Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets (-3.5, 187.5)
The last time the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics met on Nov. 28, there were three ejections in Brooklyn's 95-83 victory in Boston. While there might not be any ejections or shoving incidents in Tuesday's Christmas Day rematch at the Barclays Center, neither team is feeling cheerful about its quality of play since the night Rajon Rondo shoved Kris Humphires in retaliation for a hard foul on Kevin Garnett in the second quarter.
The Nets beat Boston twice in November during an 11-4 start that saw Avery Johnson win Eastern Conference coach of the month. Since then they have had to deal with a foot injury to Brook Lopez and comments from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson about the offense. As a result of those things, Brooklyn has won just eight of 11, though it halted a three-game losing streak with Sunday's 95-92 home win over Philadelphia by getting 22 points from Johnson. Boston has not been much better and since going a season-high three games over .500 on Dec. 12, it has dropped four of five and wasted a 35-point night from Paul Pierce in Friday's 99-94 overtime loss to Milwaukee.
TV: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT THE CELTICS (13-13): A key aspect of Boston's mediocre start has been the differences in their performances at home and on the road. While Friday snapped a five-game home winning streak, Boston is opening a four-game trip on a five-game road losing streak that has seen them average 89.6 points per game. The Celtics are also opening the trip following two of Pierce's best showings of the season. He has scored 75 points on 26-of-39 shooting. Boston will be trying to snap its skid with a slightly shorthanded bench as backup center Chris Wilcox will be out three to four weeks with a sprained ligament in his right thumb and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa will not join the team until Wednesday due to personal reasons.
ABOUT THE NETS (14-12): The Nets spent Monday's practice downplaying any lingering feelings about the incident in Boston, citing the fact that it took place nearly a month ago. “I think for our guys, I just think the game is so far back,” Avery Johnson said. “They’re gonna be aware of it. I don’t think they’ll back down from anybody, but I think they just wanna play basketball. As we’ve seen in the past, our guys, they’re pretty physically and mentally tough.” Humphries, whom Boston's Jason Terry called 'soft" after the incident, might not even play. He has started just five games this month but Sunday was not included in the rotation for the first time and is questionable for Tuesday with an abdominal injury.
New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers (-3.5, 214.5)
Star power will be on full display as the Los Angeles Lakers entertain the New York Knicks in a Christmas Day duel. The Lakers are finally healthy and able to put their four superstars - Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant - on the court together. They'll face a surging Knicks club led by early-season MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony, who has his team near the top of the Eastern Conference standings despite having to do without injured All-Star forward Amar'e Stoudemire.
The Lakers' sensational foursome struggled at times in its grand reunion Saturday, but managed to pull out a 118-115 overtime win over Golden State thanks to a 34-point, 10-rebound showing from Bryant. A Christmas Day victory will move Los Angeles back to the .500 mark - an important milestone for a team many believed was a shoe-in for a conference finals berth. New York was considered far from a sure thing in the East, but became the first team in the conference to reach 20 wins with a 94-91 triumph over Minnesota on Sunday.
TV: 3 p.m. ET, ABC
ABOUT THE KNICKS (20-7): New York may be rolling, but the players know there is room for improvement - particularly on defense, where the Knicks have had trouble matching their opponents' level of physicality. A loss to Chicago on Friday exposed New York in that regard, but the Knicks rebounded with a win over a physical Timberwolves team. "Both those teams do have guys that are very physical, and I think we haven't been at our best," said Knicks super-sub Steve Novak. "I feel like we haven't really played as well as we had defensively earlier in the season. But it's good to know that it's there; it's not like we lost it."
ABOUT THE LAKERS (13-14): Point guard Steve Nash made his return to the Los Angeles lineup Saturday after missing nearly two months with a broken bone in his leg. Head coach Mike D'Antoni wasn't shy about using his two-time NBA MVP, letting him rack up 41 minutes in the overtime victory. Nash said afterward he was surprised but satisfied with the steady diet of playing time. "To play 40 minutes after seven weeks was more than I could ask for," said Nash, who finished with 12 points and nine assists "I felt in a decent rhythm. I feel positive about it. I know it will be sore and painful but I'm used to that."
Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat (-3, 204.5)
Fans will be treated to an NBA Finals rematch Tuesday - and it helps that both teams are playing great basketball. The Miami Heat host the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time since clinching the NBA championship with a 121-106 victory just over six months earlier. Both teams have seen personnel changes but are playing as well as they did last season, with Miami holding a slim lead atop the Eastern Conference and the Thunder doing the same in the West.
Miami brings a four-game winning streak into the Christmas Day tilt, a run in which the Heat have been dominant on both sides of the ball. The club has averaged 105 points during the streak while allowing just 87 per contest. The Thunder are coming off a 99-93 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves that snapped their 12-game winning streak. Tuesday's game pits two of the league's early-season MVP candidates against one another, with LeBron James guiding the Heat against Kevin Durant and the Thunder.
