NBA on Christmas Day: 10 things to watch

Christmas Day basketball has become a tradition for the NBA. 

The league has made this seasonal slate of holiday matchups a staple for basketball junkies everywhere, and this year is no different.

This season’s Christmas Day lineup features storied franchises and young teams on the rise. More than seven decades of Christmas Day NBA basketball have led to Tuesday’s games, and some interesting things have happened along the way.

Here is Tuesday’s NBA Christmas Day slate (all times Eastern):

Bucks at Knicks, noon (ESPN)
Thunder at Rockets, 3 p.m. (ABC)
76ers at Celtics, 5:30 p.m. (ABC)
Lakers at Golden State, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN)
Trail Blazers at Jazz, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Let’s take a look at the 10 things to look for on NBA Christmas with a hand from our colleagues at Opta. If you like what you see here, give ’em a follow at @OptaLarry (as in Bird).

1. First game between Sixers and C’s

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … the first meeting for the Sixers and C’s. Despite the heated rivalry between these two Eastern Conference teams over the years, they have never played each other on Christmas. Boston has dominated Philadelphia as of late, winning eight of their last 10 matchups. However, the Celtics haven’t played the 76ers since they acquired Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves. Both sides have youth and are stocked with talent. Philadelphia will have a chance to prove it has taken the next step toward being a legitimate championship contender. Meanwhile, Boston will find out just how much the competition has closed the talent gap. The game will tip off at 5:30 p.m. ET at TD Garden.

2. Second all-time dubs

The Trail Blazers have the second-best winning percentage in NBA history on Christmas Day. Portland is 14-3 all time, giving the Blazers a winning percentage of 82.4 percent. Rip City will have a chance to improve on its impressive mark against the Jazz at 10:30 p.m. ET. This matchup will be the final Christmas game on the schedule this year. Portland hasn’t played on Christmas since it lost to the Warriors in 2010. Utah’s last Christmas victory was against the Rockets way back in 1997. Nevertheless, both squads will be in the late-night spotlight this time around.

3. Three drenched men

Only three players in NBA history have scored more than 50 points in a single Christmas Day game. Bernard King scored 60 for the Knicks in 1984, Wilt Chamberlain poured in 59 for the Lakers in 1961 and Rick Barry dropped 50  for the Warriors in 1966. All three of those teams play Tuesday, and plenty of players have the ability to fill it up. Among them are Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and James Harden, as well as a host of others. If one of them gets hot, he could join a very exclusive club of 50-point scorers. It’ll take plenty of sweat to achieve such a feat on such a big stage though.

4. Four assist leaders

Rajon Rondo returned from is broken hand just in time. The NBA’s last four assist leaders are Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Rondo respectively. If Chris Paul had not suffered a hamstring injury, the previous eight years of NBA assist leaders would be represented in Tuesday’s field. Even without Paul available, the Rockets, Thunder and Lakers will have plenty of playmakers on the court.

5. Five scoring titles

The NBA’s last five scoring titles are split among James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Westbrook has won two of the last five and Harden is on a pace to win his second straight. Needless to say, the league made sure all the most prolific scorers are showcased Tuesday.

6. Six triple-doubles

Russell Westbrook could average a triple-double for the third consecutive season if he keeps playing like he has been. The former MVP is a stocking stuffer that is one of the six players in NBA history to record a triple-double on Christmas Day. Only the great Oscar Robertson has multiple Christmas Day triple-doubles, but Westbrook could challenge his sole ownership of that distinguished accomplishment. Westbrook recorded 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists against the Rockets last Christmas, and he’ll get a chance to improve upon those numbers at 3 p.m. ET in Houston.

7. Seven perfect shooters

Only seven NBA players have been perfect from the free-throw line in a Christmas Day game since the 1983-84 season while while taking at least 10 attempts. One of those select few is Rockets guard Eric Gordon, who once hit all 12 of his attempts from the charity stripe in a Christmas game. Gordon was a perfect 5-of-5 from the line in Houston’s 112-107 loss to Oklahoma City last Christmas, so maybe his perfection will carry over into this holiday season.

8. Eight shots a-blocking

Mavericks big man DeAndre Jordan holds the Christmas Day record for most blocks in a game with eight. Jordan accomplished the feat in 2011 as a member of the Clippers as they beat Golden State, 105-86. The only active player in Tuesday’s slate who has come close to Jordan’s record is the Lakers’ Tyson Chandler, who totaled six blocks for the Knicks against the Celtics on the same day in 2011. 

9. Nine MVPs

Nine MVP awards over the last 10 seasons are split among players in Tuesday’s slate. LeBron James leads the field with four. He is followed by Stephen Curry, who has two. James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each have one.The only player missing from the last decade is Derrick Rose.

10. Ten Wades a-winning

Dwyane Wade will never play in a Christmas Day game again, but he does hold the all-time record for wins on Christmas. Wade won 10 of his 13 Christmas games. His longtime teammate Udonis Haslem is second on the list with nine wins. LeBron James has eight wins in 12 games heading into Tuesday, and he could surpass his friend Wade in the coming years. But the Flash will hold the title for at least another year.