Christmas Basketball, A Family tradition

Ranking the slate of Christmas Day NBA games was harder than you think

Lebron and the Lakers are ready for Christmas. Harry How/Getty Images

Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year. There's something about the surprises that come with the day that still get me. Eating until you literally cannot stuff another bite in your mouth. Exchanging gifts with people and enjoying their genuine joy, or their convincing lie covering their disappointment. Most of all, reuniting with the family to bond over the same things year after year.

As the NBA Christmas schedule has become more polarizing, it has become a tradition for there to be basketball on the television all day. Not everyone is pleased by that, but it is nothing hiding the television remote cannot fix.

Per usual, the line up this year features several high profile games, and the majority of them feel like playoff match ups. It has become a thought now that the NBA season does not really begin until the Christmas Day slate. With the active effort that the NBA makes to deliver thrilling match ups, it is hard not to agree.

In the spirit of Christmas, I sat down like a judgmental aunt and ranked these match ups. Are some of the factors outside of basketball? Of course, but what judgmental aunt is rational?

5. 11 a.m. Central-Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks

Listen, I get it, the New York market has to get its shine. But the 9-25 Knicks are not making anyone bat an eye. Sure, there is a potential for upside on this team, but that is not happening on Christmas Day. Forget it. In wrestling there is something called an enhancement match, or squash match if you want to be more brash about it. Essentially, in a squash match, the losing opponent's only job is to make their opponent look good. This game is nothing more than a chance for Giannis Antetokounmpo to Braun Strowman the James Ellsworth of the NBA, the New York Knicks.

4. 9:30 p.m. Central-Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz

This game has playoff matchup written all over it. Sure, the Utah Jazz are currently sitting under .500 but with as tight as the West is looking to be, I am not letting this deter my excitement. I need to see Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard exchange baskets, I need Joe Ingles to hit a ridiculous three at the end of the game so I can catch it on Sports Center the next morning. Lets face it, as much as I am a fan of Mitchell, there is no stopping the Tamale Food Coma that I will be in by half time. Sorry, Spider.

3. 4:30 p.m. Central-Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics

Speaking of playoff match ups, this was one last year in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference. As we all know, the 76ers unceremoniously bowed out of the playoffs losing the series 4-1 to the Celtics. That team did not have Jimmy Butler, though. What's that? The Celtics didn't have Hayward OR Irving? So you're telling me both teams got more star power this season? What else is there to be said? I am apologizing to my aunts now. No, we are not watching one those weird the birth of Jesus movies on Univision. An Eastern Conference Playoff preview will be on. Hell, this could be a preview to the Eastern Conference Finals, if the Toronto Raptors do not have anything to say about it.

2. 2 p.m. Central-Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets

Up to a few days ago, this was, without a doubt, the No. 1 game on this list. Did the Rowdies try to bribe me? Maybe, it is the Holidays so I needed the extra cash. Once their check bounced, or Chris Paul's injury happened, I was not as excited as a I originally was. The Thunder are quietly one of the best teams in the NBA. The Rockets, for all their struggles this season, have finally began to pick up some steam. With Harden having like his 50th straight MVP caliber season, and Russ and PG13 clicking on all cylinders, this game will clearly have some memorable moments. Unfortunately for us, we will not see this Rockets team at one 100 percent for this game, but hopefully that is not a sign of what is to come. I was torn between where to place this game after the CP3 injury (the top three are so tight, to me). But then, the Rockets decided to sign AUSTIN FREAKIN RIVERS. The guy who instigated the Locker Room fight that happened but they later tried to tell us did not happen and then said, forget it, it maybe happened? THAT guy is teammates with CHRIS PAUL and JAMES HARDEN? I am here for the drama, and the NBA Gods are the best sports Gods.

1. 7 p.m. Central-Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors

Am I a LeBron Stan? Sure. Do I often think about him one day being the President of The United States? Maybe (he can officially run in 2024, for those of you that are wondering). The fact of the matter is LeBron and his mix of youth and veterans you would have never thought he would team up with has been a fun watch this season. The opponent? The establishment. The team that crushes everyone's soul. The team that has never cared about your feelings and is not about to start to care about your feelings. The biggest rival of his career not named Dan Gilbert. The Rock to LeBron's Stone Cold . Sure, the Warriors should win this game. But, let us not forget, this is the NBA and Christmas Miracles are real. This will be the first time the Lakers face off with the Warriors in the regular season this year. More importantly, this is the first time LeBron and Durant face off since Durant's comments about the enviroment that comes with playing with LeBron. I am all here for the drama. For LeBron to give Durant a side eye after the comments he made a few weeks ago, to watch Javale McGee smash on his former team, For Klay Thompson and LeBron to exchange a friendly conversation that leads to rumors of his impending free agency. No one is better at creating controversy than LeBron James, and on the biggest stage of the year, so far, something is going to happen. That alone makes this game the most exciting one of the Christmas Day slate.

