Christmas in July; Picking the Perfect NBA Christmas 2016 Matchups
The confetti still isn't fully cleaned up in the city of Cleveland from the NBA Finals celebration, the first such celebration in over half a century, yet we're craving NBA hoops after a wild offseason that has featured fans breaking out the thesaurus entry for coward to describe Kevin Durant and made noted thespian Timofey Mosgov into a multi-millionaire.
The season, of course, gets underway in October, but for many the season doesn't really start until Christmas Day, the NBA's premiere showcase, serving as the answer to the NFL's Thanksgiving. With the NBA Finals more or less set for the near future, let's take a look at something that will be a lot more fun to predict...the NBA's December 25 slate. They'll have to make it a good one too, as the league will face stiff competition from two NFL games (Ravens-Steelers and Broncos-Chiefs) going down on the same day. Here's the perfect lineup...a starting five, if you will...that can go up against the NFL's doubleheader....
12 PM EST: Celtics @ Raptors
In a well-fought battle with eventual champion Cleveland in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors hosted the first ever conference finals games not played on United States soil. However, there has yet to be a Christmas game outside the country, and the Raps have played just once on the holiday, losing to the Knicks in 2001. Let's buck that tradition in the early going, setting the Raptors up with a division rival who promises to be one of the league's up-and-coming teams. It'll fun to watch as they fight for the right to get humbled by the Cavaliers.
2:30 PM EST: Bulls @ Knicks
One of the biggest casualties of the complete dumpster fire that has consumed Knicks basketball in the new century was the demise of New York's rivalry with the Chicago Bulls. From 1981-96, the two teams met in the playoffs seven times, and matchups between the two have provided classic moments, with holidays actually playing a key part. In a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matchup between the two in 1990, Trent Tucker, taking the ball on an inbound with 0.1 seconds to go, famously nailed a game-winner. This summer, Chicago superstar Derrick Rose was sent off to New York, where his former comrade Joakim Noah later signed as well. But the Bulls quickly reloaded, adding Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to a cast that will already include star Jimmy Butler. What better time to bring up old rivalries than Christmas?
5:30 PM EST: Warriors @ Cavs
How desperately I wanted to put a highly anticipated matchup between the Dubs and Thunder in Oklahoma City in one of these slots. Alas, with recent rumors that Russell Westbrook is channeling his inner Kurt Russell and trying to escape from a certain city, Steven Adams and Dion Waiters just don't sound like a duo NBA fans would want to see in their stockings. Instead, we go with the traditional Finals rematch, which will likely go head-to-head with Ravens-Steelers, still considered one of the biggest rivalries in the NFL. To their own right, the Dubs and Cavs have developed a pretty solid war themselves, as bad blood circulated throughout the Finals last season. Let's hope a potential Christmas rematch resembles Game 7 of the series rather than the first six blowouts.
8 PM EST: Lakers @ Spurs
Don't try to fight it folks...trust me, I've tried and failed. But somehow, someway, the Lakers are going to find themselves on our television sets on Christmas Day, much like the Lions do the same every Thanksgiving. For their matchup, they go up against a team that will be going something very similar to what they'll be going through next season. No, not an endless barrage of losing that shows no signs of stopping, but dealing with the loss of a superstar that was the face of the franchise. Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan won't be on hand for this one, but it'll be a battle of the next generations as Kawhi Leonard leads the Spurs against D'Angelo Russell and the Lake Show.
10:30 PM EST: Blazers @ Clippers
It's no longer your father's Western Conference in the NBA. Heck, it's not even your older brother's Western Conference, where a team could win 48 games and still be on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. Now, the Warriors are the undisputed top of the list, A-number one, with several teams jockeying for position beneath them. Two of those teams are the Clippers and Blazers, who played a very entertaining playoff series last spring before LA injuries more or less conceded the set to Portland. Despite the lack of star power beyond Damian Lillard, the Blazers were surprise contenders last season, and remain dark horses in the West. The Clippers will be looking to not only redeem themselves, hopefully with a full arsenal to do so, but to prove that they can be the top challenger to Golden State's mini-monopoly on the conference.
The full NBA schedule is slated to be released later this month.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490
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