Fun Fact of the Day: The NBA is the only sport with regularly scheduled games on Christmas Day. This tradition has been going on every year since 1947, the year after the league began.
Playoff problems. Last night, the Philadelphia Eagles got out to an early lead and held on, beating the N.Y. Giants 24-19. Now, the Giants will have a harder time clinching a trip to the playoffs. They still own the top NFC Wild Card spot, but there are 3 other teams scratching and clawing their way to get in. With the Giants’ loss, the Dallas Cowboys have officially won the NFC East division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Seen and Heard
A re-Encarnacion. Free agent first baseman and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion signed a 3-year, $60M deal with the Cleveland Indians. Encarnacion is known for his big bat. Last season, he hit a career-matching best 42 home runs, and he is the only player with 30+ homers in each of the past 5 seasons.
A bad trip. Duke’s latest super villain and possible Ted-Cruz lovechild Grayson Allen has been suspended from the team indefinitely, after he was spotted tripping an opponent for the third time in 2 seasons. After the game, everyone in the Twitterverse was calling for Duke’s famed Coach K to teach Allen a lesson by suspending him. At first, Coach K refused, but the morning after the game, he watched video of the blatant foul and sang a different tune. What does an indefinite suspension mean for Duke? Possibly nothing. Possibly everything. We don’t know how long the suspension will last and Duke doesn’t play again for the next 9 days. Even though Duke is still the heavy favorite in its upcoming games, the team will miss Allen. He has averaged 20.2 points per game since the start of last season—the highest average of any major conference player.
Is this acting like a man? This week, former NBA head coach George Karl released a new book called “Furious George.” In it, he vented about a bunch of his former players, including current N.Y. Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. Karl called him the “best offensive player I ever coached,” but also complained that he played no defense, was a “user of people,” and was “addicted to the spotlight.” Later, Karl also took a harsh and unnecessary shot at Anthony and another former player Kenyon Martin. Both players had single-mothers, so Karl wrote that they each had “all that money and no father to show them how to act like a man.” This week, Martin shot back on Twitter, saying “I didn't have a father going up. We all know that. What's George Karl excuse for being a terrible person?” Touché.
Holiday hypocrisy. Last weekend, the NFL decided not to fine Dallas Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott for excessive celebration, even though he jumped into a human-sized Salvation Army kettle after a touchdown. They cut him a break, because his stunt increased Salvation Army donations by over 60%. Afterwards, the N.Y. Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown complained that the NFL was playing favorites. To prove his point, Beckham revealed that the NFL fined him $18,000 for wearing multicolored cleats (outside the NFL’s strict dress code) in honor of the late NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, who was known for his flashy suits and died of cancer last week.
Week 16 games to watch. Dreading another awkward conversation with your crazy uncle? The NFL is the gift that keeps on giving. There are games to keep you preoccupied all holiday weekend long. These are the games with the biggest playoff implications:
- Miami Dolphins (9-5) @ Buffalo (7-7). If the Dolphins win this game, they’re nearly guaranteed an AFC Wild Card spot. Saturday 1pm ET on CBS
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) @ New Orleans Saints (6-8). This is a must-win game for the Bucs, who are one of 4 teams competing for a NFC Wild Card spot. Saturday 4:30pm ET on FOX
- Baltimore Ravens (8-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5). These AFC North divisional rivals are back at it. This is a must-win game for the Ravens, but it won’t come easy against the Steelers, who have won 5 games in a row. Sunday 4:30pm ET on NFLN
Christmas Day. The NBA always serves up a great big helping of games on Christmas Day. The best game of this year’s lineup is a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals: Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers, Sunday 2:30pm ET on ABC