The NBA on Christmas Day has always been one of our favorite traditions because it's the day we can indulge in hoop the way football partisans gorge on Thanksgiving. For the casual observer Christmas may be the first time they'll tune in this season, making it a fine opportunity to catch them up on what they've been missing. Consider it your familial duty.
All times Eastern.
Boston at Brooklyn (12 noon)
Let's be honest here. These are two average to mediocre teams in the average to mediocre Eastern Conference who are both working through serious identity crises. Inevitably one of these teams should ultimately emerge as a credible top four team in the East, but right now they have more in common with Milwaukee than Miami.
The Celtics know who they want to be, they just can't seem to do it for 48 minutes consistently anymore, while the Nets are teetering on the brink of full-on dysfunction. Two sure signs of trouble: starting a Collins twin and having a coach who says he's not worried about his job status.
The real interest here involves the skirmish that played out in their previous meeting when Rajon Rondo got all up in Kris Humphries' grill, earning a two-game suspension. The likelihood of Rondo going for revenge would seem slight, but this is Rondo we're talking about and no one really knows what that dude's going to do.
Talking points for the fam: Rondo's weirdness, KG's crazy, Jay and Bey courtside, the surprisingly country-as-hell Nets, and when all else fails indulge in fond remembrances of the Hump-Kardashian union.
New York at Los Angeles (3 p.m.)
What's more surprising, the Knicks' hot start or the Lakers' nosedive? Got to go with the Knickerbockers on this one because in retrospect the warning signs were all around Los Angeles before the season started. From the uninspiring Mike Brown to Dwight Howard's lack of condition/readiness and the obvious absence of credible depth, the Lakers have been a hot mess, which was at least a possibility. The Knicks, man ... no one saw this coming.
It's not just that they are undeniably good, or that Carmelo Anthony is playing at another level. The Knicks are arguably the most entertaining team in the league both on and off the court. Even with a high-volume shooting star, their style of play is refreshingly team-oriented and they are filled with engaging idiosyncratic personalities from Sheed to Shump to Pablo.
The realist in all of us is aware that the Knicks won't continue to shoot 40 percent from behind the arc, just as we are aware that eventually the Lakers will pull it together in enough time to be functionally frightening in the playoffs. Fine. For now, let's all enjoy the combination of Tyson Chandler gifs and Mike D'Antoni consternation faces.
Talking points for the fam: The Knicks have that 70's Rockin Steady vibe to them. They share the ball, play defense and Chandler has been known to wear a cape from time to time. It takes a bad man to wear a cape. (Note: This is for your dad who says he stopped watching the NBA after Jordan retired).
Oklahoma City at Miami (5:30 p.m.)
We have reached the point of LeBron's career when people are beginning to look for a counter narrative. This is how we ended up with MVP seasons from Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, et al. Never mind that LeBron has once again added to his game or that at age 28 he is in his mental as well as physical prime, we must have fresh narrative!
This is why MVP talk in December is so annoyingly frustrating, and yet ... Kevin Durant is in the midst of a truly spectacular, possibly historic shooting season. In a LeBron-less world he is arguably the league's best player, but in this age he may have to settle for being 1A. Yet, the great thing about Durant is that he clearly won't settle and that's what makes this so special.
This is Bird-Magic for a new era. We'll leave it up to you dear reader to decide who is who in that equation.
Talking points for the fam: The duality of Kevin Durant's nasty competitive side captured in those KD Is Not Nice ads balanced against LeBron's refurbished man of the people image. Also, the world in which Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook are both fashion icons.
Houston at Chicago (8 p.m.)
If you're going to take a break, now's the time. I suppose the juxtaposition of the league's most wide-open offense balanced against Tom Thibodeau's relentless defensive machine is of some interest to roundball aficionados, but you've got to pick your battles today.
Talking points for the fam: Why yes, I would like to play Scrabble.
Denver at Clippers (10:30 p.m.)
This one is for us, a gift from the scheduling gods for after everyone on the East Coast has gone to bed. The Nuggets remain the most compelling, vexing team in the Association as evidenced by their shot chart against Portland the other night. The Clippers, meanwhile, continue to be relentlessly good with the best combination of elite offense and defense in the league. Strange world.
Talking points for the fam: Let me tell you about JaVale McGee.