The Top 10 X-Factors Of Christmas Day Games

By: 12.25.12
Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James

Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James (photo. Nike Basketball)

Christmas is here — a day that’s known for giving, receiving and family by most people. But for losers like me? It’s basketball time. This is an honor for each team that is playing in a Christmas Day game, meaning that for one reason or another, you’re what the people want to see around the league. And I’d say that the teams featured this year represent just that.

The 10 teams who are playing are the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets; the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers; the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat; the Houston Rockets and the Chicago Bulls; and the last game tonight will be the Devner Nuggets against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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BROOKLYN VS. BOSTON
The first game is one of the more interesting ones. Brooklyn hosts Boston Barclays center at noon EST on ESPN.

With the way that the Nets have really fallen off the map since early in the season, this game could give Boston a chance to move into second place of the Atlantic division. Each team is going to need to take advantage of key things when attacking the weaknesses of the opposition.

The Celtics will need to get Paul Pierce going against Gerald Wallace. Pierce is averaging a shade over 22 points a game and shoots 44 percent from the field when the C’s win. He’s around the 18 points per game mark and shoots a meager 42 percent from the floor in losses. If Pierce catches fire—which he usually does on these big stages—the Celtics will likely win the game.

The Nets will need to take advantage of the Celtics’ lack of rebounding production. The Celtics are last in the league in rebounds per game. Kevin Garnett leads them in rebounding with a very unimpressive seven rebounds a game. The Nets sit 13 spots higher in rebounding at 17th in the league. That’s in large part because of Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche. Combined they’re averaging 8.3 and 7.1 rebounds off of the bench. If they can provide the Nets with extra offensive possessions, they’ll dominate a Boston defense that hasn’t been very good this year.

LAKERS vs. KNICKS
The Los Angeles Lakers will host the New York Knicks in the Staples center at 3 p.m EST. The game will be nationally broadcasted on ABC. This is going to be a battle between two teams who have gone in totally opposite directions. If you read most preseason previews the Knicks were supposed to be the average team and the Lakers were supposed to contend for a championship. They’re looking more like pretenders than contenders every time they play and the Knicks look like a championship-caliber team.

To win this game the Knicks will have to have good point guard play from either Raymond Felton or Jason Kidd. Felton is more than likely going to be the X-factor for the Knicks because of the time that he gets on the floor. He’s going to have to attack the Lakers’ defense, which has played extremely poorly throughout the season. The Lakers are allowing 105.7 points per 100 possessions, per basketball-reference.com. That ranks 17th in the league. The Lakers’ point guards have been awful defensively, as well. Opposing point guards have a 17.3 PER against them. As a net, the Lakers point guards PER is a -6.3, per 82games.com. That’s awful by any standard — not only the Lakers.

If the Lakers are going to win this game, they’ll need Pau Gasol to step up and take control. The Knicks aren’t a very big team with Carmelo Anthony at the power forward position. The Lakers have to follow the blueprint that the Grizzlies did to beat the Knicks. They have to utilize the post more than the perimeter and force the opposition to guard on cuts. Gasol is the perfect player to do that. He’s a very good passer, just as his brother is, and has a plethora of moves to create opportunities in the post. If he can draw either Anthony into the low post and Chandler in the high post it will prove to be a favorable matchup for the Lakers. He can dominate Anthony down low and taking Chandler outside will provide a lack of rim protection for the Knicks.

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Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant (photo. Nike)

THUNDER VS. HEAT
The next game will be the most anticipated one of the day. The Oklahoma City Thunder will travel to Miami to take on the Heat in American Airlines Arena at 5:30 p.m. EST. The game will be shown nationally on ABC, as well.

The Heat and the Thunder are, on paper, two incredibly evenly matched teams. I think that the Thunder actually have an edge in this matchup, though. The Miami Heat aren’t the same team that they were in the NBA Finals, for whatever reason, and they’ve lost their touch defensively.

