As a way to help you set your NBA-watching calendar, this space will get you ready for the best games that aren’t on ABC, ESPN, TNT or NBATV each week. We’ll provide a little insight about why you should check out each matchup and a few nuggets about the teams involved.
Jazz at Heat
As they seem to do every year, the Utah Jazz started slow and are rounding into form around the holidays. The Jazz have won five straight games and closed to within 1.5 games of the second seed in the Western Conference. Utah’s done it without Mike Conley, who has been out for almost that entire streak due to a hamstring strain. That’s allowed Quin Snyder to go back to Joe Ingles and return some of last year’s size in the starting lineup. It also puts Donovan Mitchell in the role of primary ballhandler, where he’s thriving.
Miami comes into this game sporting a 12-1 record at home and a surprisingly 8th ranked offense. The Heat have battled injuries all season long and haven’t had their projected lineup available for even one game. But that hasn’t really mattered, as Jimmy Butler has been a seamless fit as the team’s leader, and Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson have been shocking mainstays in the starting lineup. Adding to that perimeter trio is big man Bam Adebayo who is blossoming into an All-Star talent.
Christmas Eve is one of the few scheduled off nights in the NBA. Enjoy the time with family and friends!
No NBA League Pass Games
The Christmas day quintuple-header is all on ESPN and ABC.
Boston at Toronto – 12:00 – ESPN
Milwaukee at Philadelphia – 2:30 – ABC
Houston at Golden State – 5:00 – ABC
LA Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers – 8:00 – ABC
New Orleans at Denver – 10:30 – ESPN
Timberwolves at Kings
If Minnesota or Sacramento is ever able to get, and stay, healthy, they could make a run at the playoffs. The Kings are a little closer right now and are finally a little healthier. De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley are both back from injuries now. Fox has reclaimed his spot in the starting lineup and Bagley should join him soon. That’ll bring depth and balance to the Sacramento lineup. With Fox back, look for the Kings to speed the game up some and improve on their current 30th ranking in pace.
The Timberwolves need Karl-Anthony Towns back on the court as soon as possible. He’s easily their best player and the one guy in the lineup that opponents need to bend their defense towards. Andrew Wiggins is playing well and looking like the guy who was exciting in his first few years in the NBA. Both Wiggins’ usage and efficiency are at the best levels of his career. If Minnesota can get their key role players healthy around Towns and Wiggins, the playoffs are a reasonable goal, as the rest of the bottom of the Western Conference continues to surprisingly struggle.
Pacers at Heat
This one could be a bit of a rock fight, as these are two of the NBA’s better defensive teams. Indiana continues to get it done without Victor Oladipo, as Malcom Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis have become a formidable one-two punch. Brogdon has proven worth every bit of the big contract he got as a free agent, and Sabonis’ contract extension already looks like a steal. Oladipo has ramped up his on-court activity and his return should come shortly after the holidays. That’ll give a shot in the arm to an offense that currently sits in the middle of the pack. If the offense can climb to the edges of the top-10, Indiana will make noise in the season’s second half.
14 Game Night!
Due to the odd week of scheduling because of Christmas, Saturday is packed full of great games and they’re all on NBA League Pass. It was impossible to pick just one, so flip around between this group:
Raptors at Celtics
76ers at Heat
Magic at Bucks
Lakers at Trail Blazers
Jazz at Clippers
Thunder at Raptors
Toronto is in a tough spot here. They’ll be on a back-to-back, having played in Boston the night before. The Raptors are also incredibly banged up with Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell all out indefinitely. Siakam seems the most likely to return by this game, but that’s far from a lock. And this is after Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka all missed time earlier this season. But Toronto continues to wage an impressive title defense despite the injuries. They’ll need more of that grit after a tough week of games that includes a game at Indiana and two against Boston.
Oklahoma City has been may be the biggest surprise in the NBA. Entering the week, the Thunder have won four straight games to go over .500 and have moved up to 7th in the Western Conference. A three guard rotation of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder is leading the way for OKC. Those three combine with Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams up front to give the Thunder a chance to win most nights. They’ll have to improve on a 4-9 road record, but in a Western Conference that is weaker than expected, Oklahoma City has a chance to make a relatively shocking return to the postseason.