Jazz face dangerous and busy slate

Jared Woodcox , 2019-03-10 23:48:27
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MEMPHIS, TN – MARCH 8: Kyle Korver #26 celebrates with Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 8, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Utah Jazz face a tough Week 22, which is somewhat disconcerting considering the precarious spot they sit at in the Western Conference standings.

Well, Week 21 didn’t exactly go as hoped. Despite optimism that the Utah Jazz could go on a big run as they broke into a significantly easier schedule streak, it was a disappointing trio of games for Utah. They dropped the first game of the week at home against the New Orleans Pelicans despite being up by as many as 17.

They were able to win the rematch in The Big Easy, but it wasn’t exactly a convincing win. And things got worse from there as the Jazz went on to lay an absolute egg in Memphis where they fell victim to a feisty Grizzlies team.

In other words, in a week that I had Utah slated to go undefeated, they went just 1-2, bringing the Jazz to 37-28 on the year and leaving my projections record only slightly better at 38-27.

The worst thing about the subpar week is that the Jazz now find themselves in a precarious position in the Western Conference standings as their record is tied with the LA Clippers and they sit just a half-game ahead of the eighth-place San Antonio Spurs. With such being the case, if the Jazz aren’t able to turn things around in Week 22, they could be in danger of plummeting down the standings.

And while they’re certainly in an easier slate than we’re used to, this week won’t be a cakewalk by any means, especially since they’ll start things out with the toughest remaining contest of the year, hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. From there, the Jazz will visit the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, then return for a two-game home stand against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday and the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday.

The Suns are obviously struggling this season, but the Wolves have looked improved of late and the Nets are close to a playoff lock in the East. In other words, this week will still be a challenge, and the Jazz will need to be much more focused and prepared than they were a week ago. As such, here’s my take on how each contest will ultimately play out in Week 22 of NBA action.

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Jazz face grueling post-ASG slate

Jared Woodcox , 2019-02-18 01:36:25
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT – DECEMBER 22: The Utah Jazz huddle up against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 22, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Utah Jazz start off their post-All-Star break slate with a tough back-to-back against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks.

Considering how ugly the Utah Jazz looked during some of their early-season struggles, arriving at sixth in the Western Conference at the All-Star break was a pretty reassuring situation. Between now and the end of the season, they’ll benefit from one of the easiest schedules in the league, giving them a great opportunity to surge up the standings down the stretch.

However, while their easiest slate comes in their final 16 games, they do still face some challenges before that point, beginning with a daunting Week 19. Immediately following the All-Star break, the Jazz will be in for a tough two-game slate that could be a rude awakening after some enjoyable time off.

They’ll begin the week on Friday on the road against Oklahoma City, who was red hot heading into the break and is clearly aiming to surge up the standings and steal the second seed from the Denver Nuggets. The Jazz have struggled against OKC thus far this year, and that was before they truly started to click and Paul George forced his way into the MVP conversation.

After that, the Jazz will return home for a consecutive contest the very next night as they’ll host the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday. It’s pretty poor fortune for Utah to have to face a back-to-back in their first two games after the All-Star break, but the team is no stranger to tough schedule situations such as this.

Fortunately, it will be a back-to-back for the Mavs as well, as they host the Denver Nuggets the night prior in the American Airlines Center. This could lead to tired legs for both teams as they face an immediate back-to-back after a lengthy time off.

Hopefully the Jazz will be carrying some decent momentum with them into the first week after the All-Star festivities. They went 2-1 in the weeks prior, with their sole loss coming in a close contest against the Golden State Warriors. I was able to correctly predict each outcome, so while Utah put their record at 32-25 heading into the break, I was able to move up to 34-23.

We’ll see if their hot play carries over and they can earn a couple of wins in their first week back in action. Let’s dive in a little deeper to the pair of matchups to see how the Jazz stack up.

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Perplexing Jazz face tough slate

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LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 23: The Utah Jazz huddle up before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 23, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Utah Jazz face a rough travel schedule and four daunting opponents in what could very well be an ugly Week 10 for them.

It’s almost starting to appear as if the Utah Jazz may be allergic to a .500 record. Once again in Week Nine, they missed an absolutely excellent opportunity to even up their wins and losses, instead falling short in discouraging fashion to the Orlando Magic in Mexico City, dropping back to two games below .500 at 14-16.