TV: 5:30 p.m. ET, ABC
ABOUT THE THUNDER (21-5): The biggest difference between this year's team and the one that fell to the Heat in five games last spring is the absence of sixth-man-turned-superstar James Harden. Those who forecast tougher times following his departure have been proven wrong so far, with the defending Western Conference champions ranked second in the NBA at 105.1 points per game - just three-tenths behind Harden's new team, the Houston Rockets. Thunder reserve Kevin Martin - acquired in the blockbuster deal - has made up for the absence of Harden's bench scoring, averaging 15.7 points per game in just 29 minutes.
ABOUT THE HEAT (18-6): Miami had few weaknesses last season, but that didn't prevent the team from adding pieces over the summer. The arrivals of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis on cap-friendly deals were the two most notable moves, and they've paid immediate dividends. The duo combines to average nearly three 3-pointers per game, vaulting the Heat into top spot in long-range efficiency at 41.1 percent after finishing 10th a season ago. Their ability to spread the floor has made scoring even easier for the high-powered Heat, who are shooting a league-best 49.8 percent from the field.
Houston Rockets at Chicago Bulls (-4, 198)
The NBA's most prolific offense clashes with one of the league's more impressive defenses Tuesday as the Houston Rockets visit Chicago for an encounter with the Bulls. Led by star acquisition James Harden, Houston is filling the net at a rate of 105.4 points per game. That high-octane attack will be put to the test against a Bulls team allowing just 91 points per contest. Both teams come in on impressive runs, with the Bulls victorious in nine of 13 and the Rockets winners of three straight.
Houston looked to be in flux prior to the arrival of Harden, who joins forces with fellow acquisition Jeremy Lin to form one of the most impressive backcourts in the league. The Rockets' recent run has the club back above the .500 mark for the season. Chicago posted back-to-back victories over Eastern Conference powers Boston and New York before stumbling against the Atlanta Hawks over the weekend. Houston has won two straight in the head-to-head series after dropping the previous five.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT THE ROCKETS (14-12): As impressive as Harden's scoring has been since coming over in a preseason trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, his ability to facilitate has been just as remarkable. The shooting guard has looked like one of the league's best playmakers in each of the Rockets' last two games, dishing out seven assists in a 125-103 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday and following it up with an eight-assist performance in a 121-96 victory over Memphis three nights later. Harden (5.4) and Lin (6.2) are one of only four sets of teammates averaging five or more assists.
ABOUT THE BULLS (15-11): Chicago's trademark defense has the team contending for top spot in the Central Division despite the absence of former league MVP Derrick Rose. Where they miss their superstar point guard is on the offensive end, where they haven't been able to make up for his scoring or playmaking. Chicago is averaging 3 1/2 fewer points than it did a season ago, and has managed an average of just 77.8 points in its last four defeats. That includes a 92-75 defeat in Atlanta on Saturday, a game that saw the Bulls score just 33 points in the second and third quarters combined.
Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers (-7, 201)
The torrid Los Angeles Clippers attempt to run their franchise-record winning streak to 14 games when they host the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Los Angeles stretched its streak to 13 with a convincing road victory over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday to move within a half-game of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA’s top record. Denver has won four of its last five games and is playing its league-high 20th road contest.
Nuggets guard Ty Lawson left Saturday’s victory over the Charlotte Bobcats with a left Achilles’ tendon injury but expects to play against the Clippers. Denver needs Lawson’s speed and veteran Andre Miller’s savvy instincts to contest Clippers star Chris Paul. “It will be a tough game,” Miller said. “They’ve got a good win streak going. We have four games in five nights. Hopefully, we can start off on a good note.” Los Angeles has held eight straight opponents to less than 43 percent from the field to set a franchise mark. The Clippers haven’t lost since falling to the New Orleans Hornets on Nov. 26.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Altitude (Denver), Prime Ticket (Los Angeles)
ABOUT THE NUGGETS (15-13): Denver’s interior game has been superb and the Nuggets have recorded NBA season-highs for points in the paint in back-to-back games. Denver had 74 points in the paint during Thursday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and surpassed that with 78 two nights later against Charlotte. A surprise standout against the Bobcats was Kosta Koufos, who scored a season-high 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting. It marked the first time Koufos has led the Nuggets in scoring in his 86 games with the franchise. “I just played within the system, continued to play hard every possession,” Koufos said. “When the ball comes to me, I just try to finish.”
ABOUT THE CLIPPERS (21-6): Veteran guard Jamal Crawford has been a force off the bench and scored 22 points against the Suns to break out of a mini-slump that saw him score 10 or fewer points in four of the previous six games. He tallied a season-low five points on 2-of-12 shooting in Friday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings before bouncing back with an 8-of-12 shooting performance against Phoenix. “I didn’t do anything different,” said Crawford, one of the leading contenders for Sixth Man of the Year. “That’s the thing that’s humbling and weird about the NBA. You can do the exact same thing and shots go and sometimes they don’t.” Crawford is averaging 16.3 points.