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Christmas Day Roundtable
When the NBA announced the Wizards and Celtics would play on Christmas, many circled this game on the schedule. The two teams will meet for the first time since last season's seven-game playoff series. Even though Boston only retained four players from last year's team, Wizards vs. Celtics on Christmas Day is guaranteed to be an entertaining, hard-fought game.
The Wizards are playing on Christmas Day for the first time since 2014, a win over the New York Knicks. Washington holds a 15-7 record all-time on Christmas Day. This is the first of four key matchups with the Celtics this season.
With the big matchup coming up and a third of the season in the books, we answered seven questions about this game and the season thus far.
1. The Celtics are a completely different team in terms of personnel this season. What are you looking forward to watching in this Christmas Day matchup?
Zach Rosen: The Celtics were the hottest team in the NBA in the first quarter of the season, even after losing Gordon Hayward to injury and only retaining four players from last season’s team. I’m excited to see how their roster and the Wizards’ continuity, outside of some reserves, match up. Boston does not have Avery Bradley, who is a certified defensive stopper, to team up with Marcus Smart against John Wall and Bradley Beal. Still, they have arguably the best scoring guard in the East in Kyrie Irving and second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum have really developed early in their careers. In the 11 games these two teams played together in the regular season and playoffs last season, the home team won every single game. TD Garden is a very tough place to play, but the Wizards have some extra motivation after last year’s second round series.
Jeremy Hyman: I’m looking forward to seeing how these two teams match up. It’s easy to just say Wizards – Celtics, and expect a great game because of what we saw last year. But it is a different Celtics team and one with a lot of length and versatility. Even with Gordon Hayward sidelined for the season, they have still proven to be one of the top teams in the East and I want to see how the Wizards can battle with this team. Besides the fact that it’s a nationally televised game on Christmas Day, just seeing how these teams look against one another will be enough for me to be interested.
Chris Gehring: The easy answer here is another round of Kyrie Irving against John Wall, but I’m also really interested in how the Celtics matchup with the Wizards with their new personnel. Most of all, how does the subtraction of Avery Bradley effect Bradley Beal and Wall’s performances? After a red-hot start, the Celtics have hit some road bumps of late. We’ll see if Jaylen Brown plays in this game, but he’s a big part of what they do defensively and has improved offensively as well. The development of Brown and Tatum alongside the likes of Irving, Al Horford and co. is fascinating. As the season goes on, it will be very interesting to see if they can come up big in important moments.
2. Is this matchup still a rivalry? Is this more than just a regular season game?
Zach Rosen: It’s not a rivalry anymore overall, but there’s definitely still some beef between certain players. The most fun twist in the matchup now is that Markieff Morris’ twin brother Marcus is now on the Celtics and will hopefully come back from injury to play in that game. The two played together in Phoenix but have always gone at it when Marcus was in Detroit. Wall and Irving have always gone head-to-head and competed, but some of the guys who were involved in the drama last season like Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko are not with the Celtics anymore.
Jeremy Hyman: I’m not one to throw the word rivalry on this matchup but I would say this is more than just another regular season game. With such a different looking Celtics team in Boston, it’s hard to bring over too much of what happened last year into this year’s series. But, when the Wizards enter the TD Garden on Christmas Day, the 18,000 fans dressed in green certainly will not have forgotten last year’s series and they’ll be sure to greet the Wizards accordingly. That’s the part that I think will carry over and will give the Wizards a little extra juice, knowing that this was the team that knocked them out and these are the fans whose Christmas they can ruin.
Chris Gehring: I think it’s more than just a regular season game to some extent, but probably more because of the Christmas Day atmosphere. A lot of the important parts in last year’s “budding rivalry” with the Celtics are gone from Boston, so it’s important in the sense that it’s the Wizards’ first game against a top team in the conference on the road more than anything else in my opinion.
3. What should we expect in the John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving matchup?
Zach Rosen: There’s no doubt that this is the marquee matchup, especially with Bradley now in Detroit. Fans and media members have been debating Wall and Irving for years and it’ll be interesting to see Irving play without LeBron again. They know each other’s games very well and respect one another’s playmaking abilities. Wall has the advantage defensively and has been much improved this season, while Irving’s strong suit is definitely offense.
Jeremy Hyman: A lot of electrifying plays on both ends. Not only are these two of the best point guards in the league, but they are also two of the most fun to watch, and they can do different things that dazzle the fans. They usually bring out the best in one another and this being the first Wizards – Celtics, John – Kyrie matchup will make it even more exciting.
Chris Gehring: I think so. Horford was a definite issue in last year’s playoff series, and dealing with him is a key to winning. Still, there’s no question that the pitch to tune into this game is the battle between two elite point guards, especially now that Kyrie Irving has a team “to himself” so to speak. Of course, any team coached by Brad Stevens isn’t about one guy, but Irving has been able to really shine in Boston this season. We know that John Wall is always ready for a marquee matchup, so expect Christmas to be fun.
