|A Finals rematch between the Cavs and Warriors headlines a jam-packed NBA Christmas.|
For an in-depth preview of the Celtics and Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day, you can read my separate preview article here. Now, onto the rest of a packed Christmas Day!
2:30 PM ET, ABC: Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers
The long-awaited regular season rematch of the previous two NBA Finals comes to a television, phone, tablet or computer near you on Christmas Day.
The Warriors and Cavaliers represent two of the top three teams in terms of offensive efficiency and two of the four best squads in scoring differential this season. Golden State’s league-leading effective field goal and true shooting percentages have propelled the Warriors to a gargantuan lead in scoring differential this season.
As seen in the 2016 NBA Finals, when the Warriors’ opposition holds them to a poor effective field goal percentage (EFG%), Golden State loses. In each of the Cavaliers’ four victories over the Warriors in the Finals, Cleveland held Golden State to below a .500 EFG%.
The Cavaliers will be without J.R. Smith, who required surgery on his thumb. Smith scored double-digit points in five of the 2016 Finals games, and Cleveland went 4-1 in those contests. However, the Cavaliers have played well without Smith this season- They are 5-1 overall and 4-0 at home when Smith is out in 2016-17.
With or without Smith, if LeBron James and company can once again keep Stephen Curry’s squad below a .500 EFG%, then the Eastern Conference’s best shooting team will celebrate again against the Warriors.
5:00 PM ET, ABC: Chicago Bulls @ San Antonio Spurs
Sunday’s matchup at AT&T Center features two teams that are headed in opposite directions. San Antonio’s most recent winning streak received a jolt from Tim Duncan’s jersey retirement on Sunday, following the Spurs’ 113-100 victory against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans.
On Tuesday, the Spurs’ top four defense stifled the Houston Rockets’ offense and snapped their 10-game winning streak. In addition, San Antonio should be at full strength, as Manu Ginobili will most likely return to the court after not traveling with the team on Thursday or Friday.
The Bulls will have a difficult test in this contest, but they have already defeated the Spurs this season. Chicago handed San Antonio its first road loss of the season, but the only teams to defeat the Spurs multiple times in 2015-16 were the Warriors and Thunder. On Thursday, the Clippers became the first team to do so during this season.
San Antonio is on a three-game Christmas losing streak. Coincidentally, Chicago is riding a three-game Christmas winning streak, and will look to continue it on Sunday.
8:00 PM ET, ESPN: Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder
At Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday, triple-double machine Russell Westbrook hosts the young, but struggling Timberwolves, who are in search of their first divisional win of the season. These two teams are among the five best rebounding teams in the league, and have two of the six best double-double men in the league.
Karl-Anthony Towns, who is averaging more than 22 points and 11 rebounds per game, has performed better at home than on the road this season, but he did go for a game-high 33 points in the Wolves’ first game at Oklahoma City this season. Unfortunately, he was Minnesota’s only starter to score more than eight points in the 112-92 loss at Oklahoma City.
Surprisingly, Westbrook did not even register a double-double in the only meeting between the Wolves and Thunder thus far this season. However, his box score was nothing to frown upon: 28 points, 9-for-18 shooting, 4-for-5 from 3-point land, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals.
The Thunder’s starters will once again hope to dominate the Wolves’ starters on Christmas Day, as Oklahoma City looks for its 12th win in its last 13 tries against Minnesota. The lone Wolves win though was in March 2016, so all hope is not lost for Minnesota.
10:30 PM ET, ESPN: Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers
If you have made it through all four of the previous games and you are still watching basketball at this point, then you are reading the right article. You are definitely a basketball purist, because there is no Blake Griffin in this contest. In addition, there is a chance that real plus-minus leader Chris Paul does not play after straining his left hamstring on Thursday.
In just over 23 minutes on Thursday, Paul’s team-high 19 points led to the Clippers to their second victory over the Spurs this season. If he plays on Sunday, then there is a good chance that the Clippers extend their winning streak against the Lakers to 12 games, a streak includes last year’s game on Christmas Day.
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were in the Lakers’ starting lineup the last time the Lakers defeated the Clippers. The Lakers, also the “home team” that day in 2013, scored 41 points in the fourth quarter in the comeback victory.
Unfortunately for the 2016-17 Lakers, they have one of the NBA’s worst defenses this season and will be without Larry Nance Jr. due to a bone bruise in his knee. The Lakers also blew multiple 19-point leads in the past week. This game does not bode too well for the Lakers, but we will see how healthy the Clippers are for this contest.
Statistics and information are through games on December 22.
For more sports coverage, follow Adam Lowenstein on Twitter at @StatsAdam. Statistics used from ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com