Plenty of excuses can be made about the rigorous trip south of the border, the high elevation of Arena Ciudad de Mexico and several other things in between. But that doesn’t change the fact that Utah lost a game on Saturday that they should have won. Instead, they laid an absolute egg, shooting a measly 31.5 percent from the field.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only loss of the week either, as Utah was easily dispatched by the Oklahoma City Thunder to start out Week Nine. The only reprieve from painful losses was a blowout win over the Miami Heat. Sure, the Heat are not much of a force to be reckoned with, but it’s still absolutely perplexing how the Jazz can show out one game and dominate their foe, then complete fail to make a basket in the next. Those roller coaster performances have been a theme all season long.

With those marks, Utah went 1-2 on the week. I correctly predicted the loss to OKC and the win over Miami, but whiffed on the Orlando game, so I only went a slightly better 2-1, putting me back at .500 for the year but keeping the Jazz just beneath.

Unfortunately, missing out on the chance to get to .500 in Mexico City may really come back to bite the Jazz, as things are set to get a lot harder before they ease up. Week 10 will be a gauntlet of a stretch as we approach the end of the calendar year.

The Jazz face a four-game slate this week which begins in Houston on Monday. This follows straight after the tough flight to and from Mexico City, so don’t be surprised to see the Jazz on tired legs. Next, on Wednesday, they’ll head to Salt Lake for another odd single home game which will likely feel like just another travel stop along their way. They’ll face off in that contest against the Golden State Warriors, which obviously will be a massive challenge.

Then to conclude the week, the Jazz will head up to Portland, a place they’ve always struggled, on Friday, then turn around to face the Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back in Salt Lake City on Saturday. Between heavy travel and tough opponents, this could be a rough week for a Jazz team that continues to struggle mightily. Here’s a deeper look at what you can expect for the tenth week of NBA action.

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Slumping Jazz face daunting home slate

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DENVER, CO -NOVEMBER 3: Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell #45 handles the ball during the game against the Denver Nuggets on November 3, 2018 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Utah Jazz host some daunting foes in Week Four. Fortunately, weary opponents and resting players may give Utah a slight edge that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

While there are certainly plenty of reasons to refrain from hitting the panic button for the Utah Jazz, there’s also no denying that the team is off to a highly discouraging start. After nine games, the Jazz record now sits at 4-5. What’s worse is that they look much like they did early last year – out of sync, inefficient, banged up and inconsistent.

This wouldn’t be all that alarming if we were talking about the team from a year ago. We knew they’d have some issues with a brand new starting point guard in Ricky Rubio, a rookie in Donovan Mitchell and several other new faces thrown into the mix. However, this offseason the Jazz preached continuity, claiming that by keeping the band together, their cohesiveness could lead to big things.

It was certainly a reasonable hypothesis. After all, we saw how formidable the Jazz were to close out last season. It may yet result in similar regular and postseason success, but thus far, it hasn’t worked out anywhere close to how the Jazz might have imagined. Sure, it’s early and of course, there’s plenty of time to adjust and bounce back in an 82-game season that’s going to see plenty of highs and lows.

But all excuses aside, there’s no denying that the Jazz are off to a disappointing start that isn’t anywhere close to how solid this team was believed to be. While I’m fully aware that no team is going to ‘win them all’, the Denver Nuggets’ 8-1 start is pure evidence of how an up-and-coming team with their eyes set on illustrious goals ought to get started. The Jazz haven’t come anywhere close to doing that this year, and with a tough schedule ahead, are now in danger of falling into a major hole.

Utah went a dismal 0-3 in Week Three of action, falling to the Minnesota Timberwolves in heartbreaking fashion, then to the Memphis Grizzlies in ugly fashion, then to the Denver Nuggets who simply crushed a weary Jazz team in the fourth quarter. I had pinned the Jazz going 2-1, dropping only the game in Denver, meaning that my projections record went an only slightly better 1-2 on the week. While the Jazz sit at 4-5, I’m now at just 5-4.

What looked like a promising position for the Jazz, sitting at 4-2 with at least two very winnable games in Week Three, now has them in a very precarious spot – below .500 with two daunting opponents coming into Salt Lake City where the Utah Jazz are winless on the season.

They’ll host the red-hot Toronto Raptors on Monday, who thus far look like the best team in the East. Then the Dallas Mavericks visit on Wednesday. Dallas should be a winnable game for the Jazz, but they certainly have some exciting talent and, based on what we’ve seen so far, nothing should be taken for granted for the Jazz.

Finally, they’ll close out the week hosting the Boston Celtics in what could be Gordon Hayward‘s return game, assuming he plays on what is a second night of a back-to-back for them. Between Boston’s suffocating D and the fact that former Jazzmen have thrived against their old team this year, that could be an ugly affair for Utah.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Jazz are capable of bouncing back and could very well right the ship at any moment, especially considering that, at a minimum, they have a day of rest between each contest this week. So let’s jump in and see what we should expect out of a challenging Week Four.

