Hoops fans have a full slate of games waiting under the tree on Christmas Day. Let's take a look at each of the ten teams involved in the five thoughtfully selected marquee matchups.
Boston Celtics @ New York Knicks (12:00pm ET)
BOS:The big question fantasy owners had to consider on draft day was how much rest Doc Rivers will give his big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen as the season progresses. Production in the early season is not in question and roto managers have fewer concerns, but their counterparts in h2h leagues can only wait to see how much of the veteran trio we'll see during the "win or go home" portion of the fantasy season. Pierce is very likely to miss the opener (heel), which means Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels will have to step up. Rajon Rondo is coming off an injury-plagued 2010-11 season (he still managed 11.2 assists and 2.3 steals) and may have had his confidence shaken by off-season trade rumors. This team will need even morefrom him than in previous seasons if the vets are going to stay fresh for the playoffs. And speaking of vets, Jermaine O'Neal says he's healthy and more comfortable with his teammates than last season. If that remains true, then he'll prove to be a fantasy bargain as this team's starting center. Brandon Bass is an excellent third big behind KG and JO, and likely in a better situation to maximize his talents than was in Orlando.
NYK:The Knicks generated huge headlines when they waived Chauncey Billups and added Tyson Chandler, but now we'll need to see how those moves translate to the court. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are the supreme talents and are in for massive seasons as the main cogs of the Mike D'Antoni offense, and we'll need to see the changes D'Antoni has made to run things primarily through Melo and not an elite passing point guard. Toney Douglas actually seems very well-suited to accomplish what this collection of talent needs from its point guard - he's deadly from three (career 38%) and a willing defender, neither of which describes Baron Davis. If the Knicks get off to a great start, with Douglas providing excellent contributions, then how much sense would interjecting Davis and taking minutes from Douglas make? We'll see. Chandler will be be charged with two tasks this season: playing defense and staying healthy. Jerome Jordan, Jared Jeffries, and Steve Novak constitute the team's depth beyond Chandler and Amar'e. Iman Shumpert will look for minutes behind Douglas and Landry Fields - Shumpert is an exceptional athlete but lacks polish. He averaged 2.2 steals in his three seasons at Georgia Tech but also made just 40 percent of his field goals.
Miami Heat @ Dallas Mavericks (2:30pm ET)
MIA:The Heat will once again go only as far as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh collectively carry them, but the addition of Shane Battier could be as important as any other off-season move across the league. His contributions are substantial on both ends of the court, and his presence affords this team even more matchup versatility. Throw in a healthy Mike Miller (in theory) and we're talking about quite a unique five-man unit. Point guard will be one position to watch in the early-going. Mario Chalmers is the incumbent starter but is already being pushed by rookie Norris Cole, coming off an impressive career at Cleveland State [stats]. The Heat don't require a lot from their point guard, but Cole is heady and aggressive and could emerge as the starter before long. Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem form the center committee, while fantasy owners worldwide are pushing for plenty of garbage minutes for Eddy Curry over the course of the season.
DAL:The Mavs have a revamped depth chart but the same approach entering the 2011-12 season. The team as a whole will continue to feed off Dirk Nowitzki, another year older but the same singular offensive talent that has been the driving force here for a dozen years. Tyson Chandler is gone, but a healthy Brendan Haywood can provide much of the same rebounding and defensive toughness, albeit on a different energy level, and is anxious to reassert himself as a starter. Adding Lamar Odom does give the Mavs a welcomed new wrinkle, and there is little reason to expect a difficult or poor fit for the versatile Odom and his veteran teammates. And I domean veteran: Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, and Jason Terry average 35 years of age between them. Rodrigue Beaubois has the chance to fill the spark-plug role of the departed J.J. Barea, and we may finally see that breakout season that Justin Phan has been hoping for from Roddy Buckets. Delonte West, Dominique Jones, Brandon Wright, and Ian Mahinmi will fill out the rotation.
Chicago Bulls @ Los Angeles Lakers (5:00pm ET)
CHI:Chicago is still the Derrick Rose show, but the Bulls and fantasy owners are at least hoping to get a bit more out of Carlos Boozer in his second season with the team. The next frontier for Rose's fantasy impact is added steals, while Boozer needs to stay healthy and recover at least some of what was lost production across the board. Joakim Noah is the defensive anchor and double-double regular but, of course, needs to stay healthy. If he can't, Omer Asik will undoubtedly turn some heads with a more-than-capable defensive game of his own. Luol Deng shined as the second/third offensive option in 2010-11 but has to share usage with new starter Richard Hamilton. Rip has the catch-and-shoot game the Bulls have been craving, and how the perimeter looks are divvied up between him and Deng will go a long way towards determining each of their fantasy impacts. Ronnie Brewer is the defensive complement to Rip's offense, while Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, and C.J. Watson will reprise their bench roles.
