Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it remains the most wonderful time of the year for basketball fans. The NBA continues to ramp up its Dec. 25 offerings year after year, and it will feature a compelling five-game slate in 2015.
Since Christmas Eve is devoid of NBA action, the Dec. 24 edition of Data Dimes will preview the five games set for Christmas in order of when each will be played. The PointAfter team picked an intriguing stat fans should keep in mind while watching each one.
Note: All stats referenced are accurate as of Dec. 23, prior to games played.
* All times p.m. EST
Friday’s slate of Christmas games starts with a duel between the floundering Pelicans and the resurgent Heat featuring the NBA’s leading shot blockers, Hassan Whiteside and Anthony Davis. Those two combine to average an absurd 6.71 blocks per game, which is more than the average of every NBA team save for Miami.
Whiteside leads the league by a healthy margin, but “The Brow” hasn’t been a slouch.
Both big men are adept at using their length and athleticism to swat away shot attempts and, for the most part, each guy has protected the rim while staying out of foul trouble. Neither Whiteside nor Davis lands within the top 60 for personal fouls per game. They do, however, rank second and third, respectively, in blocks per foul—trailing only Rasual Butler of the San Antonio Spurs, who has 12 blocks and three personal fouls in 214 minutes played.
At a combined 48 years old, Davis and Whiteside are two of the game’s best young bigs, but their career arcs could not be more different. Davis was a highly touted prospect out of Kentucky who was taken as the consensus No. 1 pick in 2012. Whiteside, a former second-rounder, was waived by the Sacramento Kings during the 2011–12 season and had to spend stints in the D-League and overseas before getting an opportunity to return to the NBA.
Regardless of how each guy got to where he is now, they’re both enjoying great success.
20.57 PER difference
OKC and the Windy City feature two of the marquee point guards in the NBA, but each floor general’s production is soundly different.
Rose ranks No. 269 out of 325 qualified players in PER. He’s simply not the MVP-caliber player he was before a rash of injuries derailed his career.
Make no mistake: The Bulls are now Jimmy Butler’s team, but chemistry issues remain a prevalent problem. Beating the Thunder on Christmas would go a long way toward instilling Chicago with some much-needed confidence. That will be easier said than done with a sputtering Rose and an injuredJoakim Noah, especially since the Thunder boast the league’s fourth-best home record (13–3).
Dating back to the 2013-14 season, LeBron James has faced off against Stephen Curry 10 times (including the 2015 NBA Finals). In those showdowns, King James has done his part by averaging 31.9 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists.
Curry’s numbers are solid as well, but what matters most is getting the W. The 2014–15 MVP has done that more often than not against James, winning six of the 10 head-to-head matchups (including four in last year’s Finals en route to Curry’s first ring).
Of course, previous results will be put aside this Christmas. The Finals rematch will be a marquee showcase of the top team in the Western Conference and the No. 1 squad in the East. If you only end up watching a single game this holiday season amid chaos with family and friends, make it this one.
San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets (8 p.m. on ESPN)
In a Texas-sized matchup fit for Christmas Day, the Spurs head to Houston to take on the Rockets in their first meeting of the season.
Last season, San Antonio won three of four matchups against its Southwest Division foe. Tim Duncan was absent from the Spurs’ lone loss. He’s averaging single-digit points for the first time ever this season, while playing fewer minutes and earning more rest. But he’s sure to play an integral role regardless. Interestingly, despite Duncan’s lengthy career, he’s only suited up on Christmas five times.
The future Hall of Famer and five-time champion averages 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks on Christmas Day games.
The key players to watch this time around, though, will be young stars Kawhi Leonard and James Harden.
The man on the left is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. The guy with the beard finished second in MVP voting a season ago behind Curry. Let’s just say this duel is worth the price of admission.
Leonard recently frustrated Indiana Pacers All-Star forward Paul George into a 1-of-14 shooting performance with six turnovers—his worst outing of the season. Will he exhibit the same elite defense against Harden?
In the four games Harden played against the Spurs last season, he coughed up the ball 5.5 times per contest. The former No. 3 pick’s turnover count should act as an indicator of Houston’s success (or lack thereof) on Friday.
In 15 career games played on Christmas Day, Kobe Bryant has averaged 25.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per contest. He eclipsed 30 points in five of those matchups and scored a Christmas-best 42 in 2004 during an overtime loss to former teammate Shaquille O’Neal and the Heat.
On the surface, Bryant’s numbers on Dec. 25 appear quite favorable. However, in the holiday showdowns Bryant has played, the Lakers sport a lackluster 6–9 record. Additionally, while he averages more than 25 points, his scoring efficiency more closely resembles late-30s Bryant than the player he was in his prime.
The Black Mamba is shooting 40.8% from the field and a ghastly 10.8% from three-point range for his career on Christmas. His three-pointers have been flying as blind as Santa’s sleigh without Rudolph, or Jack Skellington’s without Zero.
Bryant also hasn’t been nearly as clutch on Christmas as parents bouncing around eight different stores just to get the top item on their child’s wish list. He forced up and missed what would have been a game-winning three-pointer in 2004 versus Miami (against a double-team), and he got blocked by Luol Deng when attempting a potential game winner against Chicago in 2011 (rising up into a triple-team of Deng, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah near the basket).
Facing a tough Clippers team all but guarantees Bryant’s Lakers will fall to 6–10 overall on Christmas. Still, in Bryant’s last five games—dating back to Dec. 11 against San Antonio— he’s averaged 22.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists while converting 49.4% of his field goals. Perhaps the Lakers’ all-time points leader can continue his hot streak in order to prevent double-digit Christmas losses.