Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 2:18 PM
Merry Christmas! The sports world is NBA-heavy on the holiday (check out our Opening Day Triple Crown), with five games tipping off the delayed 2011-2012 regular season in a way that dramatically overshadows the Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers game in prime time on NBC. Let's talk briefly about the games you'll be watching on your TV while the kids are playing video games on their TV!
First...in the NBA...
NOON ET: BOSTON AT NEW YORK ON TNT
Why is TNT part of the holiday festivities this year? That network purchased the right to show the first TV game of the year. Normally that's in November on opening night! This year, thanks to the lockout, the first big TV game of the year is TODAY...so ABC and ESPN have to wait for TNT to show a game before they get their turn.
This could be a great rivalry this year if the stars stay healthy. The Knicks obviously have their eye on the title after bringing in Tyson Chandler to play defense behind Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Boston is probably its last legs of being a contender with its aging roster. Will the short season help this veteran team because they got a lot of extra rest? Or, will playing 66 games in 120 days devastate them before the playoffs?
We'll be watching this game closely knowing that both teams have back-to-backers coming up in a few days. Boston will play at Miami and New Orleans Tuesday and Wednesday. New York will play at Golden State and the Lakers Wednesday and Thursday.
Note that we're not running any stats from last year in today's preview because we don't expect them to have much predictive value for this unique situation. You regulars know we get pretty in-depth with our NBA data once we're deeper into the season.
2:30 P.M. ET: MIAMI AT DALLAS ON ABC
Dallas will lift its championship banner to the rafters in pre-game ceremonies. The rings aren't ready yet though, so there will be another ceremony for that later in the season. Celebration ceremonies are often the kiss of death in this sport...because they make the opponent furious! Miami had enough reason to be furious already.
This will be our first look at LeBron James and Dwayne Wade in the new season. And, our first look at Lamar Odom in a Mavericks uniform. Handicapping for JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK on opening day will involve a mix of information and stats. Teams that have had dramatic lineup changes aren't going to play to past stats...so it pays to have sources across the league!
5 P.M. ET: CHICAGO AT L.A. LAKERS ON ABC
Derrick Rose vs. Kobe Bryant is reason enough to tune in anyway. But, now the soap opera around the Lakers makes things extra juicy. Will the chemistry issues that derailed the team in the playoffs last year be cured by the trade of Lamar Odom? Or, was the main problem elsewhere on the team? Bryant's supposedly running much better now than he was last year. Nobody runs faster than Rose on good wheels!
We'll take a hard look at the Lakers bench here, because this is game one of a three-day back-to-back-to backer for the Lake Show. They visit Sacramento Monday Night, then host Utah Tuesday on TNT. Everybody will have to do at least one three-day-dance this year. For the Lakers, that's how they have to start the season.
Given our sources in both cities, we could have a VERY big release in this one here at the website. Check our "buy picks" page for more details on what's available.
8 P.M. ET: ORLANDO AT OKLAHOMA CITY ON ESPN
Orlando and Dwight Howard have been in the news for several days. For now, it looks like Howard will stay with the Magic this year. Can they do anything to rise up and truly compete with the other powers in the East. They were a first round disappointment vs. Atlanta last year.
Oklahoma City has been overlooked in a lot of preseason chatter because so many other teams were making big moves. The Thunder didn't have to. They were loaded...are now a year wiser...and there's fresh legs all over the roster. Both of these teams are on night one of a back-to-back, with OKC visiting exciting young Minnesota Monday Night, and Orlando flying home to host Houston.
We can't emphasize this enough. The key to beating the NBA over the next two months will be understanding how teams are dealing with their multiple back-to-back challenges!
10:30 P.M. ET: LA CLIPPERS AT GOLDEN STATE ON ESPN
This game sure got interesting fast! Chris Paul is now with the Clippers...and the Clippers created an even bigger buzz in the sports world when they routed the Lakers in an exhibition game earlier in the week. Golden State was in the "Paul Sweepstakes" for awhile...and a few of their players may want to send a message about that here in the holiday hoops finale.
Get ready for it fans...you're going to be watching a lot of LA Clippers games this year! As handicappers, it will be your job to figure out if Vegas oddsmakers are overreacting to the addition of Paul....or underestimating how good this team has a chance to be right out of the gate.
We still have the football game to get to. Here are our standard indicator numbers...
Chicago: 7.9 on offense, 10.6 on defense
Green Bay: 19.0 on offense, 15.1 on defense
Chicago's offense is even worse if you only count the games Hanie has started. Green Bay's defense isn't yet to championship caliber because they lay back and hope for turnovers so often with big leads. Well, they didn't have a lead last week in Kansas City and passive play cost them a shot at a perfect season. Chicago is in a must-win spot in the Wildcard chase. A loss eliminates them, and they're a longshot to begin with. Green Bay will start thinking about resting starters as they hope to coast to a #1 seed and a bye week. That could make it difficult to cover a big number here when combined with that sluggish defense. Note that Josh McCown will ge the start for the Bears after Hanie was officially benched late in the week.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Chicago: 31% on offense, 35% on defense
Green Bay: 48% on offense, 42% on defense
Green Bay does a great job on offense. No surprise there. Again, the defense is vulnerable. This is a poor number in a season where the league midpoint is around 38%. It will be interesting to see if Chicago's offense can do much of anything on a cold December night. Facing the GB defense gives them a puncher's chance to compete if nothing else.
Chicago: +8 (27 takeaways, 19 giveaways)
Green Bay: +20 (32 takeaways, 12 giveaways)
Both Green Bay and San Francisco have huge turnover edges this year. That's not something you can automatically count on in the playoffs...which means the NFC brackets could get more interesting than some are expecting. Chicago's defense has played great this year. They definitely have a playoff caliber defense...but the offense wasn't all that great even before Jay Cutler got hurt.
Our selection here will depend on what our sources are saying about each team's mindset heading in. You can purchase all of our holiday hits right here at the website with your credit card.
Back with you Monday to preview Atlanta-New Orleans in the big ESPN Monday Night game plus North Carolina-Missouri in the Independence Bowl. The bowl slate really gets rolling Tuesday...and the schedule is very intense all week. Hey, with the NBA back on the scene...the schedule is going to be intense for as long as the eye can see!
FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS, and enjoy the wild ride with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!