Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks
Time, TV: Noon, ESPN.
The Knicks have played more Christmas games than any other team (52). They have more Christmas wins than any other team (22). They also have more Christmas losses than any other team (30). The Bucks are more or less the opposite: They will end a 41-year Christmas drought with Tuesday’s game. New York is once again one of the NBA’s worst teams, though it was able to score a 136-134 overtime win over the ascendant Bucks at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 1. During that game, Knicks forward Mario Hezonja dunked over Giannis Antetokounmpo. Then he stared him down and stepped over him on his way back up the court. So it’s safe to say the Croatian was not on the Greek Freak’s Christmas-card list.
“I’m going to punch him in the [groin] next time,” Antetokounmpo said after the game, and he didn’t say “groin.”
Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets
Time, TV: 3 p.m., ABC
James Harden and Houston have spent December heating up, winning five straight until Thursday’s loss in Miami and then beating the Spurs on Saturday. The Beard scored 39 points against San Antonio, which was the eighth time he scored at least 30 this month (he put up 50 against the Lakers on Dec. 13 and 47 against the Jazz four days later). Oklahoma City has maintained its spot in the upper reaches of the Western Conference standings this season and recently rewarded Coach Billy Donovan by exercising the fifth-year option on his contract. A loss to the Timberwolves on Sunday broke the Thunder’s four-game winning streak.
Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics
Time, TV: 5:30 p.m., ABC
The road has not been kind to the Sixers this season, with Philly going just 6-9 away from home. Among the losses was an 18-point defeat in Boston on opening night. The Celtics' injury-plagued season only got worse in Wednesday night’s 111-103 loss to the dreadful Suns: Center Aron Baynes, who had been starting in place of the also-injured Al Horford, broke a bone in his left hand. He had surgery Thursday and will miss four to six weeks. Horford has been struggling with runner’s knee all month, although both he and forward Marcus Morris (right knee soreness) returned to the starting lineup Sunday night in a 16-point win over the Hornets.
Los Angles Lakers at Golden State Warriors
Time, TV: 8 p.m., ABC and ESPN
LeBron James renews his rivalry with an old-nemesis, Golden State, in the marquee prime-time game. James’s teams have gone 14-13 all-time against Golden State in the regular season but are 1-2 on Christmas, including a seven-point loss last season with the Cavs, when they faced a Warriors team playing without an injured Stephen Curry. Curry, the two-time NBA MVP, missed most of November with a groin injury but has played the entire month of December and looked mostly like his usual self. He hit a layup with less than a second left Sunday night in a 129-127 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, finishing with 42 points to equal his second-highest scoring game of the season.
Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz
Time, TV: 10:30 p.m., ESPN
The Blazers haven’t played a Christmas game since 2010, but their 14-3 record on the holiday trails only the Heat in terms of winning percentage (Miami is 10-2). The Jazz have gone even longer without playing Dec. 25, last getting a working holiday in 1997. Portland and Utah just played each other Friday night, with the Jazz throttling Portland by 30, handing the Blazers their worst home loss since 2004.
Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has made a career out of destroying the Jazz: Entering Friday night’s game, he had averaged 26.7 points, 5.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from three-point range in 23 career games against Utah. He had 24 points and eight assists in Friday’s blowout win.
But what about the uniforms?
Nike didn’t unveil any Christmas-specific uniforms last season but will Tuesday — kind of.
The new outfits — dubbed the Earned Edition — weren’t made to be worn only on Christmas, and you won’t be seeing them on all 10 teams. Instead, Nike created the uniforms only for the teams that made the playoffs last season, and they’re free to wear them for any other game this season (not just Christmas).
The Bucks, Thunder, Rockets, 76ers, Celtics, Warriors, Blazers and Jazz all made the playoffs last season and are playing Tuesday, though it’s unclear whether all eight will wear the new uniforms. Nike only is saying that “select teams” will have them on, with the other Earned Edition looks getting unveiled “soon after” Christmas.
As you can see, these uniforms are not holiday-themed and many of them don’t stray all that far from the other alternate looks teams have gone with recently.
Yes, it’s Christmas, a day not usually associated with casual degeneracy. But there’s a pretty good reason to visit your nearest betting window, newly legalized mobile app or guy who knows a guy.
As has been well documented, these Christmas Day NBA games have a tendency to be low-scoring, perhaps because NBA players would rather be celebrating with their families than playing a basketball game on a cherished holiday. This means the under is usually the play. Since 2005, the Action Network’s Mark Gallant notes, the under has gone 35-20-1 on Christmas Day. In the earlier games (the ones starting between noon and 5:30 p.m. Eastern), the under has done even better, going 26-9.
Last year, the under went 3-2 on Christmas, with one of the games — the Cavs-Warriors contest that tipped off at 3 p.m. — falling short of the total by 25 points. But such trends obviously aren’t foolproof: In 2016, the under actually went 1-3-1, with two of the games soaring at least 20 points above the total.