Ranking all five NBA Christmas Day games by watchability

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The NBA’s Christmas Day slate of five games feels a lot like the season itself. When we first saw the list when the schedule came out we were all-in, but as the season started to play out and the injuries came, the excitement wore off a little.

The star power is still there — LeBron James, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and the list goes on — but the matchups are not quite as intriguing. Let’s rank the NBA’s five-game slate from “I should use this time to go talk to Uncle Ed and get it over with” to “turn that NFL game off, it’s NBA time.” (All five games will be shown on both ESPN and ABC, and all times listed here are Eastern.)

5) Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors (8 p.m.)

This might have been the best game of the day — the Warriors eliminated the Grizzlies in a trash-talking playoff series last season that later, the Warriors would admit privately, was the toughest matchup of their title run. Memphis thinks it might have won that series if not for Ja Morant‘s fluky injury and as soon as the series ended Morant was calling for a Christmas Day rematch. He got his wish.

Then Stephen Curry injured his shoulder. He is out and the luster comes off this game as the Warriors — who had stumbled this season when Curry was healthy and playing at an MVP level, maybe Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole in the face has something to do with that — are 1-3 since he went out with a bottom-10 offense over that stretch and the worst defense in the league as well (which speaks to effort and focus). Poole will try, but he’s no Curry.

Tune in to watch Ja Morant, the most exciting and entertaining player in the game today. Tune in to watch the Grizzlies’ defense, which has been the best in the league since Jaren Jackson Jr. returned from injury (102.1 defensive net rating over their last 10 games), locking teams down in the halfcourt. But just ask the Bucks, this game could become a blowout and if you want to flip over to Buccaneers vs. Cardinals on NBC we’re not going to blame you.

4) Los Angeles Lakers at Dallas Mavericks (2 p.m.)

Another game taken down by injuries. It might have been taken down before that as the Lakers were stumbling and unimpressive early, but they had their moments thanks to Anthony Davis playing center again and at an All-NBA, maybe MVP-ballot level. Now Davis is out with a foot injury and the Lakers are 1-3 without him, losing their shoes and their latest game to the lowly Hornets. With Davis out coach Darvin Ham has had to lean into smaller lineups to find scoring, but that hurts an already underwhelming defense.

LeBron James vs. Luka Doncic will always provide some spark, and you should tune in to watch MVP-level Luka. The Mavericks also are unveiling their Dirk Nowitzki statue outside the stadium before the game, which will be worth watching. But the trade speculation around these teams could be more interesting than the on-court play itself.

3) Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets (10:30 p.m.)

The NBA’s nightcap game will be worth staying up for — these are two of the top four teams in a wide-open West, and Nikola Jokic is always worth watching.

The real question about how watchable this will be is this: Will Devin Booker play? He has missed the last three Suns games with a groin injury. This season he has taken control of the Suns’ offense and has had some monster nights, and this could be another one going against a Nuggets team that seems to have a “take it or leave it” relationship with defense (24th in the league). The Suns are already without Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder, which doesn’t help their defense against a deep Nuggets squad. Tune in to watch Jokic, plus Michael Porter Jr. is expected back and Aaron Gordon has been on a hot streak lately. Denver isn’t on top of the West by accident.

2) Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks (noon)

Before stumbling in its last couple, New York had won eight in a row and shot up the standings in the East thanks to Tom Thibodeau’s team coming around on defense. Once Thibs finally leaned into the untradable Quentin Grimes and gave bench minutes to Miles McBride (and, sadly but understandably, not Derrick Rose) this team started to come together. New York has the second-best defense in the NBA over their last 10 games, a 104.1 defensive rating.

But can the Knicks slow Joel Embiid?

Embiid leads the NBA in scoring at 33 points per game on 52.8% shooting, he can shoot the three but is primarily a beast in and around the paint, and the Knicks have nobody who physically matches up with him well. Throw in the fact James Harden is getting his legs under him — 20 points, 21 assists, 11 boards against a full-strength Clippers team Friday — and the 76ers are a tough team to stop.

Philadelphia has won seven straight, but how will it deal with the Christmas energy in Madison Square Garden and a Knicks team that Jalen Brunson has believing? Christmas Day in the Garden leads to special moments. Maybe the Knicks will get another 44-point RJ Barrett game like they did Friday against the Bulls (in a loss where New York fell apart in the final minutes). This is an Eastern Conference rivalry where both teams come in playing well, and it should be a perfect way to start your Christmas sports viewing day.

1) Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics (5 p.m.)

The two best teams in the NBA this season, clear and away, go head to head. This is what the NBA does best on Christmas. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been the best duo in the NBA this season, with Tatum playing at an MVP level. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing like an MVP as well. Khris Middleton may be out (right knee soreness) but both of these teams are deep with good players who have stepped up on the biggest of stages — Jrue Holiday, Marcus Smart, Brook Lopez (looking like a DPOY candidate), Al Horford, and the list goes on and on.

Plus, nothing breeds animosity and a rivalry in the NBA like familiarity, and this will be the 15th meeting between these teams in the past two years. The Celtics eliminated the Bucks in an epic second-round series last playoffs.

Both teams have been a little flat of late, hitting some mid-season doldrums, but both sides will be up for this one. This is the game of the day — great teams who will want to make a mid-season mark on the other. This game is must watch. If that means going into the other room to get away from your family, they will understand.

