Whether you find presents or coal under your tree on Christmas Day, the NBA is here to give you a full slate of juicy games. The NBA Christmas Day schedule is a doozy, with great match ups all over the place. Unlike last year, the season isn't starting on Christmas. Instead, we're past the quarter pole and starting to see which teams are contenders for the NBA title, and which ones are a flash in the pan (with one notable exception, but we'll get the that). Starting at Noon EST, some of the best players in the league will square off in what is a good way to gauge the early season health of the NBA elite. Check out the NBA Christmas Day schedule below:
12:00PM Boston Celtics @ New Jersey Nets
The Celtics are struggling early thanks to a combination of age, schedule, and a turned-over roster that is still trying to adjust. After barely beating a terrible Wizards team, the Celtics promptly ripped off a three-game losing streak on the road. They will have to travel down I-95 and then hop on the 2 Train to hit the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, against a Nets squad that has somehow been both better and worse than advertised. The Nets are great on defense so far this year, ranking in the top-5 in points allowed per game, and they have signature wins versus the Knicks and Clippers, plus they've already topped the Celtics once this season. But they've also been bounced around by everyone from the Heat to the Warriors, and will have to deal with Brook Lopez's foot injury probably for the rest of his tenure in Brooklyn. The Celtics are pretty much middle of the road in everything, except for assists - thanks to the fact that Rajon Rondo has hit another gear this season. A good game between two teams battling for a top-4 spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, who are oddly jockeying for second place behind this next team.
3:00PM New York Knicks @ Los Angeles Lakers
The Knicks continue to amaze. Without Amar'e Stoudemire, without Carmelo Anthony at times, without Iman Shumpert or Jeremy Lin and with a whole host of guys on the wrong side of 35, the Knicks are still winning. They score points, they defend decently, and they rise to the level of their opponents so far this year, which is the opposite of what they did last year. After cranking the Lakers at Madison Square Garden last week, the Knicks will look to sweep the season series and keep Kobe Bryant's team on the skids. The Lakers have been a real disappointment by any measure, but they have the talent to climb back to elite status and will get a boost this weekend from the expected returns of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Nash running the point is what the Lakers envisioned coming into the season, and doing it on Christmas Day against a resurgent Knicks team will make David Stern drool. And rightly so - this should be a great one.
5:30PM Oklahoma City Thunder @ Miami Heat
This is the big one - the Finals rematch everyone wants, and most likely a preview of the 2013 Finals, if things continue. The Heat have looked both excellent and awful at points, winning huge over the Celtics and Nets and toppling good teams like the Spurs and Nuggets. But they've been rocked by the Knicks twice, and lost to the Grizzlies, Warriors, and even the sad-sack Wizards. The Thunder have transitioned seamlessly from their big pre-season trade, and seem to hardly miss James Harden. A win in Miami, coming off five days rest, would go a long way toward establishing them as the unquestionable top team in the NBA.
8:00PM Houston Rockets @ Chicago Bulls
This one is all about the point guards, or lack thereof in one case. The Rockets are a very good offensive team so far, mostly thanks to James Harden, but it's Jeremy Lin's sudden hot streak that makes them intriguing. He bookended a 38-point night vs. San Antonio with a 22-point return to New York in a win over the Knicks. He has been solid so far in Texas, but this is a perfect game for him to break out. The Bulls have been hanging tough without MVP Derrick Rose, mostly thanks to guys like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah stepping up and a suffocating defensive effort. They have taken control of the Central Division for now, but the Bucks and Pacers are breathing down their necks and it will be a fight to the finish.
10:30PM Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers
Rounding out the NBA Christmas Day schedule is this high-flying matchup between two teams with a lot of highlight guys. Blake Griffin is must-see TV in the NBA, but the Nuggets have some pretty special athletes in Andre Iguodala and Kenneth Faried, aka The Manimal. With the speedy Ty Lawson taking on the crafty Chris Paul, this game is a perfect capper to a holiday full of NBA cheer.