kyrie Irving to score, but are defending worse with him on the court.
- Meanwhile, the Wizards have been a mess for most of the season. A trade of Markieff Morris seems like the only thing that can get them out of their funk, but it also remains a dubious proposition.
- Enjoy John Wall vs. Irving, but don't attribute the results to the defense of the other. Both will run pick-and-roll a ton, and both teams will switch against it pretty often. It's more about Irving vs. Morris and Gortat and Wall vs. Horford and Jaylen Brown than anything.
- I'm telling you right now, there will be a dust up between Aron Baynes and Markieff Morris at some point. Just go ahead and get ready for that. These two teams might not hate each other like last season, but it isn't friendly and those two will start it with anyone.
- Don't be shocked if Jayson Tatum goes wild in this game. Morris and Kelly Oubre will guard him a fair amount and both are serial cheaters on defense off the corner.
- Expect: A big Irving game, he gets up for these.
- Don't expect: Washington to bring it as it needs to, that has been a problem all season.
Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder: The 'Open That Second Bottle Of Wine' Game (8 p.m. ET)
Now we're talking. Chris Paul, Clint Capela and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could all miss this game, and it's still must-watch. Just the clash of styles, with OKC's grind vs. Houston's run-and-gun is fascinating. Throw in the battle of MVP vs. runner-up from last season between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and you have something.
- Watch out for Steven Adams in this game. With Capela likely out, Adams could feast on Nene, who has struggled lately. And the Rockets' smallball lineup with P.J. Tucker struggles without Mbah a Moute.
- Look for OKC to drop the big vs. Harden to make him take runners. He has been below the 35th percentile every season in that shot the past three years. It gets easier without the lob threat of Capela.
- OKC and Houston are both top defenses this season. They are legitimately great. With the missing personnel and how these two teams clash, expect a sloppy, physical, up-and-down affair. It'll be more like rollerball than basketball.
- Expect: A big Carmelo Anthony game.
- Don't expect: Westbrook to outduel Harden, even with how great Westbrook has been the past three weeks.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers: The 'Background While You Play Board Games With The Family' Game (10:30 p.m. ET)
It's a bummer that Lonzo Ball is Brandon Ingram has been great, Ball has been terrific the past 10 games except for the loss to Portland and Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma are two of the best young bigs under the radar. Minnesota's whole thing this season is to win games while looking unimpressive. That should hold, especially without Ball, even though the Lakers have consistently had better on-off numbers with Ball on the bench., because he makes games entertaining whether he's good or bad. The Lakers are pesky this season and kind of fun.
- Be careful with this one, if Andrew Wiggins and Brandon Ingram look one another in the eye, the space-time continuum could tear, ending the universe with overlap.
- Kuzma vs. Towns is going to be an amazing battle of two obscenely talented young dudes who can't defend.
- Expect Jimmy Butler, who has mostly been patient and picked his spots this season, to go absolutely wild against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and company.
- Jamal Crawford vs. Jordan Clarkson ... wow, there are a lot of similarities between these two teams.
- Expect: The Lakers to look good and put up a good fight while the Wolves win.
- Don't expect: Julius Randle to play enough minutes.