On Friday, after gifts are given and dinner is digested, somebody might watch an NBA game for the first time this season.
Christmas, with five nationally televised games, is when the NBA pops onto the radar for some sports fans.
If so, they missed Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors putting together the best start in league history, winning their first 24 games. They are 26-1 and appear even more potent than the team that beat Cleveland in June to win the championship.
“I said going into the year I think they’re the prohibitive favorite, and I think that if you gave me the choice of picking either Golden State to win it or getting the rest of the field, I would take Golden State,” said Jeff Van Gundy, who will work the NBA Finals rematch on ABC. “I think they’re that big a favorite.”
Plenty more has happened. Kobe Bryant said this season would be his last, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis have been terrific in their first.
The Eastern Conference has gotten better, except for the Philadelphia 76ers, who have managed to look even worse.
The dominant story, and dominant team, has been Golden State. San Antonio, also on the Christmas schedule, isn’t far behind, while Cleveland tops the East even without having its team together because of injuries.
And though it feels like the season is just starting to some fans, the reality is all the winning the Warriors have done before Christmas could pay off much later.
“When you get out with the cushion like Golden State has, you can go through a bad stretch where maybe you take an injury to a really valuable piece and you’re able to withstand it,” Van Gundy said. “I thought home court had a big impact on last year’s finals and I think it can have an impact again, so I think that’s the advantage of what Golden State and San Antonio have done so quickly.”
A look at the five games on Christmas (all times Eastern):
PELICANS AT HEAT, noon, ESPN.
Miami has won on Christmas each of the last six years and is 9-2 all-time on the holiday, an .818 winning percentage that is slightly behind Portland (14-3, .824) for the NBA’s best. Dwyane Wade is second to Bryant among active players in appearances and points.
BULLS AT THUNDER, 2:30 p.m., ABC
Two good teams who so far look not quite good enough to beat the powerhouses ahead of them in their conferences. But Van Gundy won’t rule out a run from either, because of the Thunder’s trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, and the Bulls’ depth he believes is best in the East. “I think both of those teams could definitely find their way into the conference finals and then take their shot against a really good team,” he said.
CAVALIERS AT WARRIORS, 5 p.m., ABC
Kyrie Irving returned Sunday and will back on the floor where he fractured his kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The loser is 4-2 in finals rematches on Christmas, with LeBron James 2-0 in such games.
SPURS AT ROCKETS, 8 p.m., ESPN
Houston reached the West finals last season but San Antonio is again the best in Texas. The Spurs are 23-5 and playing the finest basketball anywhere outside the Bay Area. The Rockets have battled back to .500 after a rocky start.
CLIPPERS AT LAKERS, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Bryant has played in 15 Christmas games and scored 383 points, both records on the holiday. Most of that came back when the Lakers were the best in Los Angeles, but that’s been the Clippers for a while now.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Irving: 17 minutes, 12 points Sunday against Philadelphia. Not the best stats of the week but certainly the most important, as the Cavaliers finally had their team together for the first time this season.
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