You know what time it is. Christmas is upon us, so it’s time to be in close proximity to your relatives while stuffing your face with food and watching 12.5 hours of basketball. Or at least that’s what the NBA wants you to do.
In reality, you can probably skip some of this slate. That’s where we come in. Here’s what to watch (all times ET).
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE ON CHRISTMAS: Knicks vs. Wizards, 12 p.m., ESPN: If you’re going to take in just one Christmas Day game this year, do not under any circumstances make it this one. John Wall and the Wizards were on a roll before two recent losses to the Suns and Bulls, and they should have no trouble with Carmelo Anthony and company. The 5-25 Knicks, incredibly, are 17.5 games back of the first-place Raptors in the Atlantic Division. The Philadelphia 76ers are 17 games back. Let that sink in.
New York shooting guard J.R. Smith recently referred to this season as a nightmare, and there’s only one real way to spin it differently: the Knicks should be in line to get a high draft pick in June. Until then, though, nothing this team does really matters. I get that the league loves having a game at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 25, but that holiday tradition feels entirely unnecessary at the moment.
THE REMATCH: Spurs vs. Thunder, 2:30 p.m., ABC: Even with Kevin Durant (ankle) and Kawhi Leonard (hand) sit out, this one’s worth watching. These two teams have played so many great games — regular season and playoffs — over the past few years, and injuries have been a storyline in a lot of them. The Spurs do what they do regardless of who’s healthy, and the Thunder remain fascinating with Russell Westbrook as the alpha dog.
Let’s also take a moment to appreciate Tim Duncan. This could be his last Christmas Day game, and the 38-year-old future Hall of Famer is having a hell of a season. Duncan had a 23-point, 16-rebound, 3-block game against Portland last week, and followed it up with 32 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks a couple of nights later. He really might be half-robot.
THE RETURN: Heat vs. Cavaliers, 5 p.m., ABC: At one point, it looked like this could be fascinating in a basketball sense. Miami seemed to recover nicely with the moves it made after LeBron James went home, but injuries have hampered any chance of achieving cohesion so far. The Heat are coming off a loss to the Sixers (the Sixers!), and Chris Bosh (calf) is expected to sit out for the seventh straight time. Womp womp.
So, while James and the Cavs lost to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis a couple of weeks ago and were defeated by the Knicks and Jazz at the beginning of the season, the big story here has little to do with what might take place on the court. What’s going to happen when James walks out of the tunnel, when he’s introduced as a starter, when he first touches the ball? He faced Miami in the preseason, but that was in Rio de Janeiro. This, in front of these fans, is going to be completely different.
THE NARRATIVE BOWL: Bulls vs. Lakers, 8 p.m., TNT: Sure, another Lakers game on national television. Why not? Anyway, this just got a whole lot more interesting because of what happened on Tuesday. Kobe Bryant sat when Los Angeles faced the league-best Warriors, and Golden State suffered its first home loss of the year. This resulted in some fantastic quotes from Jeremy Lin and Nick Young, via ESPN:
“We learned a lot about ourselves [Tuesday night],” said Lakers guard Jeremy Lin, who finished with 11 points and five assists off the bench.
"I think we learned --”
“I would say it’s just another stepping stone."
Ah, so close.
As usual, Lakers guard Nick Young, who scored 15 points, was the most outspoken.
“Some guys just played like ‘Django Unchained' -- they were free tonight,” he said.
And what would Young tell Bryant?
“Pretty much going to have to tell Kobe to pass me the ball, pass us the ball,” Young said. “Tell him to take the backseat for a little bit. He can be ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and I can be Miss Daisy and drive.”
The on/off numbers already show that Los Angeles has been much, much better with Bryant on the bench. With the Lakers heading toward the lottery, the only real debate about the team is how much Bryant is helping or hurting their cause. Couldn’t you just see him start the game passing the ball every single time down the floor?
Oh, and Derrick Rose has looked like his old self for the Bulls lately. Chicago’s coming off wins over Washington, Toronto and Memphis. So there’s that.
THE MAIN EVENT: Clippers vs. Warriors, 10:30 p.m., TNT: It’s a Festivus miracle — Festus Ezeli will start in place of Andrew Bogut at center for Golden State in what looks like the marquee matchup of the NBA’s biggest regular-season showcase. One word of warning, though: the Warriors met the Clippers back on Nov. 5, and they led 65-44 by halftime. Golden State’s offense hasn’t exactly taken a step back since then, and Los Angeles is still struggling to stop anybody. The Clippers have lost five of their last eight games, and their bench is clearly a problem.
Still, this has the potential to be a great one. All of Los Angeles’ recent losses have been close and competitive. The Warriors are a treat to watch on both ends, even in blowouts. There’s surely some lingering bad blood from last year’s seven-games series. I'll bet there will be a whole ton of 3s and dunks. Take a nap midday if you must. Stay up for this.