CHRISTMAS Day in America is a wonderful day for NBA fans.
But it’s even better in Australia, because it falls on Boxing Day.
It’s the perfect public holiday, with beers flowing and punting action flying as the NBA has five consecutive games, back to back to back.
And ESPN – despite its unwillingness to show more than two or three games a week – has come to the party with all five games shown live.
Keep an eye out for the pretty new Christmas jerseys as we run the rule over the big Boxing Day games.
New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat
4am AEDT, American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida
New Orleans Pelicans: 8-19
Miami Heat: 16-10
Our tip: Miami Heat to win
Boxing Day kicks off with the oh, so disappointing New Orleans Pelicans taking on the pleasantly surprising Miami Heat. The Pelicans, despite being anchored in the middle by star big man Anthony Davis, have the dubious honour of being the worst defence in the entire NBA. They allow over 108 points per game – more than even the league worst Philadelphia 76ers and the woeful Los Angeles Lakers. Hard to believe the side is the second bottom team in the west after so much expectation was placed on their shoulders this season. Due to their defensive deficiences, it’s fortunate that they are in the top 10 in scoring, at a tick over 102 points per game. You could say Davis is their talisman, but he has routinely had monster games this season and the team has still lost. The slack has to be picked up from elsewhere, with perhaps Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday needing to sharpen their focus on defence. Play maker Tyreke Evans return from injury hasn’t translated into a heap of wins, and we don’t think it will do so against the Heat either. Miami has enjoyed a superb start to the season on the back of a blistering starting line up that features a couple of gun big men in Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside and a super back court of Miami legend Dwyane Wade and the talented – but overpaid – Goran Dragic. They are second in the east, behind only Lebron and his Clevelend Cavaliers, and have built their early season success on suffocating team defence that allows their low scoring offence to get the job done. And they should be too tough for the Pelicans at home, especially with Whiteside looking to lock down on Davis.
Chicago Bulls at Oklahoma City Thunder
6.30am AEDT, Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Chicago Bulls: 15-11
Oklahoma City Thunder: 19-9
Our tip: Oklahoma City Thunder to win
Just when you thought the Bulls were going to go on a big run after four straight wins, they go on a three game losing streak against the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks and woeful Brooklyn Nets – on their home floor. There are some serious problems in Chi Town, with Jimmy Butler openly criticising rookie coach Fred Hoiberg. “I believe in the guys in this locker room but I also believe we probably have to be coached a lot harder at times. I’m sorry, I know Fred is a laid-back guy and I really respect him for that but when guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, you have to get on guys — myself included. I think that he has to hold everybody accountable from the number one player all the way to how ever many guys we have. Everybody has to do their job. When you match up and do your job, we’ll win the game.” The writing might be on the wall for Hoiberg and the Bulls and that’s not good when you have a side packing the punch of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant waiting for you. The Thunder have won eight of their last nine contests, going into Friday’s match up with the Los Angeles Lakers, on the back of some superlative from from their two stars. Against the Los Angeles Clippers last time out, it was the oh so clutch Durant who delivered the dagger that gave them the narrowest of victories, 100-99 his contested jumper enough to take victory. The Thunder possess the second most high powered offence in the game, thanks to nearly 27 points per night from Durant and over 25 points and nine dimes each night from Westbrook. Those two guns should be enough for the Thunder to keep it real on their home floor against a Bulls side that has been getting rolled by the NBA’s weakest teams.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
9am AEDT, Oracle Arena, Oakland, California
Cleveland Cavaliers: 18-7
Golden State Warriors: 26-1
Our tip: Golden State Warriors to win
If you can’t be bothered getting up before the roosters crow, then don’t sleep in too much, this game is not to be missed. It’s the rematch between last year’s finalists as the Cleveland Cavaliers front up to the raucous Oracle Arena to take on the reigning NBA Champions – and league leading – Golden State Warriors. And WilliamHill.com.au’s Tim Ashworth says there is bound to be some serious punting action on this highly anticipated contest. “The Warriors have been favourites with the punters all year and their impressive record at home. They are $1.55 to break the Bulls 72-10 season record, with 98 per cent of William Hill punters’ money having faith in Steph Curry and co. They opened at $8 and have been crunched ever since. Forty four per cent of all money sits with the Warriors ($2.80) to take out the NBA title, with the Cavs (22 per cent and $3.75) and San Antonio Spurs ($4.25 and 15 per cent) the next best. We also have a top vs. bottom market going with Golden State Warriors total losses ($2.10) vs Philadelphia 76ers total wins ($1.71) where you get to decide who will have more. In this game, Lebron James will be keen to take revenge on a Warriors side that beat the depleted Cavs, minus stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, four games to two in last year’s final. While the Cavs will have a full deck of cards to choose from this time, the Warriors, and Curry, have gone up a cog, with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson providing the perfect foils for their MVP, and should be too good at home. Can he Cavs win it? Of course they can. They have one of the best players on the planet in James, as well as a stretch four who averages over 20 points per game for his career and a young point guard who is still building after recovering form a knee injury, but could explode at any time.
