Ben Zani, Rotowire.com

I've received many a fantastic Christmas present in my day. A Teddy Ruxpin when I was six. A ten-speed bike when I was nine. A Danny Wuerffel University of Florida football jersey when I was 14. But this year, my favorite Christmas present won't come from my parents, or Santa, or some benevolent aunt or uncle. No, this year, my favorite Christmas present will come from a short Jewish man whom I've never met.

What is that present? Why Celtics vs. Lakers of course. Christmas Day. Live and in beautiful HD color. Garnett. Kobe. Pierce. Gasol. Allen. Bynum. Scalabrine.

To say that I'm somewhat giddy for this game is to say that the local malls are "somewhat crowded" this time of year or that my current post-shopping credit card balance is "slightly high." To be honest, I don't think I've ever been as excited for a regular season game ever. The Celtics, my Celtics, they of the insane winning streak and historically great record, facing the Lakers, last year's NBA Finals dance partner, the current top team in the west, and the C's longtime foe. I personally bought four different versions of the "Beat L.A." t-shirt during the Finals last year, and I will proudly wear each one of them in front of my girlfriend's (possibly horrified) family during the game on Christmas Day.

More importantly, I'm a huge fan of the NBA's effort to claim Christmas as its own, especially this year. Aside from the epic Celts/Lakers battle, there are four other games on the 25th, including a noon (ET) Hornets/Magic tilt, a Spurs/Suns grudge match, and an intriguing Mavs/Blazers nightcap on TNT. For those of you fearing Christmas due to extended time with the in-laws or that weird Birkenstock-wearing cousin who smells like patchouli, your salvation has come in the form of the National Basketball Association. You can conceivably spend more than 12 hours straight on Christmas Day watching NBA basketball, all from the comfort of your home. And as to whether NBA basketball is better with a few glasses of spiked egg nog…well…I plead the fifth.

So, while Christmas Day is generally a tradition-laden holiday for many of you, I invite you to include nonstop basketball consumption as a new Christmas Day ritual. The NBA doesn't buy you ugly sweaters, it doesn't try to engage you in religious or political discussions, and it doesn't have children who run around your house and break things. No, the NBA simply gives on Christmas, and gives us such gifts as Celtics/Lakers, asking us nothing more than to simply sit, watch, and enjoy. Unlike that family member who gives you that "thanks-but-I'll-never-use-this" look when they open your gift to them.

Here's hoping that all of you have a happy, healthy and basketball-filled Christmas, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say thank you NBA; thank you for the wonderful Christmas present you have given us. I'd dare say it's even better than Teddy Ruxpin.

Some holly jolly picks…

Date: Monday, December 22, 2008
Player: Jameer Nelson - ORL [PG]
Opposition: vs. Golden State
2007-08 Averages: 16.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.3 APG (25.6 PRA)
General Thoughts: Nelson left me with a big fat zero earlier this year when I tried to pick him, only to see him come up with a last-minute injury that kept him out of that particular game. However, not being a man who learns his lessons, I'll take Nelson again, especially due to his hot play of late. He's averaged more than 23 points per game over his last five, and a PRA of more than 31. Still, I'm wary given his spotty injury history and the fact that he already hung me out to dry once this year.

Date: Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Player: Rodney Stuckey - DET [PG, SG]
Opposition: vs. Chicago
2007-08 Averages: 10.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.1 APG (18.8 PRA)
General Thoughts: Over his last five games, Stuckey has averaged 9.0 assists per game, good for third in the league over that span. He's clearly meshed with new addition Allen Iverson, and has quite ably taken over the point guard role left by Chauncey Billups. Stuckey also has an ability to take the ball to the basket that Billups did not have, giving Detroit a more talented and overall better team than last year. Meanwhile, I saw the Bulls play in Boston earlier in the week, and was not terribly impressed with their effort, especially on defense. I'll take Stuckey now and hope for a big assist night.

Date: Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Player: No games, Christmas Eve
General Thoughts: There are no games on Wednesday night, presumably to keep Santa Claus distraction-free on his biggest night of the year. However, if Santa finds a way to configure League Pass in his sleigh, expect Christmas Eve games in the future.

Date: Thursday, December 25, 2008
Player: Rajon Rondo - BOS [PG]
Opposition: @ LA Lakers
2007-08 Averages: 10.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 7.6 APG (23.2 PRA)
General Thoughts: I'm an unabashed Celtics fan, and never miss a game. And having seen every game this year, I can confidently say that the true key to the C's historically great open to the season hasn't been one of the Big Three, but rather the development of Rondo. His development has been an absolute joy to watch. When the Celtics need scoring, he scores. When they need rebounds, he hits the boards. When they need assists, he dishes. He's become a legitimate top five point guard this year, and it's been an absolute joy to watch through my Green colored glasses. With Jordan Farmar out for the week, look for Rondo to exploit the slower Derek Fisher and put up another one of his stat sheet-filling games.

Date: Friday, December 26, 2008
Player: Jermaine O'Neal - TOR [PF, C]
Opposition: @ Sacramento
2007-08 Averages: 13.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.6 APG (22.0 PRA)
General Thoughts: Quick, pick O'Neal while he's healthy! O'Neal is clearly a shell of the player he once was, but can still put up the occasional 20-10 night when he feels motivated, or the matchup is right. The latter applies in this case, as the hapless Kings allow a disproportionate number of rebounds and points, and will probably double-team Chris Bosh all night, freeing up low-post opportunities for O'Neal.

Date: Saturday, December 27, 2008
Player: Kevin Durant - OKC [SF, SG]
Opposition: @ Washington
2007-08 Averages: 23.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.9 APG (30.3 PRA)
General Thoughts: The Thunder may not be the most successful team on the planet, but in Durant, they have one of the league's most exciting players. Any rookie bumps that Durant went through last year have been fully eradicated this year, as he's emerged as one of the league's premier scorers. Moreover, Durant actually scores more and grabs more rebounds on the road than he does at home, and should exploit an equally poor Washington squad. Durant's PRA of 35.4 over his last five games also make it an optimal time to use the second-year star.

Date: Sunday, December 28, 2008
Player: Kenyon Martin - DEN [PF]
Opposition: @ New York
2007-08 Averages: 12.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.2 APG (21.2 PRA)
General Thoughts: Despite being a former No. 1 pick, there's not really much all too spectacular about Martin. He'll give you maybe 15 points and eight rebounds on a good night, and considerably less on a bad one. However, Sunday he's playing a Knick squad that is painfully miserable defending down low, and will probably dedicate all of their paltry defensive efforts in stopping Carmelo Anthony, freeing up space for players like Martin. This pick has more to do with the matchup than anything, but Martin could give you a solid night on Sunday.


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