With the 2017 NBA Christmas Day games set for Monday, Last Word On Pro Basketball‘s four editors answered some burning questions about one of the most entertaining days in professional sports.
2017 NBA Christmas Day Roundtable
1. Which underrated or unknown NBA player will break out on Christmas Day?
Barkev Sivazlian, associate editor: Underrated but certainly not unknown, Michael Beasley has quietly strung together some nice performances for the New York Knicks as of late. Perhaps it may be a bit too early to label Beasley as “underrated”. After all, Beasley’s playing time has been sporadic. However, Beasley’s minutes and points per game have increased so far in the month of December. On Dec. 16, Beasley and the Knicks overcame the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 111-96 blowout. Beasley had arguably his best game of the season so far with 30 points (11-18, 61 percent FG), five rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and two three-pointers. Heading into Christmas Day, the Knicks are hosting the Philadelphia 76ers in a divisional matchup. New York currently holds the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, with the 76ers sitting at 10th. Neither team wants to lose this game, and with 76ers star Joel Embiid battling a back injury, his status for the Christmas Day showdown is uncertain. Don’t be surprised to see not only the Knicks win this game, but Michael Beasley leading the team in victory.
Harrison Marcus, managing editor: He’s definitely not unknown, and I’m not sure he’s even underrated at this point, but I expect Jaylen Brown to have a breakout game on Christmas Day. Brown has proved this year that he was absolutely worthy of the third overall draft selection two years ago. He’s emerged as an electric scorer (14.5 points per game) and a much-improved shooter (1.7 made threes per game at 39.4 percent). His ability to give the Boston Celtics a spark at any given moment has been a crucial part of their success this season, and we all know about his versatility on the defensive end. With their core of Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, and Brown, the Celtics look poised for a long run at the top of the East. Expect Brown to show up big time on Christmas Day against the Washington Wizards.
Lior Kozai, managing editor: Here are two: Robert Covington and Dario Saric. While Covington’s recent contract extension means that he is not paid like an unknown player, he is certainly underrated. Saric, on the other hand, came over from Europe last season and is still getting accustomed to the NBA. Covington is the epitome of three-and-D, with the ability to defend multiple positions, while Saric has a strange but effective game at both forward spots. Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Markelle Fultz get most of the attention for the Sixers – and rightfully so, as all of them were drafted in the top three – but Covington and Saric are also important. Covington has struggled lately, but look for him to get back on track Monday. Both players will have a chance to display their talents in the first game of Christmas Day, which should introduce many non-diehard NBA fans to a couple of key players on the league’s fastest rising future contender.
Matthew Cardenas, associate editor: He cannot be labeled as over or underrated because he is a rookie, but look for Jayson Tatum to have a big game. He has been one of the best rookies all season and this could be his moment to shine. Tatum is averaging 13.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and has stepped up in the absence of Gordon Hayward. He has shown flashes of great scoring abilities, using his length to his advantage and being one of the best three-point shooters from the corner. I think he could be in for a 25-point game (at least) on Christmas Day.
2. Which individual player matchup are you most excited to see on Christmas?
Barkev: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well, we’re going to find out on Christmas Day when LeBron James and Draymond Green go head-to-head. The Cleveland Cavaliers are traveling to Oakland, California, to take on the Golden State Warriors. In a rematch of the last three NBA Finals, both the Cavaliers and Warriors are not at full strength. Stephen Curry of the Warriors will miss the game due to an ankle injury and the Cavaliers will continue to make due without newly acquired Isaiah Thomas. What makes this matchup interesting, however, is the MVP-caliber season that James has been having. Averaging 28 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds, James will need to continue to carry the load for the Cavaliers to beat the Warriors. Even without Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Green are all more than capable of being spectacular on any given night. As good a season as James is currently enjoying, he will likely be defended by Green, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, for most of the game. It will be interesting to see who gets the better of the other in this matchup.
Harrison: Joel Embiid vs. Kristaps Porzingis. When the schedule first came out, the early game had the potential to be a dud. However, the Sixers and Knicks are both exciting young teams and are actually in playoff contention in the East. Both Embiid and Porzingis define how an elite seven-footer should play in the modern NBA, with the ability to shoot, drive, post up, dunk, and block shots. As the face of their respective franchises in major NBA cities, Embiid and Porzingis are no strangers to the spotlight. I expect the two of them to combine for a Christmas Day highlight reel on Monday, provided Embiid’s recent back issues don’t keep him out.