San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets
Noon AEDT, Toyota Centre, Houston, Texas
San Antonio Spurs: 24-5
Houston Rockets: 15-14
Our tip: San Antonio Spurs to win
The Warriors have been attracting all the headlines out west, but the no nonsense San Antonio Spurs are just quietly getting the job done, compiling a superb 25-5 record to be second in the conference. And it’s really no surprise. It’s how coach Gregg Popovich and how his mob have always done it. Minimum fuss, maximum results. The Big Three of their title eras, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still there, but the need for each of them to impact every night has been dampened by the marked improvement in Kawhi Leonard, who is fast becoming the league’s best two way player – if he’s not already – and the arrivals of star big man LaMarcus Aldridge and veteran power forward David West. They haven’t just been beating teams, they have been pulling their pants down, while building a six game winning streak going into the Christmas Day (our time) game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Once upon a time, this match up between two Texas powerhouses would have been highly anticipated. But the remarkable implosion by the Houston Rockets means they will probably be looking at another double digit loss at the hands of the Spurs. They have superstar James Harden, who is perhaps the best shooting guard in the game, if you’re a fan of going by the numbers, but internal division with whinging big man Dwight Howard and the capitulation of Ty Lawson’s career has left the Rockets reeling. Howard was once the game’s most dominant big man, he is now just another decent centre, but still thinks he deserves to be top dog. This is a tale of polar opposite teams, and the result should reflect that. 50
Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
2.30pm AEDT, Staples Centre, Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles Lakers: 16-13
Los Angeles Clippers: 4-23
Our tip: Los Angeles Clippers to win
We’d like to say the day ends with a big rivalry match up, but the Lakers are so woeful, the only rivalry will be about how much they lose by. The Clpps haven’t exactly set the NBA on fire, with the side becoming experts in surrendering double digit leads. But they are still fifth in the west, part of the chasing group behind the Warriors and Spurs. But they take a worrying three game losing streak into the game that will probably have a few of the die hard Laker supporters thinking they are in with a chance. We have to remember though, this is tank city baby and, no matter how much the Lakers players might want to win, coach Byron Scott will be doing his best to make sure this doesn’t happen. They want a serious go at Australian college superstar Ben Simmons and winning games lessens their chances of winning him in the lottery. While they haven’t won many games, there have been a few flashes for the Lakers, with glimpses of the future being shown by D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, but most of the time it’s Kobe being a black hole, tossing the ball at the rim every time he gets it. Now on the verge of hanging up his sneaks for good, Bryant is on a retirement tour and has basically been given free reign to shoot every time he gets it. Those shots that only Kobe could make are a thing of the past though and the majority of the time they are bad tries that are clunking off the rim. The Clippers still get grand play from point guard Chris Paul and athletic big man Blake Griffin, but they are getting smashed on the boards most nights, which seems remarkable considering Griffin and towering giant DeAndre Jordan are among the best carom catchers in the business. The Clipps have been stinking it up recently, but we can’t see them getting beaten by a Lakers side that is designed to lose games.
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