The NBA schedule is due to be released this week, according to multiple reports. But some sweet morsels of holiday delight have slipped through the cracks early, and per Shams Charania and others, the Christmas Day slate is set. Which games should top your wish list?
It is truly the dog days of the sports Summer when you’re looking forward to the release of scheduled contests that are taking place months from now. But if you’re a die-hard fan of the National Basketball Association, your social media notifications are once again set for the league’s insiders in anticipation of a bit of a relief from fewer sports on than usual (although the WNBA Playoffs are starting soon — check those out).
That’s because the NBA is rumored to be releasing their full schedule this week — and per Shams Charania of The Athletic and others, the Christmas Day slate has already been set. There is a solid mix of the old guard of this era of the NBA and some younger players ready to crash the holiday party. With the NFL directly competing with the NBA on its most important regular season day for the first time, the league is sure to be in hype overdrive for these five contests.
But you have to spend time with your family at SOME point over the holidays. So here’s the order in which you should be taking in the festivities — with No. 5 being the one to take your nap during, and No. 1 being the game you tell Grandma you’ll call her tomorrow so you don’t miss it.
5. Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks
Why does the NBA continue to insist on scheduling the Knickerbockers of New York for Christmas Day? Yes, the New York market must be appeased, and with the Brooklyn Nets looking likely to … be a bit of a wild card … the best bet for the NBA to get eyes from the country’s biggest city on the Christmas Day slate is through Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, and newbie to the Knicks, Jalen Brunson.
Meanwhile, James Harden seems driven to help the 76ers win a title, Joel Embiid is primed to have another MVP-caliber campaign, and the 76ers made moves this offseason to get deeper in terms of their rotation. While Philadelphia should be a fun watch, and a contender in the Eastern Conference, the presence of the Knicks makes this a sleeper. Unless a miracle occurs near 34th street, New York’s standard-bearing NBA franchise is unlikely to be good. Skip it.
4. Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets
The two-time reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets deserves to be on the league’s biggest regular season stage. And yet … this matchup falls a bit flat. It has little to do with the Suns, who should be a fascinating watch considering the epic collapse they sustained in last season’s playoffs and the uncomfortable return of Deandre Ayton to the squad via matched offer sheet in restricted free agency. If anything, Phoenix got MORE interesting this offseason.
It’s Denver, and the uncertainty surrounding so many key cogs, that put this game further down this list. Will Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. be fully healthy and ready to get Denver over the hump? If not, even with the brilliance of Jokic, this game has the makings of another dud. The Suns are too deep, too experienced, and will surely be driven by the failure of this past Spring. Denver is a tough place to play, but this should be a strong Phoenix showing.
Also, this is likely to be the late game for the league — or maybe the 2:30 ET (so 12:30 MT) start. Tough times for a game lacking traditional “star power” — sorry Jokic and Devin Booker fans.
3. Los Angeles Lakers at Dallas Mavericks
An argument could be made for swapping this and the Nuggets/Suns contest, but the historical context of this showdown puts it over the top on this ranking. We may not have many LeBron James Christmas Day games left, folks, and despite his polarizing presence, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. His drive to get the Lakers (and Anthony Davis) back to relevance will be something to behold — does he still have it in him, entering his 20th NBA season, to carry a team to the postseason?
We’re about to find out — and on this day that process will carry him through a potential heir-apparent in terms of elite big wings that can handle and score seemingly at ease. Luka Doncic is the favorite of many to be the league’s MVP this coming season — and for good reason. If Luka arrives at training camp in shape, there will be few that can match his elite levels of production. He can do whatever he wants on the floor … much like LeBron James once could …
Or still can? Only one way to find out!
2. Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics
It was a heck of a playoff series a few months ago when the Celtics knocked off the Bucks on their way to their eventual showing in the NBA Finals. Even though the best-of-seven occurred in the semifinals, most felt that the winner of this series would be the representative for the Eastern Conference. No offense to the Miami Heat, who had a terrific regular season and eventually pushed the Celtics to seven games themselves, but between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum’s squads there was enough firepower to see them as the eventual rep from the East.
The Celtics, as that Finals team, deserved to be playing on Christmas. Giannis’ star and the structure of the Bucks make them the logical opponent, Heat Culture and all. This game could be the best of the bunch on Christmas, as it pits two evenly matched teams with young, talented superstars and strong supporting casts against each other. It figured to be a playoff preview once again – one that will be well worth setting aside time for as part of your holiday planning.
1. Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors
Where do you need to be convinced?
You’ve got bulletin board material. A heated playoff series in which codes were broken, injuries occurred, and blood got so bad that Klay Thompson had Jaren Jackson Jr. on his mind minutes after overcoming remarkable adversity to once again become an NBA champion. You have arguably the hottest rising star in the NBA in Ja Morant trash-talking one of the loudest instigators in the league in Draymond Green. The series was hotly contested, only fully decided once Morant’s knee injury spelled the end of Memphis being a serious threat to the Warriors.
The Grizzlies give off strong “young lion” vibes, ready to test the “old lion” of Golden State. Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. (assuming he is healthy enough to play) are the new guard. Steph Curry, Klay and Draymond are the veterans tired of being pestered by the kids poking at them, believing they’re equals. The challenge has become more about amplifying the “rivalry” than actual bad blood at this stage, but the beef that started it all was very real. Who cares if there may be some WWE-esque storyline building at this stage?
Whenever these squads face off, it is must-see TV.