Last season, the NBA had the benefit of using Christmas as the launchboard for the regular season, with a host of the usual suspects ready to make a splash into that ball-so-hard life. Now? We’re almost two months in, and, for once, the league isn’t distracted with lockouts or free agent controversies – it’s all ball.
All ten teams playing in the Christmas games have an agenda. So, what baggage each squad in hauling under each other’s trees?
Let’s get into it.
New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers
The Knicks are sporting a 20-7 record as one of the league’s elite teams this season, and are doing it all with an absentee Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony playing the four, and Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace as stabilizers. Meanwhile, the Lakers are still getting their a**es kicked with a still-recovering Dwight Howard, a pouting Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash just coming back from a month-and-a-half absence . And Kobe is still looking like he’s The Man, leading the league in scoring.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat
After the shock of James Harden leaving for Texas dissipated, the Thunder decided to start playing integrated basketball, with Kevin Durant taking the lead in his most well-rounded season to date . Miami? Well, The King is on pace ( even this early) to take the league MVP by season’s end, despite Dwyane Wade falling off and Chris Bosh playing as a stretch-five. Ray Allen and Udonis Haslem are holding down the bench, making the Heat look primed for another return to glory – if they get their D together.
Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets
The BK squad is barely over .500, after having started the season with a franchise-best record of 14-5. After the precipitous drop that the Nets have since taken in the wake of another Brook Lopez injury, the seat is getting hot for Avery Johnson with Deron Williams calling out the “system” (funny how Williams didn’t have problems with any systems before driving Jerry Sloan crazy and sending him into retirement). The Celtics, on the other hand, are still trying to find their identity, but are still in the hunt with Paul Pierce enjoying an impressive post-prime season and Rajon Rondo setting records and, get this,hitting shots .
Houston Rockets at Chicago Bulls
Even having found gold in acquiring rising star James Harden from the OKC Thunder, the Rockets are dealing with the reality that their bearded one and former Knicks media sensation Jeremy Lin are superfluous . On top of that, still no peep from the troubled Royce White. Chicago has its own issues. Still without superstar point god Derrick Rose, the Bulls are trying to stay afloat to qualify for the playoffs in a conference that’s only gotten more difficult to win in.
Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers
The Nuggets, as disappointing as their 15-13 record is, have nowhere to look but up. The team is steadily developing a true identity with the underrated Ty Lawson at point, Andre Iguodala at shooting guard, Kosta Koufos and Kenneth Faried as the frontcourt muscle, and the rapidly-improving JaVale McGee as their energetic sixth man. The Clippers, despite getting no time from the injured Grant Hill, barely any time from Chauncey Billups, and still-crappy play from Lamar Odom, are running hot with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan ooping each other , and Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford keeping the fire hot (and also keeping Vinny Del Negro’s seat moderately cool).