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Schedule Ups and Downs: The Jazz Embark on a Tough Early Slate

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Congratulations, Jazz fans! You have endured the offseason and been intrigued by the preseason, but now it’s time to get your game face on. The regular season is upon us.

Now that the start of the real season is imminent, let’s take another look at the ins and outs, ups and downs of the 2018-19 Utah Jazz schedule. I took a deeper look at what lies ahead over the next six and a half months. What stood out? Glad you asked.

Graphic gripe

The color of confusion

Why must the Jazz’s printable schedule show the home opener in a different color than all other home games, and in a dark green that is nearly indistinguishable from the navy blue road games? It’s confusing. My general rule of color coding: if the game isn’t really any different (a home game is a home game) and if it only applies to one game out of 87 on the calendar, it doesn’t warrant its own color1.

Despite the complaint above, kudos to the graphic designers for distinguishing the preseason games from the regular season, using an outline instead of a filled format. That didn’t happen last year, which made it hard to tell when the games changed from meaningless to meaningful.

Back-to-backs and more

One of the first things fans look for in an NBA schedule is the number of back-to-back games their team plays. In the past, Friday-Saturday back-to-backs were a common occurrence, due to the fact that few teams play on Thursdays and the Jazz don’t play home games on Sundays. This factor alone usually propelled the Jazz toward the high end of the back-to-back rankings, and some fans complained of a conspiracy to wear the Jazz out.

This season, the team will play 14 sets of back-to-back games (and only seven of the Friday-Saturday back-to-backs), which is about par for the course around the league. Only three teams will play fewer back-to-backs than Utah, and every team plays between 13 and 16. There’s no reason to complain about just 14 back-to-back sets2.

As in the past few seasons, the four games in five nights schedule is gone. Thank league commissioner Adam Silver for this, and for other related schedule changes, like a shorter preseason and the earlier October 16 start to the regular season.

Give me the bad news first

If you loved how the season started last year, with tough games, road games, and tough road games aplenty, you are going to love this season.

Five out of seven October games and ten of sixteen November contests will be played outside the friendly confines of the Viv. In fact, the season will barely be two months old when the Jazz play away game number 21 of 41, passing the road schedule’s half way mark before Christmas. A couple of weeks later, road game 25 coincides with game 41, or the halfway mark of the season.

On top of difficult a road schedule, the early season also features a slew of games against projected top teams. Based on averages of several preseason projections, six teams will win 50 games or more: Golden State, Houston, Utah, Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto (Oklahoma City’s average lands just below 50). That gives the Jazz 13 games against the top teams in the league, and 11 of them will be played in the first half of the season (the first 38 games, to be exact).

The Jazz will do the bulk of their work against elite teams early in the season.

If anything can redeem that early season schedule, it’s that 10 of the road games (plus five at home) are against projected sub-.500 teams. Those 15 games (and especially the 10 at home) will be very important. Every team drops a few contests against potential cellar-dwellers, but the Jazz can’t afford missteps, as it will be challenging to make up for those losses against winning (or elite teams), especially with that travel schedule.

When does it get better?

In short, right after the tough stretch above.

After playing their 21st road game in two months, the Jazz will have nearly four months to play the remaining twenty. And after the 25th away game (at the end of a 2019-opening, four-game eastern swing), the final 16 will be played over a three-month period (January 16 to April 10).

When the road-heavy first half of the season ends in game 41, the home-road discrepancy starts evening out immediately in game 42. That game kicks off a big home stretch from January 9 to February 9, when the Jazz host 12 opponents while only hitting the road 3 times. If the record is suffering at all from the difficult schedule to this point, this is where the team can make up for it. On the other hand, if the record is good or better at the season’s midpoint, it will be time to get really excited.

If the Jazz can remember how to drive to Vivint SmartHome Arena by this point, they’ll get some much needed respite at home.

Starting the very next game (February 12 at Golden State) the Jazz play an even home/road schedule, with 13 home and 13 road games remaining. During this stretch, there are only three multi-game road trips: a four-game eastern swing and a pair of two-gamers. The remaining eight road games are all single game trips, which generally means just a single night in a hotel.

That’s decent news, but the best news is the strength of the opponents to close the season. The schedule softens again later in the year, and you may recall how the Jazz took advantage last season3.

So how soft is the stretch run? If you were paying attention earlier, you know that the Jazz play 11 of 13 games against expected 50+ game winners during the first half of the season. Anyone with a limited knowledge of story problems should be able to calculate that only two games remain after the halfway point: a home game against the Rockets, and a trip to the Bay Area to face the Warriors.