4. Who are the x-factors for both teams in this game?
Zach Rosen: Otto Porter Jr. is too big of a part of the gameplan to be an x-factor at this point, but he had a career-high against the Celtics last season and was a big part of pushing that playoff series to seven games. Mike Scott is the obvious answer here considering how hot he’s been in December and the fact that Celtics will play small and force Scott Brooks to play Scott and Morris at the five-position. Scott can also guard smaller and bigger players and has been almost as impressive defensively as offensively. The Celtics have been beat recently by Kelly Olynyk and Michael Beasley, similar bench sparkplugs like Scott, and I expect him to have a big role in this game. For the Celtics, whoever else plays alongside Marcus Smart is the x-factor. Smart's perimeter defense will challenge Wall or Beal, but who guards the other guy?
Jeremy Hyman: At this point, for the Wizards you’d have to think Mike Scott would be that guy. It feels like he hasn’t missed a shot in the month of December and his play off the bench could be the difference in the game on Christmas. For the Celtics I’ll go with one of their few players who actually was on the team that beat the Wizards last season, Marcus Smart. He doesn’t need to score to impact the game and his ability to defend both Wall and Beal will be key for Boston. If he plays at a high level and makes his impact felt on defense, the Wizards could be in trouble.
Chris Gehring: For the Wizards, it has to be Mike Scott and Tomas Satoransky. The bench against the likes of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, etc. is the underlying matchup to watch for me. If Scott can stay hot and Satoransky can play an efficient game while Wall’s off the floor, the Wizards will be in a position to win. On the Celtics’ side, Smart and Rozier can really help in relief, but they can also really hurt. They’re streaky scorers, making Boston really hard to beat when they’re clicking and vulnerable when they’re not.
5. What’s your evaluation of the Wizards’ season so far?
Zach Rosen: The Wizards are disappointed with some of their either-or losses that they’ve suffered. The team believes they should have more wins against the sub-par .500 teams and that’s a fair analysis of what’s happened. Still, this team has dealt with injuries to Morris, Wall, and Porter in that order and managed to win plenty of games with their four-time All-Star Wall sidelined. I agree with Morris’ thoughts that the team will be ready to go when Porter is back and go on a run. More open shots are going to start to go down and there’s little doubt in my mind this team will be a tough out in the playoffs, just probably not the top seed.
Jeremy Hyman: It has been an up and down first couple of months for the Wizards, but I don’t think the team is too far away from where they need to be. There is still a lot of season left and time for this team to click, like they did during the middle of last season. They are only a few games back of where I would have predicted them at this point, so I’m not overly concerned with their position in the Eastern Conference. The inconsistent play over this long of a period is a little more concerning, but I think they’ll find their stride in the near future and then get back into a top four spot in the conference.
Chris Gehring: Nobody on the team will say that they’re pleased with the start, but the team nearly won 50 games last season after a tough start. They got off to a better start this season and have had some injuries to deal with. I think that while there are games they want back (Phoenix, Dallas, et. al.), if they stay relatively healthy from here on out they’ll still finish in the top four in the East and have home floor in the first round of the playoffs. I’ve also been encouraged by the bench’s ability to not just stay afloat, but contribute really solid minutes on a nightly basis.
6. All-Star voting starts on Christmas Day on social media. Who do you think the Wizards will have in Los Angeles in February and why?
Zach Rosen: Beal should make his first All-Star appearance with career-high scoring and that big 51-point game against the Trail Blazers that put him in the national spotlight. At only 24, he’s become one of the East’s top scorers and his defense is often overlooked. He leads the NBA in contested 3-point attempts and always gets tough assignments. If Wall can put together a big run here throughout voting, he should be able to get in based on his impact on the team, his improved defensive, and of course his reputation.
Jeremy Hyman: John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall leads all East point guards in assists. Beal is fourth among Eastern Conference guards in scoring and enjoyed a 51-point night in Portland. That’s enough for me.
Chris Gehring: John Wall and Bradley Beal both deserve to be All-Stars. Wall’s injury may have taken the spotlight off of him for a moment, but I think Christmas is the perfect stage for the D.C. backcourt to make a case while everyone’s watching.
7. What are your predictions for the final All-Star rosters for both conferences?
Zach Rosen: East Starters: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kristaps Porzingis.
East Reserves: Victor Oladipo, John Wall, Kevin Love, Joel Embiid, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, Al Horford.
West Starters: James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins.
West Reserves: Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, Damian Lillard.
Jeremy Hyman: East Starters: Irving, DeRozan, James, Antetokounmpo, Porzingis.
East Reserves: Wall, Beal, Drummond, Embiid, Love, Oladipo, Ben Simmons.
West Starters: Harden, Westbrook, Durant, Davis, Cousins.
West Reserves: Curry, Klay Thompson, Aldridge, George, Towns, Lillard, Butler.
Chris Gehring: East Starters: Irving, DeRozan, James, Antetokounmpo, Porzingis.
East Reserves: Wall, Oladipo, Simmons, Beal, Love, Embiid, Kemba Walker.
East tough calls: It feels weird to leave Kyle Lowry, Andre Drummond and Aaron Gordon off. We’ll see how it shakes out.
West Starters: Curry, Harden, Durant, Cousins, Towns.
West Reserves: Thompson, Lillard, Westbrook, Davis, Aldridge, Devin Booker, Butler.
West tough calls: CJ McCollum is having a great season, and it’d probably come down to him or Booker for me. For now, a nod to Booker for slightly better numbers.