NBA News: Battle of LA, Bucks-Sixers Highlight Busy Christmas Day Lineup
As a kid, Doc Rivers dreamed of playing in the NBA. He dreamed, especially, of playing on Christmas Day, when it seemed all the world was tuned in and the league’s best teams, its best players, were hand-picked to showcase their skills on the basketball court.
Rivers, now 58, has seen that dream become reality both as a player and coach. A former All-Star whose pro career spanned from 1983 to 1996, he’ll return to the coveted holiday lineup once again in 2019, this time as head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I tend to look at it as a reward,” said Rivers.
For Rivers, there’s a little something extra on the line this year. His Clippers will face the rival LA Lakers on Dec. 25 at the shared-turf Staples Center. The rivalry, which has come to be known as the ‘Hallway Series,’ promises to be as competitive as it’s been in years. Maybe ever. That’s because the post-Lob City Clippers now boast the potent duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George; the Lakers Lebron James and Anthony Davis. (This will be James’ 13th-straight Christmas Day appearance.)
The Lakers have historically dominated this intra-city matchup, holding a lopsided 102-52 advantage dating back to 1984. But things have leveled off in recent years. In fact, the Clippers reeled off 11 straight head-to-head wins between 2014 and 2016, and now have the reigning NBA Finals MVP and native Los Angelino Mr. Leonard among their ranks. Both Western Conference powers should be among the title contenders come May 2020.
But that’s just one game amongst the NBA’s most intriguing Christmas Day offerings in recent memory. In what could be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals, reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will face Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Despite the loss of Gordon Hayward to injury (left hand), the Boston Celtics are also playing with some postseason purpose, thanks to the stellar play of free-agent pickup Kemba Walker at point guard. The Celts will head north of the border to play the Toronto Raptors, who in June became the first non-US franchise to claim the NBA championship.
Another power duo — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — have rekindled hopes for a title run in Houston. On Christmas night, the Rockets will meet the host Golden State Warriors in a rematch of the 2019 Western Conference Semifinals, won by Golden State, 4-2. Given injuries to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and the loss of free agent Kevin Durant, the revenge-seeking Rockets — who will get their first glimpse of the sparkling new Chase Center in downtown San Francisco — will go into this one as the favorites.
Elsewhere, Jamal Murray, Nikol Jokic and the resurgent Denver Nuggets play host to Brandon Ingram, JJ Redick and the New Orleans Pelicans, who are eagerly awaiting the return of Zion Williamson from knee surgery.
Doc Rivers was right. The NBA’s Christmas Day contests — many of which stand as the most memorable games in league history — are a reward. That goes for us fans, too.
The NBA’s Christmas Day Lineup
Boston Celtics @ Toronto Raptors | Scotiabank Arena
Milwaukee Bucks @ Philadelphia 76ers | Wells Fargo Center
Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors | Chase Center
Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers | Staples Center
New Orleans Pelicans @ Denver Nuggets | Pepsi Center