Merry Christmas everyone. Today, as you might have figured out by now, is Christmas. Usually that means five NBA matchups, but this year we get an extra gift with four additional Big Ten games. If you pull out a pencil and a piece of paper and do the math, that’s nine basketball games. Wow! I put together a quick set-up for all of those games below.
Spend time with your family today. Remember and be thankful that Jesus came down to Earth for our sake. But don’t forget to also enjoy Matt Painter vs. Mark Turgeon.
- Pelicans @ Heat, 11:00 am Central
The Heat started 0-1 with a narrow loss to the Magic in their Wednesday opener. The Pelicans rolled over the Raptors that same night. Brandon Ingram (24 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds) and JJ Redick (23 points) got off to especially hot starts for New Orleans while Maurice Harkless, Kelly Olynyk, Andre Iguodala, and Kendrick Nunn (8 combined points in 68 minutes) will try to bring a greater impact for Miami. With a tight playoff race looming out West, New Orleans needs every win they can get. A Christmas Day victory in Miami would be a significant early statement. The Heat figure to be in a seeding race more than an actual playoff race, but an 0-2 start is never ideal. Both teams will be going for this one. Oh really? Both teams want to win this basketball game? You know what I mean.
- Wisconsin @ Michigan State, 11:30 am
It’s been a bizarre year for the host Spartans. The positives – they’re 6-1 with a double digit win over Notre Dame and a road win over Duke. The negatives – they’ve beaten Eastern Michigan, Detroit, Western Michigan, and Oakland by a slightly underwhelming average of 14.8 points (none of those wins came by more than 18) and they just got blown off the court by Northwestern. The Cats appear to be much improved this season – they followed up their win over Michigan State with a win over Indiana – but we still just don’t know where this Sparty team stands. This game could be helpful in coming up with an answer. Wisconsin is 7-1 with their only loss coming at the buzzer against notorious giant slayer Marquette. The Golden Eagles may be the only team in history to have started 2-0 against top 10 teams and 0-4 against the rest of their major conference opponents. The Badgers have a pretty nice resume, with double digit wins over Nebraska, Rhode Island, Loyola Chicago, and Louisville. At the same time, they have yet to make a resounding statement this season. They lost to Marquette, struggled mightily in the first half against Nebraska, and played a hugely diminished Louisville team that had just walked out of a 20-day covid break. Both teams will be looking to send a message to the rest of the Big Ten, and whoever ends up sending the right one will be one of the early favorites in the conference title chase.
- Warriors @ Bucks, 1:30 pm
The Warriors looked awful in a 99-125 opening loss in Brooklyn. Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre led the disappointments, with Steph Curry and James Wiseman coming away from the game as the only players with somewhat positive performances. With Draymond Green out again today, though back again soon, it’s hard to see Golden State making this one all that interesting. It’s hard to play as poorly as they did the other day two times in a row, but there were zero signs from that game that this is a team ready to compete with the big boys. The Bucks certainly fit into that category after two straight seasons as the East 1 seed. They made a lot of moves this off-season around the core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez, with the big change being the switching out of Eric Bledsoe for Jrue Holiday. Holiday performed well in his debut, scoring 25 points, but the Bucks lost a back-and-forth game in Boston after Jayson Tatum connected on a late prayer of a bank three. Middleton (27 points, 8 assists, 14 boards) and Antetokounmpo (35 points and 13 boards) also starred for Milwaukee. With games against the Warriors and Knicks on the schedule before a two-game trip to Miami, the Bucks will look to build a more cohesive rotation with all of their new pieces in the coming days. Mike Budenholzer should have the chance to mess around a little bit with some different combinations today.
- Maryland @ Purdue, 1:30 pm
Two teams expected to be in the Big Ten’s middle tier will meet in West Lafayette today. With sixteen combined games played between the two, it’s looking like the expectation may become reality. Maryland lost a great deal of talent over the summer, and they’ve struggled against high-level competition so far with double-digit losses to Clemson and Rutgers. On the opposite side of things, they’ve easily put away inferior teams, with an average margin of victory of 22.4 in their other five games. This looks like a decent but not all that great Terrapins team, and no one should be surprised by that. Purdue has been all over the place on their way to a 6-3 start. They have important wins over Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Liberty, but they also didn’t come very close to either Clemson or Iowa and struggled with Valparaiso. Their worst perfomance of the year was a 54-58 loss to Miami in a game where they held a 32-14 halftime lead. The Boilermakers have done some pretty good things and some really bad things, and they’re probably somewhere in the middle overall. Neither team is likely to challenge for the title, but every win still counts when Selection Sunday comes around in the spring. Today, both teams will have a shot to pick up a nice win and build momentum ahead of the rest of the Big Ten slate.
