NBA Christmas Day Guide: What to Watch

Christmas Day is not just the most important day of the year for our friends at the North Pole. It is also a landmark day for the NBA, where for decades the league has put its top stars and best teams in clashes with each other for viewers to watch while drinking eggnog. (The league’s first Christmas games took place in 1947, when the Baltimore Bullets defeated the Chicago Stags 87-70 at the Baltimore Coliseum.)

This Christmas day comes at a strange time for the NBA campaign, as it is the first week of the season. Fans will not be in the stands. Ten teams will face each other throughout the day – the 13th consecutive year the NBA has put five games in play – and many of the league’s most famous faces will be on the court, including LeBron James, Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

Some of the teams, like Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat, looked unstable at the season’s opening. Others, like the Nets, looked gigantic.

There were some classic games on Christmas day. This, for example, will mark 35 years since rookie Patrick Ewing helped the Knicks to dig a 25-point hole with 32 points and 11 rebounds to win the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden.

Noon, ESPN

One thing to know: Erik Spoelstra of Heat is 7-0 at Christmas, tied with the league’s best coach record on the holiday with Les Harrison, who coached the Rochester Royals from 1948-55.

Preview: The Heat had less than eight weeks of rest after Cinderella’s trip to the NBA Finals in the league bubble season – less out of season than any team other than the Los Angeles Lakers. They also will not have the appearance of a Christmas morning at home after a tie at the start of the game.

Miami did not seem surprisingly slow (and subject to rotation) in its loss at the opening of the season on Wednesday in Orlando. Now the Heat has to deal with unwanted denunciation time, as does brute Zion Williamson, who will be playing in the league’s biggest regular season for the first time after losing as a rookie last season due to knee surgery.

With considerable curiosity bubbling over how he will fare for the demanding New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy, Williamson averaged 28.5 points in two preseason games and has declined noticeably since last season.

14:30, ABC

One thing to know: After winning his second consecutive Most Valuable Player Award, Giannis Antetokounmpo kept the city of Milwaukee – and many Wisconsin residents – in a state of agitation / fear / panic for several weeks before the preseason, while pondering whether to sign an extension of long term with Bucks. Last week, he finally put an end to his community’s collective anxiety by agreeing to the most lucrative contract in the league’s history, a five-year deal that could be worth about $ 228 million.

Preview: Antetokounmpo led Bucks to the league’s best regular season record in each of the past two seasons, but the playoffs have been a different story. The Bucks lost again last season, falling to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the Miami Heat, and Antetokounmpo desperately wants to reach the NBA finals – and win a championship. It will not be easy. The Bucks experienced a taste of high-profile competition in their season opener on Wednesday night, when the Boston Celtics escaped with a 122-121 victory. Antetokounmpo missed a late free throw that probably would have sent the game into overtime. He didn’t like it.

As for the Warriors, their glorious and championship-filled past never seemed so distant as it did on Tuesday night, when the Nets helped christen the season by demolishing them 125-99. After losing much of last season to injury, Stephen Curry, twice the MVP, appears to be back in full swing. But without Klay Thompson, who is off the pitch for the second consecutive season, the Warriors could face yet another long period of growing pains.


One thing to know: Nets center player DeAndre Jordan has the record for blocking a Christmas game (8 in 2011), and Nets guard Kyrie Irving has the record for stealing (7 in 2016). (Bonus: Nets coach Steve Nash played on Christmas Day as a player.)

Preview: This confrontation will boil down to double stars: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for the Celtics and Irving and Kevin Durant for the Nets.

The Celtics are coming out of an Eastern Conference final last year, in which they were defeated by the Heat. They had a challenging off-season, losing former All-Star Gordon Hayward in a free agency-related trade, while Kemba Walker, another All-Star, continued to deal with knee problems that will keep him out for more weeks. Instead, the Celtics rely on Tatum, 22, and Brown, 24, to carry them, in addition to their young players like Robert Williams III and Grant Williams. (The Celtics included two quality veterans in the off-season, Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague, who will help.)

To the Nets, Irving and Durant looked like the superstars the Nets expected when they signed on before the 2019-2020 season. They dominated the opening night at home against the Golden State Warriors. Durant, who had not played competitive basketball in 18 months, did not appear to have missed a step. Caris LeVert seemed comfortable operating the second unit. This team quickly established itself as the favorite of the Atlantic Division, if not the East.

This game will also mark Irving’s official return to the court in Boston, where he played for two seasons. The team underperformed in 2018-2019, and Irving left for the Nets, despite saying he was committed to staying in Boston. The Celtics players seem to have maintained good relations with Irving. The fans, not so much.

8 pm, ABC and ESPN

One thing to know: With 35 more points, LeBron James will become the league’s top scorer in Christmas, overtaking No. 1 Kobe Bryant (395 points) and No. 2 Oscar Robertson (377).

Preview: Instead of playing a rematch in the NBA finals against Miami at the time of the day’s television, James and the Lakers will host Dallas and Luka Doncic, one of this season’s MVP favorites. The lineup is a symbol of Doncic’s growing stature in the Slovenian NBA’s third season.

“I always wanted to play on Christmas Day,” said Doncic.

James sprained his left ankle in the Lakers’ defeat on the opening night to the Clippers and lost the last eight minutes – “I did very well,” he said – but insisted that the injury will not stop him from facing Doncic. The Mavericks also lost their first game and, of much greater concern, hesitated in the fourth period of their 106-102 loss to Phoenix to promptly revive discussions about Dallas’ repeated crunchtime failures last season.

The Mavericks will be without Kristaps Porzingis, but it appears that Dallas’ second best player is almost back ahead of schedule. Porzingis suffered a knee injury during the blister in August, which required another surgery after a more serious knee injury hindered his time with the Knicks.

10:30 PM, ESPN

One thing to know: In the Nuggets’ loss in the 124-122 overtime to Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night (more on that in a moment), Nikola Jokic ended with 29 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists for his 42nd triple-double of his career. This puts him in fourth place among active players, according to the Basketball Reference. The names in front of you are quite recognizable: Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and James Harden.

Preview: As mentioned above, the Nuggets missed their season opener – and ridiculously. Kings’ Buddy Hield won the game with a tip at the bell. But the Nuggets are not far from an exciting post-season race, which was highlighted by their knockout in Game 7 of the Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals. Jokic, 25, and Jamal Murray, 23, who was virtually unstoppable in the bubble, are just entering their cousins.

The Clippers, of course, have their own hopes for the championship and showed some courage in the season’s opening win against the Lakers on Tuesday night. Paul George, who fought in the bubble, reaffirmed his status as one of the league’s best players by scoring 33 points and hitting 13 of 18 on the field.