The X-factor for the Heat is going to be Mario Chalmers. He’s going to have to hold Russell Westbrookdown all game long. Russell has been dominant this season making plays for other teammates and not only getting his own shot. He’s only shooting 41 percent from the field on the season, per basketball-reference, but he’s averaging a career high 8.8 assists. Chalmers has to frustrate Westbrook and get him to disrupt the Thunder’s league-leading offense. It all starts with Russell and if he’s making detrimental plays on the front-end those are going to be a big win for the Heat.

For the Thunder, Kevin Martin is going to need to have a big game on Christmas day. He’s going up against the 16th-ranked defense in the league per basketball-reference and he should theoretically have a good game. He’s going to be matched up against Ray Allen, who isn’t the best defender in the world, and Dwyane Wade who hasn’t been himself this season. Martin is going to be the key for the Thunder in providing the spacing that they need to get to the rim. He’s one of the best players in the league when creating offense from the triple threat. That’s going to be huge playing against a Heat defense that really loves to gamble.

ROCKETS VS. BULLS
The Houston Rockets are going to travel to the United Center in Chicago to face the Bulls who have been a pleasant surprise without Derrick Rose this season. The game will be nationally broadcast on ESPN. Also, Omer Asik will have a homecoming against his former team.

This is a game that was really made possible by Jeremy Lin. There’s been large speculation that the Rockets wouldn’t be considered for this primetime spot if they hadn’t picked Lin up—the schedule was decided before James Harden was traded to Houston. Whether that’s right or wrong, Lin is going to have a large impact on the outcome of this game. There’s been an ongoing narrative that Lin and Harden don’t mix well on the floor. That’s been true for the most part. Per Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com, Lin’s numbers are exceptional when Harden is off of the floor. He averages 19.7 points, 7.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds with a true shooting percentage of 55.4 and a 17.7 PER.

If the Rockets are going to have a chance against the Bulls’ defense, they’ll need both of their creators to produce well. Harden has done an excellent job at that, but Lin has needed to pick himself up more often than not.

For the Bulls, they’ll need to stop James Harden. Per ESPN.com’s basketball stats, when the Rockets win Harden shoots 48 percent from the field. In their losses that takes a huge fall all the way down to 37 percent. Harden’s game is predicated off of getting high percentage looks at the rim, from three and, most importantly, from the free-throw line. That’s where Joakim Noah comes in for the Bulls. He’s going to guard against the pick and roll that Harden flourishes in. He kills teams by running the pick-and-roll with whoever the five is and having shooters around him. Noah may be stuck on an island with Harden more often than not. Asik is a great screen setter and takes the perimeter player out of the play. If Noah can force Harden to make midrange shots the Bulls will win.

NUGGETS VS. CLIPPERS
In the final game of the night the Denver Nuggets will travel to the Staples Center to face the Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

This is going to be a really fun game—maybe the most fun to watch of the day. Each team likes to get up and down the floor and they have the athletes to do it. We’ll get to see Lob City go up against the Mile High club—that’s must see stuff if you ask me.

The key for the Clippers is going to be Eric Bledsoe. He’s going to need to provide the Clippers with the energy that he’s given all season long off of the bench. Once Chris Paul sits down, the Clippers offense has a chance to go stagnant. It hasn’t happened yet this year and a lot of that is because of Eric Bledsoe’s short bursts of production. Though he only plays 18 minutes a game, Bledsoe is averaging 9.4 points and 2.9 assists per game, via basketball-reference. Bledsoe’s per 36 stats show that he has the potential to score 18.4 points per game and 5.4 assists. To have that on your reserve unit is something special.

For the Nuggets, they’ll need for Ty Lawson to return to form. He’s averaging 16 points per game right now, but he’s doing it on only 42 percent shooting after a 2011-12 season where he shot 48 percent from the floor. Lawson is also averaging career lows in free-throw percentage and his three-point percentage as well. He’s averaging a career high in turnovers of three per game and has an offensive rating of only 103. Lawson has to play better against one of the better point guards in the league if the Nuggets are going to win the game. He’s struggled for most of the season, but Christmas Day is the perfect opportunity for him to turn things around.

As you can see, there will be some great matchups featured Christmas Day. Make sure that you catch every game.

What will be the matchup to watch?

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