As tradition, the NBA has several marquee matchups lined up for its annual Christmas Day showcase. This season will differ from previous years, as the season will have officially tipped-off just two days prior.
The Christmas Day slate features five matchups, all of which should be entertaining. Despite the fact there won’t be fans in attendance due to COVID-19, the games will still be exciting while viewers tune-in from home.
Here are things to watch for in each of the holiday matchups. All games are in Eastern Time.
New Orleans Pelicans @ Miami Heat (12:00 PM ESPN)
Christmas Day begins with a game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.
New Orleans has playoff aspirations heading into the season, as they re-shaped their roster this offseason after trading Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. New additions of Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams and others will look to fit around the core of Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram in head coach Stan Van Gundy’s first season with the Pelicans.
The Heat have last season’s core intact, and are looking to make another deep run in the postseason. Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson are back, along with Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, who both signed extensions in the offseason. Miami’s defense, shooting and depth make them poised to dominate the Southeast Division and earn a top-four seed for the playoffs.
In this game, look for the lineups New Orleans goes with, as the team’s lack of shooting has come into question. Miami’s returning stars should mean a decisive Heat win to start off Christmas Day.
Golden State Warriors @ Milwaukee Bucks (2:30 PM ABC)
In the day’s second game, Steph Curry and the Warriors will face Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Milwaukee Bucks.
Sadly, Golden State will be without Klay Thompson for a second straight season due to an achilles tear that occurred shortly before the season started. Curry will be asked to carry a heavy load this year, as Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre may not be able to reproduce Thompson’s impact.
The Bucks have a lot of pressure on them this season. Their offseason was a success, as Antetokounmpo agreed to a five-year supermax contract following the acquisition of Jrue Holiday. It’s time for Milwaukee to finally meet their NBA Finals expectations. The team’s bench may have downgraded this offseason, but a trio of Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Khris Middleton will make the Bucks a staunch defensive team that can also put up points.
Without Thompson, the Warriors just aren’t a formidable opponent for the best teams in the league. Expect a blowout similar to the one Brooklyn dished out against Golden State on opening night.
Brooklyn Nets @ Boston Celtics (5:00 PM ABC)
The Nets and the Celtics will face-off in the third Christmas Day game, putting two Atlantic Division heavyweights against each other. Fans in attendance would have made this game extra exciting, as it would be Kyrie Irving‘s first game back in Boston.
If everyone can stay healthy, Brooklyn is without a doubt a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. So far, Kevin Durant appears to be back to his regular self following his torn achilles injury. With a proven co-star in Kyrie Irving, and with a supporting cast of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and others, the Nets should have the league’s top offense this season.
The Celtics have high expectations this season as well, coming off their third Conference Finals appearance in the last four years. Despite losing Gordon Hayward in free agency, and not having Kemba Walker healthy to start the season, Boston’s young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will led the team to being effective on both ends of the court.
This game will could be close, but expect Brooklyn’s depth to carry them to the win. Still, these two teams could see each other in the postseason, and could make for many more competitive games when Walker returns.
Dallas Mavericks @ Los Angeles Lakers (8:00 PM ABC)
The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers will host the Dallas Mavericks in the holiday schedule’s primetime matchup.
Luka Doncic is the odds-on favorite to win the MVP award this season, and Dallas should be one of the league’s best offensive teams behind the third-year star. If Kristaps Porzingis can stay healthy, the Mavericks have an elite one-two punch on offense. If the supporting cast, including the defensive-minded new addition Josh Richardson, can play well enough, Dallas will be a tough opponent for anyone in the postseason.
The Lakers won the championship in the Orlando bubble, and then improved their roster over the shortened offseason. They are the clear favorites to win the 2021 NBA Championship. With LeBron James showing little to no signs of aging and Anthony Davis playing at an MVP level, the Lakers will be hard to beat. A supporting cast of Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews and others give L.A. an upgraded roster compared to last season.
The Lakers-Mavericks matchup will be one of Christmas Day’s best. Given Dallas’ shaky interior defense without Porzingis, Davis could put up big numbers and lead Los Angeles to a win.
Los Angeles Clippers @ Denver Nuggets (10:30 PM ESPN)
The NBA’s Christmas Day slate will end with a rematch of the 2020 Western Conference Semifinals, where the Denver Nuggets came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers re-tooled this offseason, adding veteran big Serge Ibaka and shooting guard Luke Kennard, a player with a lot of upside. Under new coach Ty Lue, the Clippers’ superstar core of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will have another crack at a deep playoff run in a new system. However, the pressure is mounting for that to happen after last season’s disappointing finish.
Denver lost a few notable players in the offseason, but overall will still be one of the Western Conference’s top teams this season. Jamal Murray took a leap in the bubble that, if continued, raises the ceiling for the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic, the league’s most dynamic big man, makes those around him better, and with Murray as the main perimeter scoring threat, the team is incredibly well-rounded given their depth.
The final Christmas Day game should be a very close one. Denver’s secondary scoring options, including Michael Porter Jr., should play a key role in both this game and the rest of the season. The Clippers will have had plenty of time to study their playoff defeat, and should eke out a narrow win over the Nuggets.
Featured image credited to Dallas News.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.