After those two contests, the schedule bottoms out. During the final 25 games of the regular season, the Jazz don’t play a single game against a team projected to win 50 games or more. About half of those games are against teams expected to be over .500, but that leaves 13 games against lottery-bound teams.

The downhill stretch.

In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lighter month than February 2019, when the Jazz will play only 9 games. By contrast, last season included an 11-game February slate. If guys are banged up, this will be a good time to get healthy. Prepare yourself for articles alternating between “rest is good” and “we’d just as soon play every other day.”

Put simply, the second half of the season should be a good time to be a Jazz fan.


There’s even more good news on the schedule. With a nod to the recently deceased Aretha Franklin, the 2017-18 Jazz seem to have earned some well-deserved respect from the league and its broadcast partners.

The Christmas Day game is the surest sign that the Jazz are being noticed. Of course the league needed a Pacific or Mountain time zone location for the nightcap, which limited the options. The headline team (Warriors) and headline market (LeBron James’ Lakers) were likely already on the schedule. That left Portland, Utah and Denver as potential hosts, because let’s just say the Kings, Clippers and Suns are not ready for prime time. Still, it’s good news: the league could have easy picked a solid matchup like Denver @ Portland or San Antonio @ Denver, but went with Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and your Utah Jazz. Plan ahead to get those presents unwrapped, stuff your face, sleep off the food coma, and wake up in time for that 8:30 p.m. MST tip off.

Still seeking a sign of respect?

  • The Jazz were scheduled for five real national broadcasts4 last season, but get 11 in the upcoming season. That’s nothing compared to the top draws, but doubling the national presence indicates the league believes in the product the Jazz put on the floor.
  • The home opener was considered enough of a marquee match up to garner an ESPN broadcast and a pre-announcement before the rest of the league’s schedule was made public.
  • While not a marquee match up, the Mexico City game against the Orlando Magic is still a high-visibility event in which the Jazz are lucky to participate.

What’s missing?

The rotating conference schedule, which allows each team to “skip” a fourth game against certain conference foes, works in the Jazz’s favor this season. The headline is the Jazz only playing the defending champion Warriors 3 times, with 2 of those contests in Salt Lake City. When the schedule allows you to skip a game in Oakland that could easily be a loss, that’s a big deal. There’s also a skipped road game in San Antonio that could be helpful, although the Spurs feel less scary now than in the past5.

The Jazz will also skip home games against the Pelicans and Clippers, so local fans will only get one chance to see Anthony Davis and whoever is the face of the Clippers play in person this year.

Given that three of these four teams are expected to post winning records, this improves the Jazz’s win projection marginally.

Bottom line

How will the schedule affect the 2018-19 Jazz?

The first half of the season is similar to last year’s, and it will certainly take a toll in one way or another. That said, the team should have the opportunity for a better record, despite the schedule. Based on preseason play, it feels like Dante Exum should help the team add a few wins, and the same can certainly be said if Rudy Gobert avoids another lengthy injury absence. Last year, Ricky Rubio struggled in the first half of the season, so any improvement should also help in the win column, although in fairness Rubio hasn’t looked his best in the preseason.

The second half of the season should be an opportunity to improve playoff positioning, but it’s unrealistic to expect another 29-6 finish (a 68-game winning pace), and insane to expect an improvement. Massive improvement will need to come in the first half of the season, because it’s tough to improve on only six losses.

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In what has become a Christmas tradition, the NBA has gifted us another beautiful slate of games for Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. 

The NBA Christmas Day schedule is the single best slate of games of the entire season, and following an offseason of major change, the 2018-19 edition is expected to be as entertaining as ever.

On Wednesday night the league officially announced the Christmas Day schedule, featuring five highly anticipated matchups with some intriguing storylines. 

The Golden State Warriors will play host to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the marquee matchup of Christmas day. The Lakers have a 21-22 all-time record on Christmas day, having lost to the Timberwolves 121-104 last season. The Warriors will play on Christmas for the 28th time in franchise history, having won 12 of 27, including a 99-92 win over James and the Cavaliers last season.

Carmelo Anthony will play on Christmas for the sixth time, this time with the Houston Rockets. The James Harden and Chris Paul-led Rockets will welcome Anthony’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference’s best rivalry game. 

The New York Knicks will play on Christmas Day for the 53rd time, the most in NBA history. The Knicks will welcome Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks to Madison Square Garden in Milwaukee’s first Christmas day appearance since 1977.

In a rematch of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Boston Celtics host the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics enter the 2018-19 season as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference, but Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and company are expected to challenge the Celtics for the top spot. 

The final Christmas day game is yet another marquee matchup as Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the Portland Trail Blazers travel to Salt Lake City to take on Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz.

