After Christmas is over and done with, take some time to sit back and relax with the smorgasbord of games that the NBA has lined up on Boxing Day (Australian time).
Boston Celtics vs New York Knicks
Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
4:00am AEDT on ESPN
The 16-12 Celtics come into The Garden sitting third in the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks are just one game off that third spot at 15-13.
With the additions of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, along with the maturation of Kristaps Porzingis, New York appear to have finally turned a corner.
Carmelo Anthony is always a chance to light it up in big games and don’t expect this to be any different.
The Knicks are one of the strongest rebounding teams in the NBA, ranking fifth in at 45.5 per game, and behind Noah and Porzingis, he should dominate the boards over the Celtics who rank 27th in rebounding.
Boston have been improving steadily behind their young core of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and co; now have a greater inside presence with the addition of Al Horford.
The Celtics can score all over the court, led by Thomas, who’s seventh in the Association for points per game at 26.6.
They like to move the ball and spread the love on offence, averaging 24.6 assists per game, good for third in the league.
The Celtics will look to beat the Knicks from deep, they’re fourth in three-point shots made with 11 per game, while the Knicks will try to control the game in the paint behind their big man duo of Noah and Porzingis.
Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers
Quicken Loans Arena – Cleveland, OH
6:30am AEDT on ESPN
Despite being the second game of the day, this is the main event and one of the most anticipated games of the entire season.
This is the first meeting between last year’s Finals opponents since the Cavs took home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in Oakland in June.
This time, the teams meet in Cleveland and you can expect the home crowd to be fired up for it.
The Cavs are 21-6 and lead the Eastern Conference, while the Warriors are 25-4 and are at the top of the West.
The offseason saw Golden State make one of the biggest moves since LeBron came home to Cleveland with the free agent signing of Kevin Durant.
That addition has made the Warriors an even more dangerous team on both ends of the floor.
The franchise is first in the league for both points and assists per game at 117.4 and 31.3, respectively.
It is impossible for teams to guard Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson all at the same time, and even in that unlikely scenario, there is still the small matter of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to worry about.
While the Warriors had to gut their bench to make room for Durant, it has not proven to be a massive issue at this stage of the season.
Cleveland were able to keep the core of their championship roster together but lost a few role players that cashed in on their titles in free agency.
LeBron is making a case for MVP, averaging a near triple-double of 25.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists.
Kevin Love is having the best season with the Cavs, averaging 22.3 points per game, six more than his previous two seasons and Kyrie Irving has embraced his role as a leader.
The loss of JR Smith to a thumb injury will hurt the Cavs but they have depth at the shooting guard position and Iman Shumpert should step up and fill that spot.
In the Finals the Cavs were able to slow the Warriors down and grind out wins on the way to their title.
While both teams average over 110 points per game, Cleveland will want to do the same in this encounter to beat their arch-rival in front of their home fans.
Meanwhile, Golden State will want to play the game at a frenetic pace and score 120+ to let their scoring take over and in doing so, silence the raucous crowd at the Q.
Chicago Bulls vs San Antonio Spurs
AT&T Center – San Antonio, TX
9:00am AEDT on ESPN
The Bulls were given a facelift in the offseason, having signed Dwayne Wade and replacing Derrick Rose with Rajon Rondo.
Now at 14-13, the franchise is sixth in the Eastern Conference and on pace to match last season’s 42-40 record.
The Spurs continue to be the definition of consistency despite a clear changing of the guard, sitting second in the West and only a game and a half behind the Warriors at 23-5.
Kawai Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge have taken over the team’s scoring from the old big three and Patty Mills has seen increased minutes to go with his improved production.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have taken on a lesser role, as Pau Gasol has filled the crucial veteran big man spot left behind in the wake of Tim Duncan’s retirement.
Chicago are one of the lower-scoring teams in the league, ranking 23rd at 101.6 points per game with most of their scoring coming from Wade and Jimmy Butler, with Taj Gibson being the only other player averaging double digits.
To make matters worse, they are quite a stagnant team on offence, especially compared to San Antonio’s expert ball movement to average 21.1 assists per game and taking the least three-point attempts in the league.
Helping this shortcoming is the fact they are one of the best rebounding teams in the league, ranking second with 48 boards per game.
Both teams are very strong defensively, with the Spurs ranking fourth and Bulls fifth in points allowed at 97.9 and 99.3, respectively.
Expect this one to turn into a low scoring slugfest with the game being won in the paint.
Minnesota Timberwolves vs Oklahoma City Thunder
Chesapeake Energy Arena – Oklahoma City, OK
12:00pm AEDT on ESPN
The Timberwolves have struggled to a 9-19 record so far this season, 13th in the Western Conference and only two games better than Dallas.
The franchise is in the bottom half of the league for points, rebounds, assists and points allowed – a damaging outlier for where they are as a club right now.
The only bright spots in Minnesota have been the performances of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
These three have carried the team with their scoring, each average over 20 points per game and are the only players on the roster averaging over 10 points per game.
Towns has solidified his place as one of the best young players in the game, averaging 11.4 rebounds to go with his 22.1 points.
Meanwhile, the Thunder have surprised many by not capitulating after the departure of Kevin Durant.
OKC currently sit seventh in the Western Conference at 17-12 on the back of Russell Westbrook’s insane individual performances.
To outline his proficiency, he averages a triple-double of 30.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.9 assists to carry the Thunder to a winning record with some assistance coming from Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams.
The Thunder’s big men will likely nullify a lot of Towns’ effectiveness and Westbrook will continue to do Westbrook things without an elite defender to stop him.
This season has proved that a triple-double is always on the cards for Westbrook, so mark another one down here.
Los Angeles Clippers vs Los Angeles Lakers
Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA
2:30pm AEDT on ESPN
At 21-8, the Clippers are third in the Western Conference and are poised for another playoff run, as has been standard for the franchise in recent years.
The Clips are fifth in points per game at 109.9 and ninth in assists at 22.9; with so many weapons, the Clippers like to spread the floor on offence and can hurt you both inside and outside.
They have dangerous shooters in JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford, plus two All-Star big men in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with arguably the best pure point guard in the league running the offence in Chris Paul.
The Lakers have shown much improvement this season and at 11-20 are on pace for their best record since the 2012-13 season.
Despite the poor record, the Lakers have been one of the most entertaining teams in the league and even beat the Warriors back in November.
The offence hasn’t quite gelled properly though and can become isolated, ranking just 22nd in assists per game.
The Lakers have been porous on defence, ranking 27th in points allowed with 110.7 points per game.
This one will probably get ugly towards the end with the Clippers pushing the pace and putting up points all over the Baby Lakers.