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Buckets under the tree

A preview of the NBA Christmas game schedule

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The NBA season is in full effect and after opening day the next slate of games comes on Dec. 25. As NFL football is to Thanksgiving, NBA basketball is to Christmas. This year is no different. Here are the best Christmas games.

Appetizer – 76ers vs. Knicks

To start things off, at noon on ESPN we have a tasty appetizer in the Philadelphia 76ers traveling to the Big Apple to take on the New York Knicks. Both teams are in huge markets and in seasons prior have underperformed. However, this season seems fresh for them both. In the past, the 76ers have been condemned for tanking. That is no longer the case.

Behind success from previous drafts, the 76ers organization has put together a team that has everyone in the NBA scared and excited. Behind rookie sensation Ben Simmons, who has a LeBron James-esque style of play, sophomore phenom Joel Embiid and savvy veterans such as J.J. Redick, the 76ers have produced on the court.

The Knicks have a young roster, with less upside. With the subtraction of Carmelo Anthony and the addition of players such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Michael Beasley, the Knicks are putting together a sneaky good team.

Kristaps Porziņģis is dominating in his third season and without the burden of Anthony being the primary focus on offense, Porziņģis has thrived. He averages 25.8 points per game – fifth in the league – and is blocking 2.1 shots a game – first in the league. It is going to be a treat to watch Embiid and Porzingis go at it.

Main Course – Cavaliers vs. Warriors

Heading over to ABC at 3 p.m., things really get started with the main meal. The Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers in a rematch of the previous three NBA finals.

Stephen Curry recently rolled his ankle on Dec. 4, but he should be good to go by Christmas. Regardless if he can play or not, having Kevin Durant as a second option is better than every first option besides James in the league. With Draymond Green playing on primetime television, there is always a chance for drama, especially going up against a team with so much history.

The Cavaliers have a very different roster than the previous two seasons. With the loss of Kyrie Irving in an offseason trade to the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers gained all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas and strong wing defender Jae Crowder as well as the free agent acquisition of veteran Dwyane Wade. Thomas has been injured for the entire season thus far, but hopefully will be able to return to action by Christmas. Watch out for a huge game from J.R. Smith or Wade.

Seconds – Wizards vs. Celtics

If you’re not full yet, the Washington Wizards will take a quick flight north to take on the Boston Celtics. Starting at 5:30 p.m. on ABC, this battle between Eastern Conference foes will feature two of the best point guards in the league. Starting with the Wizards, John Wall has been absent due to discomfort in his shoulder, but should be back come Christmas. Wall is a born leader and facilitator as well as one of the best defenders in the league. His running mate, Bradley Beal has a stroke very few in the world can emulate.

The Celtics have been on fire this season despite losing all-star Gordon Hayward in the first game of the season. Irving thrives in the spotlight and a nationally televised game should bring about the best in him. Don’t be surprised if he drops 40 points and puts on a ball-handling clinic.

Thirds – Rockets vs. Thunder

The last game on ABC is at 8 p.m. and will feature the Oklahoma City Thunder playing host to the Houston Rockets. This matchup, much like mashed potatoes and gravy should top off the festive meal.

Every time these foes face-off, there is always the reminder that the Thunder originally broke up the big-three of Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden when they traded Harden away to avoid financial problems. In the offseason, the Rockets acquired a top-three-point guard of all time in Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul has missed a portion of the season but every game he has played, the Rockets have looked impervious.

The Thunder has been underwhelming this season. With the acquisition of Paul George from the Indiana Pacers and Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks, the Thunder was expected to rival both the Warriors and Rockets in offensive pedigree. Their offense has featured way too much isolation ball. Both teams are trying to cement themselves as top contenders against the Warriors come playoff times. This game will have a very game-seven vibe. For the sake of the Thunder, let’s hope they treat it like one.

Dessert ­– Timberwolves vs. Lakers

For dessert –– the game that didn't make the cut ­­–– the Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers.

Jeremy Torres is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at: jeremy.torres@ubspectrum.com


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