With things hotting up over at the NBA and competition becoming fiercer by the minute, Christmas Day is no excuse for downtime as the Celtics take on the Raptors, the Clippers face the Lakers and Milwaukee battles Philadelphia.
Give Me Sport brings you exclusive interviews from your favourite players as they outline their performances and competitors over the festive season. NBA Christmas Day games are available to watch on Sky Sports Arena on Dec. 25 starting from 5pm in the UK.
Toronto Raptors vs Boston Celtics 5.00pm
First up, defending champs the Toronto Raptors will host the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are still reeling after losing by 20+ point losses the last two times they’ve played in the Six. But Boston’s 27-year-old forward Daniel Theis welcomes the challenge:
“First of all, it’s a Christmas game. We lost there the last two times bad… It’s extra motivation for sure. Pascal Siakam is taking over a lot. He basically took Kawhi’s role. Norman Powell, he’s playing really well, scoring-wise.
They kept most of the guys from last’s year’s championships team - the core of the team. Siakam’s playing amazing basketball, especially in transition. I think they’re still up there. They almost have the same record we do. They have the core together the last couple of years. Especially, in Toronto, it’s tough to win.”
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The Celtics are fresh from a win against the Charlotte Hornets which improves their record to 20-7 and with the news of Enes Kanter’s return in time for Christmas Day, the team stand a good chance at improving this tally further. Kanter had an international arrest warrant placed on him by the Turkish government after the outspoken critic went a little too far in 2017. However, the Canadian government along with the law enforcement worked diligently to make the matchup a reality.
Semi Ojeleye is also gaining more time on the court, starting for the second time this season in place of injured Gordon Hayward last Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. Averaging 13.8 minutes per game, the 25-year-old power forward has spent his career providing support during tough matchups.
However, with a little more aggression on offence, Ojeleye could see his minutes rise even further but he’s still enjoying his best season so far, connecting 34 of his three-point attempts, and hopes to bring it to Toronto this Wednesday:
“There should always be ‘juice.’ It’s the NBA, especially the way the league has grown. I think every night you respect who you’re playing, no matter who you’re playing. That’s the thing about this league _ any night you can get beat. Knowing it’s on Christmas, knowing they’re the defending champs, we’ll be that much more ready.
“(Pascal) Siakam is playing well. (Kyle) Lowry is, obviously, an All-Star. They have a lot of guys around those two that play hard, they play the right way and they’re well-coached. So, you’re going into a tough environment. They’re still championship-calibre, they’re still a great team and you have to respect them.”
Ojeleye also brings attention to teammate Kemba Walker who is embracing his own all-round performance this season and is focussed on winning:
“His demeanour is always high. I’ve never seen a guy that will miss a shot and always smile. It’s good to have a guy like that, it lifts everybody’s spirit and I think it just helps everybody loosen up. In a league where there’s a lot going on around you, it helps to have a guy like that, that tries to boost everybody.”
It's going to take hard work from the Celtics if they’re going to reach their goal and sit on the top of the Eastern Conference but for now, their sights are set on beating the reigning champs in Toronto.
Milwaukee Bucks vs Philadelphia 76ers 7.30pm
Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks have shown the world what they are capable of this season, most recently toppling LeBron James and the LA Lakers in this year’s most anticipated matchup. However, now that they have solidified their spot at the top of the league, there is a new challenge on the horizon, how are they going to keep it?
Facing Philly on Christmas Day will be one of the Bucks’ first tests, particularly with the likes of 76ers stars Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris raining points in their most recent fixture against the Pistons. There is a natural rivalry in existence between the two top teams of the East which makes the Christmas games that much more exciting as Kris Middleton highlights:
“Playing on Christmas is always special. Every player wants to be on that Christmas Day game. It’s one of the best days to play when everybody is watching on national TV on a holiday. We all used to watch the games growing up as kids during the holiday season, so it’s pretty cool. It’s a special game to play on that day.”
Brook Lopez, Bucks’ Center, adds: “It’s definitely an exciting Christmas matchup. It’s a bit away, we all have to wait for Christmas, unfortunately. The Sixers are a great team. It’s always kind of like a knock-down, drag-out when we play them. It’s a fun, physical game.”
The Bucks are still fairly secure with a 22-10 record but a defeat on Christmas Day could see their top spot in jeopardy.
LA Clippers vs LA Lakers 1.00am
Some have dubbed the fourth game of Christmas Day as the Western Conference Finals preview and with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George leading the Clippers and fearsome duo LeBron James and recent acquisition Anthony Davis, there is a lot to anticipate!
Clippers’ forward Paul George elaborated on his experience under Lakers head coach Frank Vogel during his time in Indiana, and how this translates across to his game now:
"You know he definitely helped with my development by throwing me out there, throwing me into the fire, giving me that experience, letting me learn on the fly and make mistakes. He definitely helped with my development. Just film work, watching games, watching plays, and the game. I think the experience is what helped the most, by allowing me to play and learn on just being out there.
"And then just being across from him is great. We both share the city. We both look forward, you know I look forward to matching up and playing against him and going against him, I always have fun with it. But again, it's great, we started together in Indiana and here we are in LA as counterparts."
Center Ivica Zubac also expressed his excitement about playing for the Clippers this Christmas:
“Yeah, especially because it's against the Lakers. That's always something, a little extra. Just being a Christmas game makes it special. Guys always want to win on Christmas. It's really important. I mean, were not really healthy so far this year and that's where our depth showed. We've always got some guys ready. They are always ready even if they aren't playing every game and it's really big for us.”
Both George and Leonard are in the running for this year’s All-Star team – even if they’re not leading the race for MVP – and we could get a taste of what’s to come later on this season.
Tune in to Sky Arena today to watch the games and follow Give Me Sport for more updates over the whole festive period.News Now - Sport News