After a grueling lockout, the NBA season finally kicks into full gear on Christmas Day with a slew of high quality match-ups featuring all of the leagues franchise players. If you’re a bit rusty on your pro basketball (and who isn’t after the time off), here is a preview of the day’s games so you can brush up before watching some hoops with Christmas dinner.
Boston Celtics at New York Knicks (12p.m. EST): As coach Doc Rivers and the aging Celtics head into Madison Square Garden to start their season a lot of questions remain unanswered. How will their version of the Big Three (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) hold up throughout the season? What will the team do without forward Jeff Green, who is out for the season with an aneurysm? How well will Rajon Rondo play after being openly shopped around during the extended off season.
Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks, on the other hand, seem to be on the rise. They sured up their front court with the addition of Tyson Chandler, who came over from the World Champion Dallas Mavericks, and added veteran guard Baron Davis to handle the ball. If Amare Stoudemire can stay healthy and Anthony can put together a solid season, the Knicks can be a legitimate playoff contender.
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks (2:30p.m. EST): In a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, King James and the Heat hope to turn the table on their old rivals. While it is only the first game of the season, the outcome could be an indicator of how the Heat play for the remainder of the season. The addition of Shane Battier will bring some veteran leadership to the locker room and the long off-season should have given James and Dwayne Wade some more time to meld their games. Miami wants a championship this year, but the verdict is still far from determined.
The Mavericks were relatively quiet during the off-season. The loss of Tyson Chandler cannot be overlooked, as he was such a vital component to the team’s championship run last year. However, the under-the-radar pick-ups of Lamar Odom and Vince Carter shows that Heat want to make it back to the Finals. Even if Carter is not the player he used to be and Odom never really lived up to his hype, the always consistent Dirk Nowitksi and the seemingly ageless Jason Kidd make sure the team is in a solid position to have a chance at repeating this year.
Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers (5:00p.m.): This game is all about a match-up of superstars as reigning league MVP Derrick Rose of the Bulls faces off against Kobe Bryant. Will Kobe’s recent divorce from Vanessa Laine weigh on his mind as he steps on the court in the Staples Center. The departure of legendary coach Phil Jackson will throw in flux a team whose identity has been so based around the Bryant-Jackson dynamic. If Kobe is distracted it will be up to Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Derrick Fisher to pick up the slack in the post-Phil Jackson era.
The Bulls, on the other hand, look ready to take a run toward the Finals. Rose has time-and-time again shown that he is one of the best players in the league and coach Tom Thibodeau has built a strong base around the superstar. The Bulls have an extremely talented vet in Carlos Boozer, explosive talent from Taj Gibson and a legitimate three-point threat from Kyle Korver. Things are looking for hoops fans in Chi-town.
Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder (8:00p.m.EST): With the season finally starting, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant can finally leave the playground (impressive as it was) and get back to business. Durant is the centerpiece to what is arguably the best team in the Western Conference, with Russell Westbrook becoming his own star and James Harden emerging as a key player on a squad that has already had the year to gel as a unit.
The Magic are stuck in a rut. They have arguably the best bigman in Dwight Howard and yet can’t seem to put the rest of the pieces together around him to produce a championship team. Glen Davis should give Howard some help in the post, Jameer Nelson is an excellent floor general when healthy and Jason Richardson is an explosive talent, but overall the team needs some more components to help out Superman.
Los Angeles Clippers at the Golden State Warriors (10:30p.m. EST): Forget the Heat-Mavs finals rematch, forget Rose vs. Kobe, this is the game that most diehard hoops fans will be watching with interest. It will be the first time Chris Paul suits up in a Clippers uniform to play alongside Blake Griffin. The addition of Paul make the Clippers a total contender out West and the nightly alley-oop reel between Paul and Griffin will keep everyone entertained.
The Warriors have a good team, with a group young players in Stephen Curry, Brandon Rush and David Lee proving that the Warriors are no joke. However, while they will certainly put up a good fight, it would seem foolish to bet against Clippers on Christmas.
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter: @aoreilly84