ESPN NBA commentators Flip Saunders, Kurt Rambis, Antonio Davis, Tom Penn and ESPN.com TrueHoop blogger Henry Abbott provide their insights and perspectives on ABC and ESPN’s blockbuster NBA Christmas Day schedule. ABC and ESPN will combine to present all five NBA games on Tuesday, December 25, highlighted by ABC’s doubleheader – New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers at 3 p.m. ET, followed by an NBA Finals rematch of the Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat at 5:30 p.m. For more information on ESPN’s comprehensive Christmas Day coverage, including Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy calling two games in Los Angeles and the ABC debut of the new KIA NBA Countdown team, visit ESPN Media Zone.
New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers (ABC, ESPN Radio – 3 p.m.)
Saunders: Coach D’Antoni is changing his lineups according to the style of team he is playing. I believe we will see this on Christmas Day along with a possible return of Steve Nash. It is important against the Knicks for your point guard to be able to go at Raymond Felton of the Knicks. I see a balance of an inside/outside game by the Lakers. Taking care of the basketball with low turnovers and defending the Knicks three-point shooting will be keys for victory.
Rambis: Obviously, the Knicks got off to a great start. If the Lakers want to stop them, they have to find a way to control the pace of the game and find a pace that suits them. They also have to do a good job of controlling Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers have to continue to grow as a team offensively and defensively. They are still trying to figure everything out. If Nash comes back and plays, they have that adjustment to make as well.
Davis: The Knicks can be stopped by good defensive rotations so that shooters like Kidd and Novak don’t hurt you. Their two point guard play has to be exposed by posting up one of them, which I think is what the Lakers will do with Kobe against Kidd. And play 48 minutes. The Knicks are streaky shooters so they will go through minutes of shooting the ball well and shooting the ball very poorly. If you execute for 48 minutes, you will be able to stay in the game and have a chance to win down the stretch.
Penn: The Lakers must play with a purpose and with passion. They simply haven’t done so yet this season. They should be full strength but the main question remains about their baseline effort and energy levels.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat (ABC, ESPN Radio – 5:30 p.m.)
Davis: Although the Heat added key players and the Thunder lost Harden, I feel Oklahoma City is playing better basketball and making the necessary improvements to become NBA Champs. I expect to see a high energy, NBA Finals-feel with great matchups. Oklahoma should approach this as a playoff game and a statement game. They can’t turn the ball over and give up easy fast buckets to a team like Miami because they depend on their defense to create offense. And, with the addition of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, it is imperative that Oklahoma find shooters in transition and be ready to rotate from the strong side to weak side to cover three-point shooters.
Rambis: I look for the Thunder to try and regain some of the confidence that could have been lost in losing to the Heat in last year’s Finals. Oklahoma City needs to develop a comfort level offensively in executing against Miami’s aggressive defense. It’s an opportunity for the Thunder to look at different matchups that they can take advantage of against the Heat. They can also experiment with some offensive options should they meet the Heat in the playoffs again.
Saunders: I expect the Oklahoma at Miami game to have the atmosphere and intensity of a playoff game. This is a showcase game and both teams are at the top, or near the top, of their conferences. The Thunder are playing at the highest level of any team in the league and they should continue to play their style. Defend, rebound and run.
Abbott: This is serious business right here. Both teams come in rested. The Heat will have had two days off and the Thunder will have had four. So it’ll be show time and I expect this show to be good.
Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets (ESPN, WatchESPN – 12 p.m.)
Saunders: Holiday season in New York is always special and with their first Christmas Day game in Brooklyn against the Celtics, it will be exciting. It is important for the Nets to give their loyal fans something to cheer about. The key matchup is two of the best point guards in the NBA going head to head. The winner of this matchup between Rondo and Williams will most likely lead their team to victory.
Davis: I think Billy King, Avery Johnson and the Nets organization have done a great job of putting together a very competitive team and creating a fresh, new look. This has created a lot of buzz. With Lopez missing games due to injury and D-Will not looking like the All-Star we are used to seeing, we are looking at a .500 team. If these two key players don’t get it together, the Nets will have a disappointing season.
Rambis: Hopefully for each team, this Christmas Day game will be a catalyst to jumpstart better play out of both the Celtics and the Nets. Brooklyn has struggled lately as they have yet to find their offensive identity. They must continue to assimilate the new pieces they’ve added to this year’s team.
Houston Rockets at Chicago Bulls (ESPN, WatchESPN – 8 p.m.)
Rambis: The Rockets have done a solid job this season thus far considering that they’re an unfinished product. Part of their struggles can be explained by their youth and lack of overall NBA team experience. As the youngest team in the league, each individual is learning how to play in the league while they all learn how to play together. The Rockets have a very good young backcourt but have struggled throughout the season in learning how to play cohesively.
Davis: The Bulls, surprisingly, are playing at a high level and proving that defense wins basketball games. Joakim Noah is playing All-Star caliber basketball and Luol Deng is finally becoming a big shot maker. If – and it’s a huge If – Derrick Rose makes it back with the Bulls playing the way they are playing now, I wouldn’t want to play them in a playoff series.
Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers (ESPN, WatchESPN – 10:30 p.m.)
Rambis: It’s unfortunate that the troubles the Lakers are experiencing have overshadowed how well the Clippers are playing. Their depth is second to none in the league. Coach Del Negro has used a variety of lineups. Often with tremendous depth, there can be issues with playing time but that has not been the case with the Clippers as their team is always supporting the unit on the floor. The growth of their team has also been enjoyable to watch. They continue to be one of the most exciting teams in the open court, but their confidence has grown in their half court execution and it has helped their game blossom.
Davis: The Nuggets have been disappointing to me this season. I thought the addition of Andre Iguodala’s perimeter defense would be the key to their success. I still feel they are going to get better as the season goes on, but their free throw shooting and three point shooting percentage has to improve. The Clippers are playing some of the best basketball in the NBA and doing so without Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill. I’ve always felt that if the Clippers find a way to win close games they would compete for the Western Conference title.
Abbott: High flyers take this cake. Blake Griffin, Kenneth Faried, DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, Andre Iguodala and Eric Bledsoe. I want dunks for dessert.