Whew, being the judgmental aunt was harder than I thought it would be. All in all, there are factors that makes every single one of these games exciting. Kudos got out to the association for killing the schedule, once again. The rule is making current and interesting match ups, something that the NFL's holiday schedule does not allow for, or it is something they do not care to address. Keep your Thanksgiving tackleball, I will take Christmas Day basketball 100 times out of 100.

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This year, the Astros are favored to win the World Series. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

When the umpire yells "play ball!" on Thursday for Astros opening day, three players- a full third of their batting order - will be missing from their opening day lineup from last year when, oh yeah, they won the World Series. Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley are on the injured list and Yuli Gurriel effectively was told good luck in your future endeavors. Other notables from last year no longer with the Astros: Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, Aledmys Diaz, Christian Vasquez, and Jake Odorizzi.

That's on top of the Astros in recent years saying goodbye to All-Stars Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Charlie Morton. Don't underestimate Morton's contribution when he pitched for the Astros in 2017-18. He went 29-10 and won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, that's all.

And while the team keeps on winning at a historic pace, all these injuries and departures are going to catch up to the Astros one of these years.

But this ain't the year. The Astros demolished baseball last year, winning their division by 16 games and roaring through the postseason going 11-2, including sweeps of the Mariners and Yankees.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Astros as the (+600) preseason betting favorite to repeat as World Series champs in 2023, followed by the New York Yankees (+650), Los Angeles Dodgers (+750), New York Mets (+750), Atlanta Braves (+1000) and San Diego Padres (+1000).

It's a different scene from 2022 when the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees and even the Toronto Blue Jays all were preseason favorites over the Astros to win the World Series. In other words, Mattress Mack will load up on the Astros again this season and hopefully visit the pay window again. He just may not get the gross national product, all-time payout he got last year. Poor guy. Mack's already put down $1.9 million on the Astros, a commitment that's likely to increase as the Astros plow through the season.

The over/under wins total for the Astros is 95.5. That's a good number for an FM radio station, but the Astros should blow by that total in mid-September. The Astros won 106 games last year, and at least 100 wins in four of the last five full seasons. I wonder if Mack has room in his car for next time he drives to Louisiana to make a bet. I call shotgun!

While Altuve and Brantley sit on the wounded list Thursday, and Gurriel is wearing a Miami Marlins uniform, one thing will be the same as Opening Day last year. Framber Valdez, the Astros' quality start machine, will be on the mound against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park. The game will start at 6:08 p.m., airing on ESPN. Get there early to watch the Astros unfurl another World Series banner. Remember that AT&T SportsNet gets benched when ESPN does an Astros game. Bummer. Blummer. ESPN also has the April 16 game against the Rangers and the April 30 rematch with the Phillies.

How did Valdez perform Opening Day 2022? As it would turn out all season, typical Valdez: 6.2 innings, no runs, only two unproductive hits, one walk, six K's and he got the W. Final score:, Astros 3, Los Angeles Angels 1. Valdez started, got the win, Pressly pitched the ninth, got the save. Sound familiar? Lather, rinse, repeat. The opposing pitcher that game - some under-publicized fellow named Shohei Ohtani. It wasn't Ohtani's day. While he pitched ok, surrendering four hits and one run over 4.1 innings, he took the loss. Ohtani also went 0-4 at the plate.

The Astros won Game 2 of that series, 13-6, behind Odorizzi and a battalion of relievers. The Angels exacted revenge in Game 3, a 2-0 shutout with Noah Syndergaard starting. Verlander, despite giving up only one run over five innings, absorbed the loss.

Of course games will look different this season with no infield shift, bigger bases and a pitch timer. The only thing that will look the same - the standings. Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez will salivate when they don't hit screamers through the infield only to be thrown out by second basemen playing short right field. Altuve's fractured thumb should heal in time for the future Hall of Famer to return in early June. Brantley could be back in May. Lance McCullers is anybody's guess, but time heals all wounds, including elbows.

The Astros are riding a dynasty-level of success, you know the numbers, six consecutive postseason appearances (only team in MLB history to win a postseason series six straight seasons), six ALCS appearances in a row, four World Series appearances, two championships.

There's no reason to stop now.

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