NBA Christmas Day Schedule 2018

Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets (3:00 p.m. ET, ABC)

Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics (5:30 op.m. ET, ABC)

Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors (8:00 p.m., ESPN/ABC)

Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz (10:30 p.m., TNT)


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The NBA's Christmas Day slate, ranked in order of fun

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The matchups for the NBA’s annual Christmas Day slate of games were leaked on Tuesday, and the schedule includes familiar names like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, as well as some fresh Yuletide faces like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Donovan Mitchell. We figured we’d rank the games from worst to first (or frankincense to gold, if you prefer), so you can schedule your holiday travel accordingly.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will try to swat away the upstart Knicks on Christmas Day. (AP)

5. Milwaukee Bucks vs. New York Knicks

What could possibly be more exciting than a matchup between Brook Lopez and Enes Kanter on Christmas? Forget hanging stockings from the mantle or leaving presents under the tree. Give your kids the gift of Malcolm Brogdon vs. Tim Hardaway Jr. on the biggest NBA day of the regular season.

Hey, at least there’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is worth the price of admission on his own and a leading MVP candidate. And the game should take place before fans from the biggest media market lose all hope on their team making the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But the matchup will likely not feature Kristaps Porzingis, the other freakish talent who is still recovering from his February ACL tear and would have made a Christmas meeting with Antetokounmpo much more interesting.

C’mon, NBA, you couldn’t have hooked hoop fans up with a marquee matchup between, say, DeMar DeRozan’s San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard’s Toronto Raptors. Canada celebrates Christmas, too.

4. Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Anyone who might argue that San Antonio and Toronto just don’t have the mass appeal to qualify for the Christmas slate more interesting should explain to me how Utah does. I’m not sure the casual basketball observer is going to be captivated by the advanced analytics contributions of Joe Ingles.

What this game does have is a handful of under-appreciated stars. Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell and Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum may not be household names outside NBA circles, but maybe they should be. You can sell grandma on the likability of those characters, tear your nephew away from Fortnite long enough to catch a few wildly entertaining highlights, and convince your hockey-obsessed uncle that this regular-season NBA game will be competitive throughout.

3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors

It’s Arguably The Greatest Player Ever vs. Arguably The Greatest Team Every Part 12. Or whatever the number is now. This game is an easy sell: LeBron James will face Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the Warriors with a new cast of characters. And, man, are Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley characters. LaVar Ball might be there, too. This game could get extremely weird.

If new Warrior DeMarcus Cousins is eyeing a return “around Christmas,” as ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported, this game could be more apocalyptic than the TV movie pitch in “Scrooged.” (And as long as we’re making 1980s references, Magic Johnson should be there trying to tamper with Klay Thompson, too.)

I’m not sure it’ll be all that competitive, though, so long as Golden State is engaged enough to remind LeBron he needs better reinforcements to match their starpower, but the specter is certainly there.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets

These may be the best teams in the Western Conference not named the Warriors. Considering how deep the West is, that should distract your family from arguing over who drove the furthest for this.

The last two MVP winners, OKC’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden, are pitted opposite each other. Both have complementary All-Stars — Paul George and Chris Paul, respectively — to share the load. New Rocket Carmelo Anthony will face the team that dumped him for Dennis Schröder. Even Steven Adams against Clint Capela is entertaining. Gerald Green will have a cool haircut. It’ll be fun.

Maybe we’ll even find out what nerdy gifts Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Thunder GM Sam Presti exchange over the holidays. Hi, Sam, I got you this abacus from the early 20th century that Ramanujan defeated in a math olympiad. Maybe you can use it to acquire better 3-point shooting.

Sick burn. Fire game.

Celtics forward Marcus Morris gives 76ers star Joel Embiid an update on the status of their playoff series. (AP)

1. Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia is convinced that recent lottery picks Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz comprise the NBA’s best young core, even though they shot a combined 29 percent from 3-point range (Simmons and Fultz, their future backcourt, were 0-for-12 on the season) and lost a playoff series in five games to a Celtics team that started Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. That sentence will anger Sixers fans, and angry Sixers fans make for an exciting foil under any circumstance.

Last we saw these two teams play, Embiid was talking trash and Boston’s Marcus Morris was reminding him that his team trailed the series three games to none. The 76ers will be out to prove that those three Eastern Conference semifinals games decided by 10 combined points were just flukes. The Celtics, meanwhile, will be armed with (knock on wood) a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, along with barbs about premature confetti celebrations and Bryan Colangelo’s burner account saga.

The egg nog will be spiked, Twitter will be afire, and two East Coast rivals will resume battle.

– – – – – – –

Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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