If there’s only one game you manage to watch on Christmas Day, it is definitely this one.
It won’t be an easy task: at 1am you will have had a big Christmas dinner in the afternoon, then forced some turkey sandwiches down in the evening while squeezing in one or two glasses of eggnog – the game might seem an entirety away. But forget about putting on a Christmas film, this will be the only entertainment you need.
LeBron James will take his new look LA Lakers to Oakland to take on the Warriors – it’s a situation he is all too familiar with. James has played Golden State in the last four NBA Finals with his previous team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. During those series, he averaged a near triple double scoring 33.3 points, grabbing 11.3 rebounds and dishing 9.4 assist per game. Despite his heroics, leading his team in points, rebounds, and assists in every series, he lost three out of the four. However, this year, he is in purple and gold.
These two teams faced each other in the final game of preseason, when James said the Lakers “had a long way to go” to catch the Warriors, but he appears to have been wrong. The Warriors have bounced around the top of the Western Conference while the Lakers have never been far behind in their win-loss record. There are two very simple reasons for this, the Warriors are not playing as well as anticipated, and the Lakers are playing better.
The Lakers owe their strong start to LeBron James. In his 16th season, he has managed to increase his points per game (27.5 to 28.3) despite a reduction in minutes (36.9 to 34.9) compared to last year. But probably more impressively, he has drastically reduced his turnover percentage (16.1 to 12.9) and is shooting his best ever percentage from three (37%) while attempting five or more three pointers per game. To put this in to context, he is 17th in the league from long distance out of players attempting five or more per game. This is a great improvement, when shooting was considered his weakness early in his career.
The Lakers have been defined this season by their willingness to run, demonstrating their youthful roster. They are currently second in the league in fast break points, scoring an average of 20.2 per game. Despite their much improved offense, the Lakers do not currently rank top 10 in any defensive category, hence the recent signing of former Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler.
Golden State added a big man of their own in the summer, although we are unlikely to see him on Christmas Day. The Warriors have struggled so far, at least they have in comparison to their own high standards – much of this has been to do with injuries. As sensational as Stephen Curry has been this year, averaging 28.9 points per game and a career high in three-point percentage (49%), he has only played 18 games. They are 14-4 with him but 5-6 without him. Draymond Green has also missed significant time this season and is disappointingly averaging a five year low in points per game, at 6.6 and a career high in turnovers, at 3.3.
Despite this, the Warriors are still playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. They lead the league in assists per game and are third in total points per game. They play a high tempo, unselfish, run-and-gun style, which has symbolized their franchise in recent history. However, they have seen a significant drop in their points in the paint per game from 43.5 last year to 39.8. As a result, there has been an additional strain on the team’s three-point shooting ability and we have already seen a rise in the number of attempts they are making per game.
This should be a test of LeBron’s Lakers. They have an opportunity to pit themselves against the defending champions in a high profile match-up on the road.
For both teams, this offers a chance at a statement win. LA could lay the ground for potentially setting up a Conference Finals series, while Golden State could put any doubts to rest as to whether they remain the best team in West. Either way, this is definitely a game you are going to want to stay awake for.