LAL:The Lakers enter the season with nothing but questions that need to be answered. Mike Brown has replaced Phil Jackson as head coach - how much will the change at the top be reflected as a negative in the box scores and in the standings? The team almost traded for Chris Paul and then dealt Lamar Odom for a trade exception - what will be the lingering affects from both of these situations? Andrew Bynum is "completely" healthy and ready for his true breakout - will it actually come? The team has huge holes at point guard and small forward - are we headed for no fantasy production, and questionable real-world production, at both positions for an entire season? The team brought in Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy for depth - can McBob approximate Odom's contributions? If not, can Murphy regain some of his not-so-long-lost fantasy glory? And then there's Kobe Bryant, who is dealing with a wrist injury that would sideline more mortals for an extended period of time - is this the season that he finally fails to defy the odds and play through any and all injuries?
Orlando Magic @ Oklahoma City Thunder (8:00pm ET)
ORL: The Magic have changed little since the last time we saw them on the court, which means that Dwight Howard's eventual departure remains just a foregone conclusion. As it stands, his team setup remains perfect for massive production, which he happened to take to another level in 2010-11 (22.9 points, 60% FG, 14.1 boards, 1.4 steals, 2.4 blocks). Feel free to skip ahead if this sounds familiar: Jameer Nelson is a solid-but-unspectacular starter at point guard, Jason Richardson is the designated three-point gunner at shooting guard, and Hedo Turkoglu offers versatile production with varying consistency and efficiency. The single change of note for this roster was an exchange of Brandon Bass for Glen Davis, which will be a success for fantasy purposes if it allows Ryan Anderson to average more than the 22 minutes he saw in 2010-11. Fact: Anderson would lead the league in threes if he averaged 30 minutes. J.J. Redick was almost headed for a starter's role, but he's back on the second unit with Chris Duhon, Earl Clark, and either Davis or Anderson. And there's Dwight in the middle... for now.
OKC: The Thunder and its players are the sexy pick to win any and all notable events and awards in 2011-12, and certainly provide plenty of numbers for fantasy owners. Kevin Durant is a top player in fantasy, and his pedestrian assist-to-turnover ratio is the only reason LeBron James and Chris Paul are still in the equation. Any improvement there or in combined threes, steals, and blocks would all but assure KD wraps up a third consecutive season-ending rank of 1st. Russell Westbrook is a fantasy star in his own right and is still improving. When considering what is next for Westbrook, it's worth noting that he finished 2010-11 with the same three-point percentage as Derrick Rose (33%). Serge Ibaka and James Harden are immense talents - how good is Sam Presti? - headed for bigger roles. Ibaka led the league in blocks at age 21 with just 27 minutes per game in 2010-11, and truly elite fantasy numbers will accompany anything resembling starter's minutes. Harden's varied talents can't be held back any longer, even if Thabo Sefolosha's defense keeps him in the starting five. Harden will play plenty in any case, and his per-36s after two seasons include 16.1 points, 1.9 threes, 1.6 steals, and 0.4 blocks. Kendrick Perkins underwent a true transformation during the off-season, will be asked to provide post defense and boards, and could emerge as one of the season's bargain bigs. The bench (Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook, Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed) is capable but won't be asked to do much in a best-case scenario where everyone stays healthy.
Los Angeles Clippers @ Golden State Warriors (10:30pm ET)
LAC: Devoting excessive bandwidth in praise of the Clippers has been done enough in recent weeks, so I'll keep it relatively short here. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league and is surrounded by the best supporting class of his career in Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. There is a ton of offensive talent - clearly the Clips are going to pack the highlight reels - and Jordan can be a defensive game-changer if his foul rate stays in check. Game 1 is going to be the coming out party, and it's no coincidence that the schedule-makers paired the league's other darlings with the defensively-challenged Warriors on opening night.
GSW: New coach Mark Jackson has been preaching defense since his arrival, but the results figure to be mixed (at best) given the talent, and he isn't likely to ask them to play offense much differently than we're used to seeing. Stephen Curry is dealing with another very unfortunate ankle injury and is questionable for the opener, but, when at least mostly healthy, he and Monta Ellis form one of the league's most potent offensive backcourts. Ellis added threes to an already robust fantasy line and now is among fantasy's true elite. He was also an iron man in 2010-11, averaging over 40 minutes in 80 games. It's easy to forget how good David Lee was once he completely recovered from his ugly elbow injury and infection - his averages over the final 44 games included 17.5 points on 53-percent shooting, 9.9 boards, and 3 assists. Dorell Wright more than doubled his previous career high for minutes in 2010-11 and was the breakout fantasy performer of the year. He's no longer under the radar, but the team setup that produced his stellar season remains in place. Kwame Brown and Andris Biedrins will platoon at center, and both players struggle for fantasy relevance outside of a platoon. Rookies Charles Jenkins and Klay Thompson could be in early focus if Curry's ankle doesn't recover well, and neither is without offensive skills, but this will be a long season if Curry can't get right.