Christmas is all about overindulgence, right? And on 25 December, the NBA is no different. Five games, starting from 5pm, UK time, but the pick of the bunch has to be the Philadelphia 76ers making the short trip to visit the Boston Celtics.
Starting a 10:30pm on League Pass and Sky Sports Arena, this is the perfect time of day for NBA action. The turkey comas are in full force, Grandpa is passed out next to the fire, no one else is talking because the annual game of Monopoly once again wreaked havoc on family relations. What better way to bring everyone back together than with a head-to-head between two of the league’s most fiercely supported teams?
This is the second of four meetings for the season, and the first time since opening night between the teams that entertained us at NBA London 2018. And with just 2.5 games separating the two in the standings, is the most important game of the night and represents an opportunity for both franchises to get their seasons on track.
Since the arrival of Jimmy Butler, the 76ers have looked much improved but their record pre and post the arrival of Jimmy Buckets is identical (11-6). Sitting in the third seed, they trail only the league-leading Raptors (25-10) and the scarily impressive Bucks (22-10). Adding Butler to the roster has officially ended The Process and if it doesn’t put Philly in win-now mode, it definitely puts them in win-very soon mode.
It’s a fair assessment that the 76ers are not playing up to expectations yet, despite having a potential MVP candidate in Embiid, last year’s RoY Ben Simmons and now a four-time All-Star as their core. Their schedule has been interesting and one of the easiest in the league, having yet to face a number of the Western Conference’s big guns and having complied a 2-5 record against the Raptors, Bucks, Pacers and Celtics so far.
The Celtics are struggling with difficulties of their own: a case of option paralysis from having too many players who deserve bigger roles and only one ball to share amongst them. But recently it’s been an issue of health, with only three of the 15 man roster featuring in all 31 contests so far.
Fortunately, the injuries sustained have not been anywhere near as severe as those suffered by key players last season. But the constant flux in who is available has made Brad Stevens’ job of fitting players into specific roles and getting them acclimatised to those roles all the more difficult. Their struggles have borne out in a disappointing 18-13 record against the second weakest schedule in the league.
This game is littered with current stars and future stars, and the sixth highest scoring offense taking on the third best defense. Both teams are desperate to prove they’re contenders in the Eastern Conference and in the season of giving, expect them to be offering the other no quarter.