- Nets @ Celtics, 4:00 pm
Two of the best teams in the East meet here in what could be a playoff preview. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are back on the court in Brooklyn, and they combined for 33 first half points to spark a blowout of the Warriors. With Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, DeAndre Jordan, Joe Harris, and more, the Nets have a very impressive rotation. How will they respond to their first real test? There was no such thing as a tough moment against Golden State. The Celtics should be able to offer some of those, even with Kemba Walker’s indefinite absence due to his knee. They held on to beat the Bucks two nights ago, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown pairing up to drop 63. Can those two out-duel Durant and Irving? Who’s the secondary scorer that steps up for Boston? Jeff Teague did it the other day with 19. This game should be a lot of fun, but, if it isn’t, the loser is automatically eliminated from title contention.
- Michigan @ Nebraska, 5:00 pm
Gotta love some Michigan basketball on Christmas. The Maize and Blue are off to a 6-0 start with a win over Penn State and two wins of 20+ over Toldeo and UCF. The overtime game against Oakland wasn’t pretty, but they survived. The record still looks perfect, and there’s a good chance that won’t change today. Nebraska is just 4-4 with their best win either coming against North Dakota State or South Dakota. They let one slip against Nevada, saw leads against Georgia Tech and Wisconsin dissolve completely in double-digit losses, and lost to Creighton by 24 after trailing by just four at half. If their earlier games are any indication, expect the Huskers to stick around for a while before falling apart late. If they manage to put together a full 40 and win, it could be a sign of better days ahead, or just a loss that Michigan will regret in a few months.
- Mavs @ Lakers, 7:00 pm
Two Western Conference contenders will meet in LA with the ability to avoid an 0-2 start on the line. Dallas lost in Phoenix with a 23-30 second quarter being the difference in an otherwise neck-and-neck game. Luka Doncic picked up right where he left off with 32 points, 5 assists, and 8 rebounds, and the Mavs kept it close despite the absence of Kristaps Porzingis who is close but not quite ready to return from a playoff meniscus injury. The Lakers, meanwhile, lost at home to the Clippers in a disappointing opening effort. The Clips won the first quarter by 20, and they controlled the third quarter to put the game away after the Lakers nearly came all the way back in the second. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell all contributed at least 15 points, and Dennis Schroeder put up 14 points, 8 assists, and 12 rebounds in his first game with the Lakers. The key for LA will be getting off to a good start. Their poor first quarter killed them against the Clippers, and they can’t let it happen here. For Dallas, a win over the Lakers would be a significant momentum boost after they lost the season series 1-3 last year. This would be a marquee victory over the defending champs with Porzingis watching from the bench. There’s no better way to announce yourself as a true contender.
- Iowa @ Minnesota, 7:00 pm
If you take away the fact that this game is in Minnesota, the Hawkeyes have to be the clear favorites. They’re 7-1 with wins over UNC, Purdue, and Iowa State by 13, 15, and 28, respectively. They beat Northern Illinois by 53, and their only loss came against #1 Gonzaga. Minnesota has been pretty good to start the year, but they simply can’t compete with that. The Golden Gophers are also 7-1, and they have a very nice win over St Louis to go with a win against Boston College. They also lost to Illinois by 27 and let Loyola Marymount take them to the final possession. Minnesota has had their moments. They just haven’t been as consistently great as Iowa. But, the game is in Minneapolis. Home-court typically plays a big role in Big Ten games. Is that going to carry over into this strange season? A Minnesota win might be an early sign that it will.
- Clippers @ Nuggets, 9:30
It’s the second big game between Western contenders, and this one also acts as a repeat of last year’s conference semis, where the Clippers blew their 3-1 lead and missed out on the conference finals yet again. A decent amount has changed since, including JaMychal Green moving from LA to Denver, but many of the main players are the same. Will we see the Clippers that went up 3-1? Or the Clippers that tossed away three chances at making franchise history? As I’ve gone over, LA opened with a win over the other LA. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard combined for 59 to lead the way. Denver, on the other hand, might be a little more desperate for a win after losing to the Kings at the buzzer in overtime on Wednesday night. Michael Porter (24) and Nikola Jokic – a monstrous 29 points, 14 assists, and 15 rebounds – starred the other day, so watch for Jamal Murray to look to make a big impact after finishing with just 9 points and 1 assist in 34 minutes.