NBA Debate: What to look at for on Christmas Day

Merry Christmas, NBA trustworthy!

This week, our panel of NBA reporters — Melissa Rohlin, Ric Bucher and Yaron Weitzman — takes a take a look at the 5 Christmas Day matchups, and what’s on its thoughts forward of a tasty vacation smorgasbord. 

1. Which Christmas Day recreation are you trying ahead to most and why?

Weitzman: That is fairly straightforward for me. It’s Bucks-Celtics, the primary matchup of the season between what I believe most would agree are the 2 greatest groups within the NBA. Except for being a superb measuring stick for each groups, this recreation may have some stakes, too. Should you’re of the idea that the Celtics and Bucks are destined to satisfy within the Japanese Convention Finals then their head-to-head document might very effectively find yourself figuring out whether or not that recreation takes place in Milwaukee or Boston. 

Rohlin: Bucks-Celtics is most fascinating, basketball-wise. However I’m additionally trying ahead to Warriors-Grizzlies due to all of the trash-talk that went down between the squads final season. Let’s not overlook that after the Warriors gained the championship, Klay Thompson, fully unprovoked, railed on how a lot it “pissed” him off when Jaren Jackson Jr. tweeted “Strength in numbers” after the Grizzlies beat the Warriors throughout an everyday season recreation, poking enjoyable at their slogan. Thompson went on to name Jackson a “freakin’ bum,” in addition to a “freakin’ clown,” including, “You gonna mock us? You ain’t never been here before, bruh.” So, yeah, their first matchup of the season needs to be enjoyable. 

Bucher: Each good selections. Laborious to not go along with Bucks-Celtics at No. 1 for all the explanations Yaron gave, however I’m going to go along with a 3rd, odd as it could appear — Lakers-Mavs. These are two groups that aren’t presupposed to be the place they’re within the standings with extraordinarily proud, high-profile stars in Luka and LeBron. This opens a five-game highway journey for the Lakers and a three-game homestand for the Mavs. There’s an air of desperation round each groups. I don’t know the way a lot a win would do for both crew, however it might converse volumes about who the Mavs actually are if they will’t beat an AD-less Lakers’ crew at residence within the nationwide highlight. The Lakers, in the meantime, have to discover a method to cease their spiral since AD went down with a stress damage in his foot.

2. What ingredient of the Bucks-Celtics matchup will you be trying on the closest?

Weitzman: The Bucks’ protection final yr was constructed round the concept that it was okay to surrender non-corner-3s as a trade-off for shielding the paint. They tried that technique within the playoffs in opposition to the Celtics and received burnt by Grant Williams, and so this yr they’ve tweaked issues — as of Friday afternoon, solely eight groups have been permitting opponents to take a better share of their pictures from deep, based on Cleansing the Glass. Final yr they have been second-to-last within the class. The Celtics, in the meantime, take practically half their pictures from behind the 3-point line. I’m fascinated to see how this performs out on the courtroom.  

Rohlin: I’m excited to see the depth of this recreation. This can be their first assembly because the second spherical of the playoffs final season, which changed into a grind-it-out seven-game slugfest. Each Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo are prime MVP candidates this season and these sorts of video games have implications on that race. Who’s going to emerge as the highest canine in the course of the vaunted Christmas showcase?

Bucher: Two components which may wind up being one: How does Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer make the most of Giannis and which Tatum exhibits up. Bud has been slightly extra prepared to provide Giannis respectable defensive assignments this season, fortunately, slightly than placing him on lesser offensive threats to save lots of his vitality for the offensive finish. We’re not going to see Giannis on Tatum all recreation lengthy, however I’d like to get just a few appears at that at pivotal factors within the recreation. The necessity or curiosity in that, although, all is determined by Tatum. I’m nonetheless shocked by what I noticed when the Celtics had their first assembly in opposition to the Warriors this season: a hesitant, dare-I-say-even scared Tatum. That wasn’t the primary time he’s gave the impression to be seeing ghosts in opposition to a prime rival, both. He laid an egg in opposition to the Miami Warmth just a few video games earlier and adopted up the efficiency in opposition to the Warriors with one other laid-egg in opposition to the Clippers. If Tatum goes to dispel the picture that he can’t be counted on in massive video games, this is able to be a superb place to begin.

3. Is a preview of this season’s Western Convention finals matchup happening on Christmas Day? Why or why not?

Weitzman: I suppose Nuggets-Suns or, much more seemingly, Grizzlies-Warriors might be previews of the Western Convention finals, however I’m not shopping for the Suns and the Warriors are going to have severe floor to make up every time Steph Curry returns to the courtroom. No, for my part, the Grizzlies and Nuggets are the 2 groups to beat within the West. I believe the Grizzlies are the clear favorites — they’ll solely be higher as soon as Desmond Bane returns to the courtroom — and I really like how the Nuggets are simply stacking wins regardless of some struggles on protection and Jamal Murray nonetheless working his manner again from his damage and a yr away. 

