This year for Christmas you’re getting Steph vs. LeBron in a Finals rematch featuring the last two NBA champions, who happen to have the best record in their respective conferences. And if that’s not enough, there’s four more NBA games on Christmas day, featuring the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul. (All records and stats are through Wednesday 12/21).
Boston Celtics (16-12) vs New York Knicks (15-13)
Noon ET Sunday on ESPN
The Celtics had a tough go of it recently, dropping three straight to teams among the league’s top 10 – San Antonio, OKC, and Toronto, but got back on track by ripping off consecutive wins over Charlotte, Miami, and Memphis. Against the Grizzlies on Tuesday, guard Isaiah Thomas set a franchise record for most free throws without a miss, hitting 17 of 17, en route to a career-high 44 points.
The Knicks on Tuesday ended a three-game slide of their own, defeating the Indiana Pacers 118-111, behind a game-high 35 points from Carmelo Anthony, and Joakim Noah’s 11-11. But this still remains the Year of Porzingis, as the 7-foot Lithuanian continues to blossom into one of the NBA’s best young big men, as he’s second on the team in points (20.2) and rebounds (7.6), and is tops in blocks (1.8).
Golden State Warriors (25-4) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (20-6)
2:30pm ET Sunday on ABC
Following their 104-74 dusting of the Jazz on Tuesday, the Warriors led the league in scoring with 117.4 ppg, 4.8 ahead of the #2 Rockets, and were also tops in assists (31.3), steals (9.4), blocks (6.4), and field goal percentage (.496). Though they haven’t quite matched last season’s historic win-loss pace, they are scoring more and allowing fewer points per game – with the addition of Kevin Durant, it’s pretty clear this year’s team would beat last year’s team head-to-head.
The Cavs are a bit dinged up this week, as Kevin Love suffered a knee contusion that kept him out of Tuesday’s 114-108 win over the Bucks, a game that JR Smith had to leave due to a broken thumb, which could sideline him for a month or more. Smith’s been struggling with cranky knees and an off jumper all season, hitting 33.7% from the field – just 26.1% from inside the arc, leading to 8.6 ppg, his lowest rate since he was on the Hornets in 2005-6. LeBron James is averaging 25-8-9, but it’s Kevin Love who’s stepped up his game this year, his 22-11 putting him on pace for his first double-double season since his time in Minnesota.
Chicago Bulls (14-13) vs San Antonio Spurs (23-5)
5pm ET Sunday on ABC
After dropping six of eight, the Bulls got a much needed win on Monday over the Pistons, 113-82, with seven guys, including all five starters, in double figures. Jimmy Butler led the scoring effort with 19 on 6-of-7 shooting, but it was Rajon Rondo who filled up the scoresheet with 10-8-14 and 3 steals. The Bulls are gonna need more nights like that from Rondo, whose scoring has fallen from 11.9 ppg last year to 8.1, thanks to his shooting dropping from 45.4% to 39.8%, while his assists have plummeted from 10.4 per game over the previous 7 seasons to 7.2 this season.
The Spurs survived a career-high 7 turnovers from Kawhi Leonard and a full-frontal assault from James Harden on Tuesday to defeat the Houston Rockets 102-100. The Spurs had been down by 13 with 4:39 to play in the 4th quarter, before going on an 11-0 run to get within striking distance. Moments later, a Patty Mills trey with 13 seconds to play put the Spurs on top. Harden would finish with 31-10-7, but it wasn’t quite enough on a night when the Spurs hit 12 of 23 from downtown, including 4 of 5 in the final 3 minutes.
Minnesota Timberwolves (8-19) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (tk)
8pm ET Sunday on ESPN
The T’wolves got a rare win on Monday, beating the Phoenix Suns 115-108 thanks to a big night from their trio of 21-year-olds, as Zach LaVine scored 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 26 and Karl-Anthony Towns went 28-15. The three of them continue to average 20+ ppg, but until the team stops giving up enough open looks to lead to the fifth-highest opponent’s shooting percentage, 46.8%, they’re gonna lose more than they win. If they just held foes to a league-average 49.4% from inside the arc, it would lower the points allowed by 2.8 per game, flipping their point differential from -2.6 to +0.2.
Russell Westbrook went off against the Pelicans Wednesday night, scoring 42 points, with 10 rebounds and 7 assists to lead his team to a 121-110 victory, and to maintain his triple-double average for the season: 31.3-10.5-10.8. Westbrook got big help off the bench from Enes Kanter, who posted 14-14, and Alex Abrines who scored a career-high 18. Making the win all the more impressive was the continued absence of Victor Oladipo, who’s out indefinitely with a sore wrist.
Los Angeles Clippers (21-8) vs Los Angeles Lakers (tk)
10:30pm ET on ESPN
For the third season in a row, Clippers forward Blake Griffin is gonna miss a chunk of the season, this time 3-6 weeks to recover from arthroscopic surgery. They say they just need to clean it out, but man… At some point you gotta wonder when it’s time to punch his ticket for the Derrick Rose All-Fragile Travelling All-Stars. On Tuesday, their first game sans Griffin, the Clippers beat the Nuggets 119-102, with Chris Paul posting 16-8-15, DeAndre Jordan going 13-13, and JJ Reddick draining 7 of 9 treys en route to 27 points. The Clips went 30-15 during Blake’s face-punching hiatus last season, and 9-6 the year before that while he recovered from a staph infection, so they’ll be fine, but this injury could end up costing them a series at home to start the playoffs, and it could cost Griffin a whole lot of green.
After starting the season a promising 10-10, the Lakers have careened into a ditch, dropping 10 of their next 11, the latest indignity a 117-113 loss to the Hornets, after having built a 73-59 lead by halftime. The Hornets went on a 15-0 run early in the 3rd to close the gap, and then the game was afoot, with several lead changes. The Lakers went up 113-10 on a Nick Young jumper with 2:48 to play, but the Hornets responded with a Marco Belinelli trey to tie it, and LA would then shoot 0-for-5 the rest of the way. In addition to the game, the Lakers lost Larry Nance Jr. to a bone bruise in his knee that will keep him out of action indefinitely. The Lakers are 4th in the league in scoring at 104.7 ppg, but they also give up the most points, 110.7 ppg, thanks to giving up the highest field goal percentage (47.6%), the most assists (25.9), and the most steals (9.5), while committing the most turnovers (16.1). They have some things to work on.
Watch the Celtics vs Knicks at Noon ET, T’wolves vs Thunder at 8pm ET and Clippers vs Lakers at 10:30pm ET Sunday on ESPN by subscribing to Sling Orange, and Warriors vs Cavs at 2:30pm ET and Bulls vs Spurs at 5pm ET Sunday on ABC by subscribing to Sling Orange + Broadcast Extra or ESPN3 by subscribing to Sling Orange.