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White Elephant in the Room
Warriors Host Cavaliers on Christmas Day
The Warriors and Cavaliers renew their rivalry on Christmas Day.
For many people around the world, Christmas Day offers an opportunity to reunite with friends and family that they haven't seen in quite some time. Even so, those relationships pick up right where they left off, as if no time whatsoever had passed since the most recent encounter.
For two NBA teams in particular, Christmas Day will serve a similar purpose.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are certainly not strangers. For teams that play in opposite conferences, they know each other almost as well as they know themselves. That's due in large part to the frequency with which they've come into contact with one another over the last several years, more often than not in high-pressure situations. Monday's upcoming Christmas Day game (a Warriors Whiteout, presented by Clorox) between the two reigning Finalists will be the 25th meeting between the Warriors and Cavaliers since the start of the 2014-15 season. That's easily the most frequent interconference matchup in the league over that span.
Of those 24 prior games, 22 have taken place on Christmas Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day or during the NBA Finals. The only two that didn't were the two regular season meetings between Golden State and Cleveland during the 2014-15 season, which saw both sides prevail on their home court. Overall, the Warriors are 15-9 against the Cavaliers over the last three years, including 1-1 on Christmas Day, 2-0 on MLK Day and 11-7 in the Finals. (Perhaps most importantly, the Dubs lead the Cavs 2-1 in NBA Championships over that time period).
Suffice to say, these teams can be wrapped up in all the shiny paper and ribbon they want, but both sides know what's on the inside. They also probably know what the other wants most for Christmas, which is to gain the upper hand on one of the biggest NBA days of the year.
The NBA and Christmas Day go hand-in-hand, and this year is no different. Not only will the Warriors and Cavaliers face off for the third consecutive year on December 25, but the Christmas Day slate will also include matchups between the 76ers and Knicks, Wizards and Celtics, Rockets and Thunder and Timberwolves and Lakers. So, no matter when you open gifts with your loved ones, there is bound to be an exciting NBA game on before, during and/or afterwards.
Perhaps we're a little biased, but of those five Christmas Day games, none comes close to generating the degree of excitement that Warriors-Cavs Pt. III does. It'll be the third-straight year Golden State and Cleveland combine to form the premiere matchup of the league's Christmas Day slate, and the last two contests have certainly lived up to the hype.
Both sides have one Christmas Day game victory over the other, and in each case, the home team prevailed. Interestingly enough, the team that won on Christmas eventually lost to the other in the Finals. Back in 2015-16, the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers 89-83 on Christmas Day, which was a single-possession game in the final minute. Then, last year, Cleveland got their vengeance on their home floor, narrowly edging Golden State 109-108 after the Dubs couldn't get off a possible game-winning shot before time expired.
So, should we expect another barn burner? Due to annual roster turnover, it may not be the exact same players going against each other on Monday, but given that something spectacular often happens whenever these two teams get together, the smart money is on the affirmative.
It will be a bit different though, and that's mostly due to the players that will and won't be involved. On Cleveland's side, gone is the thorn in the Warriors' side that has been Kyrie Irving (who hit the game-winning shot on Christmas Day last year). Irving is now the starting point guard in Boston, where he took the place of Isaiah Thomas, who is now a Cavalier. Thomas, however, has yet to play this season while recovering from hip surgery, and although he recently was recalled from a conditioning assignment in the G League, he's already been ruled out for Monday's game.
The Cavaliers very well may not be the only team missing their starting point guard on Christmas Day, as Stephen Curry is still in the midst of his recovery from a sprained ankle. Golden State has been forced to play their last six games without the two-time MVP, but they've prevailed in each and every one of them and are currently riding a season-long 10-game winning streak heading into their matchup with the Lakers on Friday night. So, it's not as if they haven't proven themselves capable of winning without Curry.
Even if Curry remains out, the Warriors got some good news when it was announced that Draymond Green will return to game action against the Lakers on Friday following a four-game absence due to a shoulder injury. Andre Iguodala, Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston are also on the mend, which is a great sign for a Golden State team that has recently been saddled by quite the injury bug.
And, even if none of those players take part in the Christmas Day game, it is fully expected that the Warriors-Cavs matchup will still feature all-world stars like Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, LeBron James and Kevin Love.
You can find stars on the top of trees on Christmas Eve. But come Christmas Day, for the Warriors and Cavaliers, they'll be out there on the court, reigniting the best rivalry in the NBA today.
For these, the most familiar of acquaintances, it's unlikely to take long.