There is plenty to be excited about this winter in the wonderful world of sports. The 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea begins on Feb. 9. The NBA has scheduled a compelling series of games for Christmas day. With a host of changes coming to the Winter Olympics this year and an opportunity to take stock of the currently young NBA season, the end of the semester is the perfect time to preview these events.
The Winter Olympics is in Pyeongchang, South Korea this year, just 50 miles south of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Considering how hot tensions have run recently, it is a fair question whether the North will decide to flex its military muscle at the international community and fire a missile over the event.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) added four new events to the Winter Olympics this year, including Big Air in snowboarding, freestyle skiing, mass start in speedskating and mixed doubles in curling. The IOC hopes these new additions will add value through their attractiveness for TV and youth appeal. Fans and athletes of snowboarding parallel slalom may disagree, as their event was dropped.
Of course, the big news in the run-up to the Olympics is the IOC banning Russia from participating for what the Schmid commission concluded was a “systematic manipulation of the anti-doping rules.” Both the country’s flag and national anthem are barred from the event, but Russian athletes can compete as “Olympic athletes from Russia.” For a state as prideful and focused on the Olympics as Russia is, this is a massive blow to nationalism. It’s also a major blow to the competitiveness of the games, as Russia is often a prime contender in ice hockey.
Olympic ice hockey will suffer this year from a lack of NHL players. The league decided not to accommodate players interested in representing their home states for a variety of reasons. Those include injury concerns, scheduling a multi-week break during the short overlap of the baseball and football offseasons, and the IOC deciding to no longer pay for NHL players’ participation. We will not see an NHL player in the 2022 Winter Olympics either, as the IOC ruled that NHL players’ participation in 2022 would be contingent on the leagues’ participation this year.
In the NBA, an overachieving New York Knicks (12–13) squad kicks off the Christmas Day schedule playing host to the rising Philadelphia 76ers (13–12). These two teams are battling it out for a playoff seed at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Beginning at 3 p.m., the Golden State Warriors (21–6) and Cleveland Cavaliers (19–8) will clash after meeting in each of the past three finals. They have also played on Christmas for two consecutive years, with the home team emerging victorious each time. This year, the Sunshine State gets home-court advantage.
The Boston Celtics (23–5) take on the Washington Wizards (14–12) next in a potential foreshadowing of a first round playoff matchup. So far this season, the Celtics have been buoyed by their excellent defense (97.5 opponent points against).
The Houston Rockets’ (20–4) match against the Oklahoma City Thunder (12–13) may not appear competitive on paper, but the talented Thunder have the potential to upset anyone. Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers (10–15) host the Minnesota Timberwolves (15–11), who have been a pleasant addition to the Western Conference’s top four seeds so far.