Lior: John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving. It will be interesting to see the Wizards and Celtics face off in a rematch of their second-round series from the 2017 playoffs. However, the Celtics only kept four players from last year’s roster. Boston’s most notable off-season addition was Irving, who has been stellar thus far as the successor to Isaiah Thomas. Wall and Irving have long battled for the title of best point guard in the Eastern Conference, so look for them to go head-to-head in one of the most competitive games of the day. These two teams have some history, including multiple in-game fights last season, not to mention the ‘funeral game’. Wall and Irving have a history of their own, dating back to before Irving’s days in Boston. Also, Wall called Irving’s trade request “crazy” this past summer, only adding fuel to the fire in a matchup that is interesting enough based on talent alone.
Matthew: I want to go with Joel Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis, but that is pending due to Embiid possibly being sidelined for this game. Because of that, I am going with John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving. These are two of the best point guards in the league and there has been debate between who is better. Irving is a more talented scorer while Wall is better at getting his teammates involved. It will be interesting to see what kind of stat lines they put up going against each other. It is possible that Irving will not guard Wall, though, so look out for that potential cross-match.
3. Which team will win each Christmas Day game?
76ers at Knicks, Cavaliers at Warriors, Wizards at Celtics, Rockets at Thunder, Timberwolves at Lakers
Barkev: The Knicks win and continue to flirt with the possibility of making a push for a playoff spot. LeBron James continues his stellar play, leads Cleveland to the victory, and stakes his claim for the 2017-18 MVP award. Washington pulls off the upset as John Wall and Bradley Beal overcome a Celtics team that will really miss the presence of Avery Bradley on Christmas Day. In likely the most exciting matchup of the day, the Rockets-Thunder game will have no shortage of offense. In a close contest, Harden and the Houston Rockets overcome the onslaught of the Thunder’s big three and take the victory. The stellar play of the Los Angeles Lakers’ young stars continues to impress, but they come up short against a Minnesota Timberwolves team that will be looking to further its rise in the Western Conference standings.
Harrison: I’m going to go with the Knicks, Warriors, Celtics, Rockets, and Timberwolves coming away victorious on Christmas Day. The Knicks tend to play well during big games when the New York crowd is all fired up, and for the rest of the games I feel as if the superior team will come out on top. The closest game will be Wizards-Celtics, with Kyrie Irving hitting clutch shots down the stretch. In the 8 p.m. game, I predict James Harden and the Rockets to blow out Oklahoma City, which will officially put the Thunder in panic mode, if they aren’t there already.
Lior: While the young Knicks and Lakers have been feisty and competitive this season, they will ultimately succumb to more talented teams. The budding stars on the Sixers and Timberwolves will shine on the big stage in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. The three rematches of last year’s playoffs will have the same end results as those series. The Cavs will compete but ultimately let the game slip away late, as Cleveland’s defense still can’t quite hang with Golden State. Washington might bring it down to the wire, but Boston will prevail behind a ferocious crowd. And finally, Houston will continue its hot streak by beating the Thunder in Oklahoma City. The Thunder desperately need to fix their “Clogged Toilet Offense” (shout out Bill Simmons), as they still have not yet figured out how to fit their three stars together (if you can still call Carmelo Anthony a star).
Matthew: My picks are the Knicks, Celtics, Lakers, Warriors, and Rockets. Outside of the Rockets, I am rolling with the home teams. If the Thunder were not so inconsistent, their game with the Rockets would be more appealing. There seems to be a rivalry between Thunder and Rockets fans. The Lakers pick might be a reach, but they have played well lately. They just ended the Rockets 14-game winning streak and almost beat the Warriors on the night Kobe Bryant’s jersey was retired. The Lakers have made positive strides and it seems they are only going to go up from here. I also expect there to be a fight or two in the Wizards-Celtics game. We know the history between them.
NBA Christmas Day Schedule
The NBA’s holiday festivities begin at 12 p.m. EST on Monday, when the 76ers take on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York. That game will be followed by Cavaliers vs. Warriors in Oakland at 3 p.m., Wizards vs. Celtics in Boston at 5:30, and Rockets vs. Thunder in Oklahoma City at 8 p.m. EST. Timberwolves vs. Lakers will cap off the night at 10:30 p.m. EST.
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