 

NBA players react to Kyrie Irving to Mavericks trade news

Dallas Mavericks v Brooklyn Nets
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Is there going to be a football game of some kind next weekend? You’d never know the way the NBA trade deadline can dominate the headlines.

Kyrie Irving is getting traded to the Mavericks, which has blown up the NBA world — Dallas looks like a threat in the West, and there is a countdown clock over Kevin Durant‘s time in Brooklyn. It wasn’t just fans and pundits stunned by the news, NBA players past and present took to Twitter and social media to react and give their thoughts on the Irving trade. Starting with one of the guys in the trade.

Nets reportedly trade Kyrie Irving to Mavericks for Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, picks

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets
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Dallas desperately needed a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić.

They got one — Mark Cuban has always been willing to take risks to win. The question about how long this can last comes later.

The Nets are trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, their unprotected 2029 first-round pick their 2027 and 2029 second-round picks, according to multiple reports.

Irving is reportedly “ecstatic” to make the move to Dallas (the hard questions about a future contract will wait until after the season).

Irving reportedly will land in Dallas Monday, take the standard post-trade physical, and could be available for the Mavericks on Wednesday against the Clippers.

Brooklyn had several suitors to choose from but wanted in return players it could slot in around Kevin Durant now (or, once he is healthy and returns) so they could still have a puncher’s chance to win the East. Dinwiddie gives Brooklyn a point guard and shot creator who can play some off the ball — and he returns to Brooklyn, where he made a name for himself in the league. Finney-Smith is a coveted two-way wing who can step in right now. Plus, the Nets add some potentially valuable picks down the line.

That offer gave the Nets more win-now possibilities than they got out of the Lakers’ offer (two future first-rounders and Russell Westbrook) or what the Suns and Clippers put in the mix.

There are questions for Dallas, but ones they believe they can answer — elite talents figure out a way to make it work on the court. Off the court, it helps that both coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. That’s a start.

The pairing of Dončić and Irving should lead to games and stretches where they look brilliant, but the question is not the highs but the lows — how deep and how prolonged will those be? Irving works well off the ball (as he has done with Durant and LeBron James) and should be able to play off Dončić. However, can Dončić play well off the ball when Irving is hot? Do the Mavericks — with Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood, Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and the rest — have enough around their two stars to be a serious threat in the West? Off the court, can the very different personalities of Irving and Dončić mesh, or at least work well enough not to be a distraction?

The biggest question: Do Cuban and the Mavericks really want to re-sign Irving for the four-years, $198.5 million he demands at the end of the season? There are reports that Dallas (like every other front office in the league, including Brooklyn) is hesitant to do a long-term deal with Irving that gives him that kind of guaranteed money.

But that is a concern for the future — Dallas got its second star. It has vaulted itself into the upper echelons of the Western Conference and positioned itself to contend.

Reports: Stephen Curry out ‘weeks’ with leg injury, Warriors hope for return after All-Star Break

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
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This is bad news for the Warriors. How bad depends on how the word “weeks” is ultimately defined.

Stephen Curry has torn ligaments in his leg — in the shin area just below the knee — and while the team does not have an official timeline he will be out “weeks” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“Weeks” is a vague word, and for the Warriors the difference in Curry being out three weeks (with one of those being the All-Star Break) versus him being out six to eight weeks could be the difference in how long a playoff run the Warriors have.

The Warriors are hoping for a Curry return just after the All-Star break, reports Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Of short-term concern, this has Curry out for the All-Star Game where the fans voted him a starter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will bump one of the reserves up to a starting spot — likely Ja Morant, who was third in fan voting — and name an injury replacement for the team. The top candidates are Devin Booker (if he returns from injury this week as expected), De'Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards.

Longer term, the Warriors can’t afford to be without Curry for an extended period.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game, and the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 5.4 when he is off. With the team one game above .500 and struggling to avoid the play-in, an extended absence for Curry is trouble for a Warriors team that has never found its footing this season.

 

Nets reportedly going to sit Kyrie Irving until he is traded

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This time it looks like it’s going to happen, the Brooklyn Nets will trade Kyrie Irving (unlike this summer).

Just don’t expect to see Irving on the court for Brooklyn until he’s moved, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

That is at one time a combination of smart, the only real call to make, the Nets wanting to look like they have control over the situation because Irving’s camp already leaked that he was going to sit out the rest of the season if not traded.

Irving did not play Saturday night when the Nets went down by 20 in the first quarter but rallied behind 44 points from Cam Thomas to get a much-needed win.

Four primary suitors have stepped up for Irving: The Lakers (considered Irving’s preferred destination), Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. The question is what do the Nets want back in a trade? If, as most around the league expect, the goal is to remain in the championship picture around Kevin Durant, Brooklyn will prize quality players and depth over draft picks. That’s bad news for the Lakers (the core of their offer is two future first-round picks plus Russell Westbrook) and good for the team down the hall, the Clippers can offer good players — John Wall, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, plus young players such as Terance Mann — plus a pick if they need it.

The question for teams: Irving wants a max contract after this summer, similar to the four-year, $198.5 million fully guaranteed extension the Nets would not offer after Irving had 10 weeks or so of not being disruptive and focusing on basketball. Around the league, front offices are very hesitant to get into the Irving business for that long (most thought he would never get more than a two-year offer). Are the four teams above desperate enough for a bold move that ownership would sign off on four years with Irving? Will any of them? Or, like this summer, will Irving find the market not to his liking?

It’s going to be interesting until the Feb. 9 trade deadline.