The marquee day on the NBA's annual schedule has become Christmas, and the league announced the five matchups for this year's holiday. Here's a quick look at each in order of start time and opening NBA odds courtesy of Sportsbook.com.
Washington vs. New York (-1.5)
The Knicks playing on Christmas Day is nothing new (franchise's 50th game on Christmas, an NBA high), and they probably always will, regardless of how good the team might be, because it's the nation's biggest television market. New York flopped on Christmas last year, losing to Oklahoma City by 29 without an injured Carmelo Antony. Seeing the Wizards on Christmas is definitely a new thing as they haven't played on the holiday since 2008. It's a sign that Washington is a rising power in the East after upsetting the Bulls in the first round of last year's playoffs and pushing Indiana to six games in the conference semifinals. The Wizards were 3-0 against the Knicks last season, winning both games at Madison Square Garden by one point. Bradley Beat hit the winning shot in each.
Way-Too-Early Pick: This game will mean a lot to Washington. You can't say that about many regular-season matchups. Take the Wiz.
Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio (-5)
A rematch of the Western Conference Finals, and reigning league MVP Kevin Durant probably can plan on working Christmas the rest of his career, just like LeBron James. Durant was just mortal in the six-game West Finals loss to San Antonio, averaging "only" 25.8 points, and he struggled from long range, hitting 33.3 percent of his shots. To show how little the regular season matters, the Thunder swept San Antonio during the 2013-14 regular season, winning the two in San Antonio by 13 and six points. Oklahoma City is 3-1 when playing on Christmas Day.
Way-Too-Early Pick: Take the Thunder to cover.
Cleveland vs. Miami (+3.5)
This is the highlighted game on the schedule as LeBron James returns to Miami for the first time. Fans in south Florida are very fickle so the Heat aren't going to sell out much next season nor will fans show a whole lot of enthusiasm. That most certainly won't be the case for this one. I'm curious how James will be received. I'd expect about half boos and half cheers. Miami fans don't get too worked up about much. While this might rate as a 6 on a scale of 10 in importance to James, it's an 11 on a scale of 10 (Spinal Tap!) to Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Wade already has said his new favorite player to go against will be James. They aren't happy he bailed. I'd tell you how the Cavs and Heat fared against one another last year, but what does that matter now?
Way-Too-Early Pick: This is easily the most important game on Miami's schedule. Heat win outright.
L.A. Lakers vs. Chicago (-9)
As the line shows, this appears to be the biggest mismatch on the schedule. Clearly the only reason the Lakers are playing on Christmas is because of Kobe Bryant. This will be his 16th Christmas Day game, the most of any player ever. The last time we saw Kobe and Derrick Rose play against one another was Christmas Day 2011 after the lockout, an 88-87 Bulls win in Los Angeles. This will be new Bulls forward Pau Gasol's first game against his former team. He replaced Carlos Boozer, who was amnestied by Chicago and then picked up by the Lakers.
Way-Too-Early Pick: The Lakers don't look very good. Take Chicago.
L.A. Clippers vs. Golden State (-2.5)
These teams simply don't like each other, so this should be the most entertaining (and highest scoring) matchup of the holiday. Of course the Clippers and Warriors met in a contentious first-round playoff series when the Donald Sterling story broke, with L.A. taking Game 7 at home. They split four regular-season matchups, each winning both at home. That included a Warriors 105-103 victory on Christmas Night in which the Clippers' Blake Griffin was ejected for his second technical foul early in the fourth quarter after a dust up with Andrew Bogut. The Warriors' Draymond Green had been ejected earlier for a flagrant 2 foul.
Way-Too-Early Pick: Tough to win in Oakland. Take the Warriors in Steve Kerr's first Christmas game as Golden State's head coach.