NBA Christmas Day: Best matchups and predictions

SixersKnicksLakersMavsBucksCelticsGrizzliesWarriors. SunsNuggets. The NBA’s Christmas Day lineup is full of fun storylines with rivals facing off and MVP candidates set to do battle. The Crossover staff weighs in on the best matchups to watch and offers festive predictions.

1. Which Christmas Day matchup are you most looking forward to watching?

Howard Beck: This answer should have been easy: Warriors-Grizzlies. Lots of star power. Old guard vs. upstarts. Rematch of a testy playoff series. But no, the Injury Grinch stoleÂSteph Curry. And then that greedy son-of-a-gun snatched Anthony Davis, too, undermining Lakers-Mavericks. And it’s unclear whether Suns starÂDevin Booker will play against the Nuggets. So … bring on Celtics-Bucks!ÂJayson Tatum vs.ÂGiannis Antetokounmpo will pack some sizzle. Assuming they both play.

Chris Herring: The Bucks and the Celtics, and it isn’t close. The physicality showcased in that series last year almost resembled what we saw in the 1990s. Plus, Bucks starÂKhris Middleton, who missed last season’s playoff series, is back in the lineup, as is Boston’s Robert Williams III following his return from an offseason procedure.

Robin Lundberg: It’s certainly not the best game, but I’ll go with the individual star power of LeBron vs. Luka. Dončić is in his prime, so seeing if James can outduel him in his 20th season is intriguing when it comes to a one-off matchup like this, especially given each team is so reliant on their heroics at this point.

Chris Mannix: Bucks-Celtics. I would have liked this matchup more before Boston started dropping games to Orlando and Indiana and before Khris Middleton’s most recent injury. But this has conference finals preview written all over it, which both teams figure to be keenly aware of.

Rohan Nadkarni: Bucks vs. Celtics should be incredible, specifically to see how Milwaukee tries to slow down Boston’s offense. The Bucks have been more intentional than ever about taking away the three-point line this season, which I believe to be a pretty direct result of how their previous season ended at the hands of the Celtics, or more specifically at the hands of Grant Williams. Who wins the battle of the three-point line in that game will be very interesting. Hopefully Khris Middleton is healthy.

2. True or False: The Bucks and Celtics will meet in the Eastern Conference finals.

Herring: I tend to think this is true, though I suppose Cleveland—which owns the NBA’s best net rating and is hovering right near Boston and Milwaukee in the standings—could make things interesting. I just tend to trust these teams’ rotations and stars more than the ones in Philly and Brooklyn. And with the Cavs, it’s rare to watch a team go from never having made the playoffs to jumping into the conference finals. So I have more faith in the Bucks and Celtics.

Mannix: True. Boston’s recent struggles notwithstanding, this is an improved team from the one that advanced out of the Eastern Conference last season and the Bucks have been rolling along even with Middleton in and out of the lineup. There will be no gimmes this spring but for now Boston and Milwaukee appear to have separated from the pack.

Nadkarni:ÂTrue. Cleveland actually has the best net rating in the East, but I’m not sure the Cavs have the playoff experience for a conference finals run just yet. Boston and Milwaukee know how to pace themselves, and both teams have years of high-stakes experience. To me, the only ways those squads aren’t playing in the conference finals are because of injuries or seeding chicanery. But they are the best two teams in the East.

Beck: True. These things rarely go the way we expect (especially this far out from the postseason), but it’s been clear from opening night that these were the two most talented and well-balanced teams in the East. The Nets and Sixers have elite talent, but it’s hard to trust their chemistry. The Cavaliers have four great starters, but not enough depth or experience.

Lundberg: I’ll lean true but trending toward false. The Celtics and Bucks are still the two most proven teams, but I no longer think they are a clear level above the Nets and Cavs, as Brooklyn is starting to put everything together and Cleveland looks legit. So I think I may want to reconsider this prediction in a couple of weeks.

