In 2011, Christmas Day was the literal start to the NBA season thanks to a lockout that kept the season from starting for nearly two full months. Most every other year, the season starts in October, but for the casual fan, it doesn't really get going until Christmas Day. With the NFL taking the day off (even on Sundays) and with no college football, TVs not tuned to the TBS 24 hours of A Christmas Story marathon will almost certainly be on ESPN or ABC at some point during the day, and the lineup appears to be worth it in 2012.
Noon on ESPN: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets
I'm still not fully committed to saying Brooklyn before Nets, but there it is. The Nets haven't exactly exploded out of the blocks this year at 14-12, but neither have the aging Celts at 13-13. The key matchups here are in the backcourt with the Celtics veteran Paul Pierce and point guard Rajon Rondo against the talented if overpriced Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Brooklyn is near the bottom of the league in scoring, but with Boston's trademark defense all but gone, they should be able to put up numbers. The Nets have the advantage at home, but I could see Boston winning this in a close one.
2 p.m. on ABC: New York Knicks at L.A. Lakers
All season, the Lakers have struggled to find cohesion with their new lineup and without the services of Steve Nash, who missed seven weeks of the season with an abdominal injury. Nash returned on Saturday and the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors, but all is still not right in LA LA land despite four straight wins. In New York, the Knicks are on top of the division at 20-7, the only team in the Eastern Conference with 20 wins (two of their losses were to the Rockets), despite still being without center Amare Stoudemire, who had offseason knee surgery. I could see the Lakers breaking their funk against the Knicks at home today.
4:30 p.m. on ABC: Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat
Both NBA Finals teams from last year are having fantastic starts to the season. OKC is doing so even after trading guard James Harden to the Rockets. Both teams rank in the top five in virtually every key offensive statistic. The key matchups in this one are pretty obvious with Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook matching up with Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. If the Thunder are to win on the road, expect it to be with their defense and rebounding, where they appear to have the edge over Miami. But with the game on South Beach, I'm not picking against the champs.
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7 p.m. on ESPN: Houston Rockets at Chicago Bulls
This game is a study in contrasts. The Rockets are at the top of the league in a number of offensive statistical categories including points per game (number one) and fast break points (number three). They live and die with the three-point shot, leading the league in both attempts and makes. The Bulls, on the other hand, are number one in opponent three pointers and assists per game, number two in opponent shooting percentage and number three in opponent rebounding, opponents points in the paint and opponents points per game. Essentially, the Rockets are streaky but good on offense, while the Bulls are a poor offensive squad that plays great defense. Rockets center Omer Asik returns to the city where he played for the last couple years. The Bulls are favored, but the Rockets have been hot lately and the matchup of Luol Deng and Chandler Parsons (never mind James Harden versus Rip Hamilton) feels like it could favor Houston, so I'll give them the edge in a close game.
9:30 p.m. on ESPN: Denver Nuggets at L.A. Clippers
The second of two games at Staples Center on Christmas, the 15-13 Nuggets face the Clippers and their dynamic duo of Blake Griffin (18 points and 8.9 rebounds) and Chris Paul (16 points, 9.6 assists). They are destroying teams, winning by nearly 10 points per contest, which leads the NBA. Denver is being led by Danilo Gallinari, who is scoring almost 16 points per game despite shooting under 40 percent. The Nuggets are very good in the paint and run the floor with abandon, but the Clippers can match both and should win this one going away.