Rohlin: The Western Convention is so gridlocked proper now that just one recreation separates the highest 4 groups and solely 4 video games separate the top-seeded Nuggets and the tenth place Minnesota Timberwolves. So, actually, the convention is huge open. I might see the Nuggets and Suns duking it out within the West finals, in addition to the Grizzlies and Mavericks. The large query mark right here for me is the Warriors, sitting eleventh within the West. It’s tough to see them reaching the championship spherical contemplating how a lot they’ve struggled this season. Nevertheless it additionally appears unwise to low cost a crew that is aware of easy methods to win as a lot as Golden State does. Will probably be fascinating to see how this season performs out for them, particularly understanding the implications that one other title — or a disappointing season — might have on the dynasty’s roster.

Bucher: How might it’s when the Clippers aren’t enjoying? I wouldn’t need to predict who’s going to be within the convention finals and I suppose it might wind up being Nuggets-Suns, however sheesh, how a lot enchantment does that actually have? The Suns have one way or the other grow to be an unlikable crew, the DeAndre Ayton-Monty Williams discord doesn’t seem like going away any time quickly, and as a lot discuss as there may be in regards to the Lakers’ bubble success being an outlier, the Nuggets haven’t regarded something just like the crew that took Orlando by storm. I do know, I do know, accidents have performed a giant half in that, however Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are again, they added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bones Hyland continues to enhance, and the Joker continues to be an offensive maestro — however the conference-leading document is a results of feasting on shedding groups (12-3) and regardless of having the Twenty fifth-ranked protection as of Friday afternoon. Perhaps that is the yr for the Nuggets, however at this level, I’m nonetheless going to experience with the Clippers being one of many two groups battling for the convention title. Despite Kawhi Leonard’s restricted availability, they’re far and away the perfect defensive crew within the Western Convention, and at full energy, have all of the offense they want.

4. So far within the season, what crew, participant or storyline has been essentially the most intriguing?

Weitzman: Nikola Jokic making a case for profitable a third-straight MVP and Zion Williamson validating all of the pre-draft hype are two good solutions, however I’m Dallas, the place Luka Doncic is placing up MVP numbers, but it surely does not matter as a result of his supporting solid is so weak. You possibly can see Doncic rising annoyed, too. One thing’s going to have to provide right here. Whether or not it’s Doncic demanding extra assist, or for a special kind of change. Nevertheless it’s positively a state of affairs price monitoring. 

Rohlin: For me, it’s the Nets. They went from being an utter catastrophe (Kevin Durant wanting a commerce, Kyrie Irving being on the heart of commerce talks, Steve Nash getting fired, Irving being embroiled in drama over his tweet directing individuals to an antisemitic film, and so forth.). To now, once they’re the most popular crew within the league with a seven-game profitable streak. This crew has had extra drama and ups and downs in the previous few months than many groups have over years. That at all times makes for an fascinating watch.

Bucher: What I really like is that there isn’t only one, however I’m going to go along with the Utah Jazz being a playoff crew with a profitable document proper now after buying and selling away their two All-Stars, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. They have been presupposed to be gunning to land the No. 1 choose and Victor Wembanyana, and possibly they nonetheless will, however for now, new crew president Danny Ainge has us all guessing at what their finish recreation this season actually is. They aren’t alone, both. The Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder and Indiana Pacers are two different younger, thrilling, enjoyable groups that have been anticipated to be bottom-feeders and each have been extremely aggressive. As of proper now, there gained’t be a crew that cracks 60 wins and there gained’t be one with fewer than 20. That’s a whole lot of parity, excess of what we anticipated.

5. The Knicks have gained eight of their final 10 video games and can tackle Philly on Sunday. Are the Knicks again?

Weitzman: It relies upon the way you outline “back.” Can they make the playoffs? Completely. The crew is deep, Jalen Brunson is superb and, their protection is superb, particularly now that Evan Fournier, Cam Reddish and Derrick Rose have been benched in favor of Quentin Grimes and Deuce McBride. Mix that with the struggles in Miami, Toronto and Atlanta, and you’ve got some openings within the East. However can the Knicks beat both the Celtics, Bucks, Cavaliers, Sixers or Nets in a playoff sequence? No.

Rohlin: I agree with Yaron right here. The Knicks have reemerged as an fascinating and enjoyable crew. However can they really compete in opposition to the heavy-hitters within the Japanese Convention? I don’t suppose so. That being mentioned, Brunson is having himself fairly a season, averaging career-highs in factors and assists, and if he retains bettering at this price, the Knicks might positively be a crew to observe going ahead.

Bucher: Again to being a title contender? Good God, no. That’s 20-plus years within the rearview mirror. Again from full irrelevance? Certain. It’s good to have them aggressive, however as I simply famous within the earlier query, who isn’t aggressive on a given evening? The hallmark of Tom Thibodeau groups is that they grind out wins within the common season to earn a gaudy playoff seed after which get bounced far before a crew with such a gaudy playoff seed would usually get bounced. Don’t ask me to speculate any religion that this Knicks-Thibs crew can be any completely different. 

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. She beforehand lined the league for Sports activities Illustrated, the Los Angeles Occasions, the Bay Space Information Group and the San Antonio Categorical-Information. Observe her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

Ric Bucher is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. He beforehand wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Journal and The Washington Publish and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA ahead Brian Grant’s battle with younger onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He additionally has a each day podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Observe him on Twitter @RicBucher.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. He’s the creator of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Observe him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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