The NBA starting its 2020-21 season in late December means that the league has the ability to go all-in on Christmas Day, as it does every season. This year will, obviously, be quite different from past campaigns, but the fact that the NBA put together a monster Christmas Day card serves as a constant amid all of the weirdness that we have come to expect this year.
The league announced it’s Christmas Day schedule earlier this week, featuring some of the familiar faces we’ve come to expect seeing on the league’s marquee day of games. There are some newcomers as well and with the five game slate set for Day 4 of the regular season, we decided to rank the five games we expect to see on Christmas, ranging from “you can have this on in the background while unwrapping presents” to “LeBron James and Luka Doncic are playing why are you not dropping everything to watch?”
The #NBAXmas schedule!
12:00pm/et, ESPN: @PelicansNBA/@MiamiHEAT
2:30pm/et, ABC: @warriors/@Bucks
5:00pm/et, ABC: @BrooklynNets/@celtics
8:00pm/et, ABC/ESPN: @dallasmavs/@Lakers
10:30pm/et, ESPN: @LAClippers/@nuggets#KiaTipOff20 #OnlyHere pic.twitter.com/SdsOFr0vOh
— NBA (@NBA) December 2, 2020
5. Warriors vs. Bucks
On one hand, yes, this game has the Golden State Warriors and Giannis Antetokounmpo in it, and it is hard for that to not be exciting. But for me, it’s just really hard to get up for a game that includes a team like Golden State that is: 1) Rusty, 2) Breaking in new players and, 3) Nowhere near a finished product due to Points 1 and 2. The Warriors are going to get better as the season goes along and their newer guys (Kelly Oubre, James Wiseman, even Andrew Wiggins) get used to playing with Steph Curry (who played in five games last year) and Draymond Green (who has not played in an NBA game since February).
This is not to say the game won’t be fun to watch — the Warriors in a big game is always exciting, even with all the previous caveats, while the Bucks have the back-to-back MVP, an All-Star in Khris Middleton, and a ton of new pieces headlined by Jrue Holiday. Oh, and if Giannis doesn’t sign an extension, this is the biggest year in franchise history. It’s worth your time no matter what.
4. Nets vs. Celtics
Kind of similar to the last game: Yes, it should be good and fun, but I am trying to temper my expectations at the start about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Both have not played in a minute, while both suffered major injuries (particularly Durant) that required surgery. Seeing them on the court again, at the very least, will be wonderful, but it’s hard to not think they’ll need a little time to get back to being two of the best players in the world, which is perfectly fine.
This game is still going to be a ton of fun. The scrappy Nets are largely running it back from last season’s team, only with a first-time head coach in Steve Nash, the aforementioned two superstars, and a potentially really fun role player in Landry Shamet. Boston is fresh off of barely missing the NBA Finals, so it’s hard to know if they’ll have the legs, but they’re still an excellent basketball team, even as they try to manage Kemba Walker’s knee and fold Tristan Thompson into the rotation. Both of these teams legitimately think they can win the Eastern Conference this year, and this will be an excellent early test for both, even if it stands to reason that neither of them are finished products right now.
3. Pelicans vs. Heat
The Miami Heat might not end up being the best team in the Eastern Conference this year, but they surely are among the most interesting. Making the NBA Finals is an impossibly hard task, but you don’t have to look far to find people who wonder if the Heat were that good or if they just had a mental toughness about them that led to them navigating a tricky situation better than anyone else. That, alone, is going to make them must-watch for the entirety of this season, and that’s before we even get to the intrigue of “how do the young players who were thrust into bigger roles in Orlando respond to a full season?”
They also have an absolutely fascinating matchup in the Pelicans, a team of high-flying youngsters that are going to be hungry after missing out on a playoff spot last year. Zion Williamson in year two and Brandon Ingram after cashing in on his outstanding 2019-20 campaign are two of the most interesting young players in basketball, and on a much more macro level, New Orleans has the potential to be a destination for superstars who want to move due to the team’s treasure trove of Draft picks and two young standouts. Also: Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe are here now! This game will be fun. I am excited to watch it.
2. Clippers vs. Nuggets
All of these games have a few reasons why you should watch them. This one does, too — Did Jamal Murray take a leap in the Bubble? Is Michael Porter Jr. ready to become a major contributor? Can the Clippers bounce back from [gestures at last year and every bit of ink spilled about it]? Nikola Jokic is playing basketball! — but there is no reason to beat around the bush here. This game features a team that got embarrassed in the postseason last year against the team that embarrassed them. I don’t care about anything else, because for that reason alone, this is a nightcap worth enjoying in full.
1. Mavericks vs. Lakers
There is certainly some concern around the Lakers as to whether Anthony Davis and especially LeBron James sit out some early due to the weirdness of this schedule, especially on the heels of last year ending so recently. However, this is the Christmas Day game and it’d be pretty stunning if they weren’t both out there in a full capacity (even if there’s some significant resting that happens after that). But the thought of watching Luka Doncic in what is, for all intents and purposes, the first big regular season game of his career is so much fun. Doncic has never had this sort of spotlight in the regular season — Christmas Day against the defending champs — and whenever he has played in a big game, he’s delivered. His flare for the dramatic makes him must-watch, even if the Mavericks will have to navigate life without Kristaps Porzingis for some time.
Also, if the Lakers’ two stars do indeed play, and they bring their A games to whatever extent their bodies let them this early, that battle would be otherworldly. Both Davis and James are really good to rising to a standard set by an opponent’s best player, and the back-and-forth of those two and Doncic trying to one-up one another could be a joy — remember, we saw James and Doncic specifically throw haymakers last regular season in an absolutely wonderful basketball game. Here’s to hoping we get this gift again on Dec. 25.