3. True or False: The best team in the West is playing on Christmas Day.

Mannix: False. I’ve written it before—if the Clippers can get to the (regular season) finish line healthy, they will win the West. No one wants to see Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs.

Beck: False! But this is not a slight toward the Suns or Nuggets or Warriors or Grizzlies or Mavericks or Lakers. (Well, it might be a slight toward the Lakers. They have zero shot.) This is actually a trick question. There isn’t a best team in the West! There just isn’t. It’s a big, jumbled, chaotic, happy mess. Yay, parity-slash-mediocrity!

Herring: True. I believe Memphis—tied for first place despite not having had its three best players suit up and play together yet—is that team. The Grizzlies have a couple years’ worth of playoff experience, they have plenty of explosiveness, and they can defend. That’s a rare combination when comparing them to other contenders.

Nadkarni: True, but with hesitance. I’ll say the Grizzlies are the best team in the West as of right now, neck and neck with the Pelicans. I reserve the right to change my mind, though. The West is way too bunched up to pick a favorite at the moment. I need more data to decide who will actually make the Finals. Memphis has been really good, though, and that’s without their best four players (Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks) having played together yet.

Lundberg: False. Because I have no idea who the best team in the West is. The Grizzlies earned respect last year and the Warriors get the benefit of the doubt come playoff time if they get there. However, I believe both the Clippers and Pelicans belong in the conversation with those teams and the Suns and Nuggets.

4. What’s a matchup not on the Christmas schedule that you would have liked to see?

Nadkarni: Suns vs. Pelicans. The season series is already over between these teams, but it may be the best budding rivalry in the West.

Herring: Maybe the Pelicans and Nets? But I’d be the first to say that’s a completely hindsight call. If Zion weren’t healthy again (well, he’s technically in health-and-safety protocols for now, but you know what I mean) and Brooklyn was continuing to make news for all the wrong reasons, I’d be annoyed by that being a Christmas matchup. With both clubs in homecourt-advantage range, though, it’d be a good showing now. The Clippers would be a decent watch, too.

Lundberg: I’ll agree with KD and go Knicks-Nets. The Nets are objectively one of the league’s most interesting and marquee teams and there would be some juice to the city rivalry given the Knicks head into the holidays having played some good ball for a stretch.

Beck: Steph Curry vs. Anyone. Maybe the guy from the car commercial who wants him to leave and calls him Wardell. That line slays me every time.

Mannix: Knicks-Nets. Kevin Durant said it, there will be some people in the league office grumbling that a marquee game in the NBA’s marquee city isn’t on the calendar. Now it would have been difficult in July to have predicted this Knicks surge or that the Nets would get it together, but think about how tasty that matchup would be right now?

5. Give us one festive Christmas Day prediction.

Lundberg: No one will ever score more points on Christmas Day than LeBron James. He will forever be the Santa Claus of the NBA. And I can’t see anyone currently in the league catching his soon-to-be, all-time scoring mark either.

Herring: Someone will have 50 points on the holiday. I’d guess that Luka will be the one to do it, as the Lakers have surrendered 124.5 points per 100 possessions—second worst in the league—over their last three contests since losing Anthony Davis to injury.

Nadkarni: Luka Dončić will score 60 (!) points against a Lakers team missing Anthony Davis. Luka has a flair for the dramatic. I think him and LeBron will both put on a show.

Mannix: I don’t know about festive, but I predict the NBA will be rooting for some ugly NFL games. The NBA once owned Christmas, much like the NFL did Thanksgiving. But with the NFL willing—eager, maybe—to counterprogram, the NBA will for the first time have to compete with an NFL tripleheader on Christmas. I’m sure Adam Silver’s office will be rooting for some blowouts.Â

Beck: I predict John McClane will defeat that dastardly Hans Gruber, rescue the hostages at Nakatomi Plaza and reconcile with his estranged wife.

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