NBA Christmas Day: the top stories from every game, including the Lakers’ new blood and Kevin Durant’s comeback tour

The highlight of the regular NBA season comes a little earlier this season, as the teams will only have one game played when Christmas Day arrives on Friday. Time changes the dynamics a bit, as players are still paving the way for the youth season, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are some incredible clashes going on.

Highlighted by superstars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, the Christmas day slate features five games that must be incredibly fun. To make things a little easier to digest – like your holiday meal – we focus on an important storyline for each team to keep in mind while you watch.

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Pelicans plot: Zion unleashed?

All New Orleans wants this holiday season is a healthy Zion Williamson. The 20-year-old son played only 24 games last season, and we can say that we never saw him in full force. The Pelicans stretched him this pre-season and he looked incredible, both in terms of conditioning and game. Williamson averaged 33.5 minutes in two games, scoring 28.5 points and 10 rebounds per game with 57 percent pitches, opening the appetite for basketball fans waiting for Zion to launch.

He will have a difficult test on Christmas afternoon against Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat defense, so it will be interesting to see how Williamson begins his sophomore campaign. Before the hiatus last season, Pelicans’ net standings were a ridiculous 13.9 points better with Zion on the ground. It will likely be the key to New Orleans joining the playoffs image this season.

Heat plot: Taking the leap

Heat leaders Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic are well-known commodities at this point in their careers, but current Eastern Conference champions can reach another level this season if Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson continue to develop. Adebayo became an All-Star last season, Herro had his debutante party in the bubble, and Robinson had one of the best 3-point shooting seasons of all time, making 45 percent of his 8.3 attempts per game. It was a short off-season for Miami, but we should still expect to see improvements from the Heat’s top three youths, along with first-team All-Rookie guard Kendrick Nunn. Just two months from his last game in the bubble, we’ll see if coach Erik Spoelstra turns to his younger players while his veterans rest more than usual.

Warriors plot: Steph went crazy

Stephen Curry made 21 shots in 30 minutes in the Warriors’ loss on their debut night for the Nets, and honestly it didn’t seem like enough. Our Brad Botkin wrote about the head coach Steve Kerr’s reluctance to use Curry in more pick-and-roll, but he may have no choice if Christmas Day is something like the opener. Bucks are known for using fall cover in pick-and-roll, which means Curry could get into many 3-point looks if Mike Budenholzer didn’t fit. Curry needs to make a big game if the Warriors are to compete with the best team in the league’s regular season for the past two years.

Bucks storyline: home debut for Jrue

Perhaps in an effort to secure a long-term commitment from Giannis Antetokounmpo (which apparently worked), Bucks traded a pile of assets for Jrue Holiday, who will make his home debut for Milwaukee at Christmas. It will not be exactly the atmosphere he would like without fans in the stands, but it will be interesting to see the kind of impact he will make by adjusting to a new system and new teammates. One of the best two-way guards in the league, Holiday will likely be tasked with chasing Curry for a good part of the game, while taking on secondary play functions in attack. The Bucks hope that the vacation exchange for Eric Bledsoe in the initial lineup will help push them to the top, and we will see the early adjustment on Friday.

Brooklyn Nets at the Boston Celtics – 5 pm (Eastern Time) (ABC)

Nets plot: KD’s return

Kevin Durant looked phenomenal in his debut on Tuesday, but it will be a while before he returns to his normal fitness level while recovering from Achilles surgery. Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said Durant did not have a minute limit on his debut, but played only 25 minutes on the break. This game should be much more played, so we’ll see if Nash leaves his superstar on the court longer and how effective Durant can be against the NBA’s fourth best defense of a season ago. KD showed a tendency to come out hot and disappear slowly, at least offensively, in the young season, so his stamina is another thing to keep an eye on.

Celtics storyline: Jay-Jay all day

With Kemba Walker out of action due to injury and Gordon Hayward in Charlotte, much of the Celtics’ offensive attack will be in the hands of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The two strikers recorded career numbers last season, but will draw more defensive attention with fewer weapons on the ground. The Nets also have a number of long, athletic defenders to launch against the two, from Kevin Durant to Taurean Prince and Caris LeVert. The lineups with Tatum and Brown had a net score of over-9.6 in over 1,200 minutes last season for the Celtics, but they recorded a few minutes without Walker and / or Hayward beside them. It’s their show now, and it will be fun to see how Brad Stevens tries to put the pair in positions to succeed.

Mavericks plot: Luka magic

This shows Luka Doncic’s young superstar status that the NBA chose him and the Mavs to compete against LeBron James and the Lakers in the first slot on Christmas Day. He will be without the services of running mate Kristaps Porzingis for at least the next few weeks, but Doncic is a one-man attack on a six-foot pack. The Mavericks had the best attack in the league last season, and their rating dropped from 117 points for 100 possessions with Doncic on the court to 112.1 with him seated. Doncic was in the 90th percentile individually, averaging 1.351 points for possession in the midfield attack when you include passes, according to Synergy Sports Technology. In other words, get ready to have fun, no matter who is next to him.

Lakers plot: new blood

LeBron James and Anthony Davis are entering the season after a brief comeback after the Lakers title in October, which leaves plenty of opportunities for other players to perform. In the first game of the season, a loss to the Clippers, Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder – the top two in the vote for last season’s Sixth Man of the Year – each double-doubled. They seemed to have great chemistry in pick-and-roll, a positive sign for the Lakers at first.

Veterans Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews had a slightly more difficult start to their careers at Laker, losing the score in 23 minutes combined on Tuesday’s debut. Defense champions have many new pieces to integrate and the process begins now.

Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets – 10:30 pm ET (ESPN)

Clippers plot: In search of revenge

Yes, it’s just a regular season game, but human nature suggests that the Clippers will have a little extra energy for the Christmas Eve showdown with the Nuggets, who eliminated the Bubble Clippers devastatingly with three consecutive twists in the second time to wipe out a 3-1 deficit and advance to the Western Conference finals. The Clippers have a new coach at Tyronn Lue, but he was on the sideline due to collapse as an assistant and should have his team ready to make a statement. Paul George lost 33 points in the opening night’s victory over the Lakers, and he said he feels like a new man after a work break after fully recovering from shoulder surgery. LA has some new pieces to incorporate in Serge Ibaka, Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum, and with George and Kawhi Leonard running the show, this should be fun to end the night.

Plot of the Nuggets: Promotion for Porter

When Jerami Grant decided to sign with the Pistons, the door opened for the intriguing young striker Michael Porter Jr. to take up most of his minutes. One of the most dynamic offensive players in the national team, Porter is coming out of an All-Bubble performance and will have every opportunity to prove that he belongs to the Nuggets first team. The prospect of him playing alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray is absolutely terrifying in attack, but it remains to be seen whether the defense will be consistent enough to make it an effective lineup. Whether he ends up starting or leaving the bank, Porter can be in store for a holiday season while the Nuggets seek to take the next step in their rise to the league’s elite.