By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Though this NBA season is starting later than usual, there really is no better time to get re-acquainted with the league than on Christmas Day, the day when the NBA’s stage shines brightest outside of the postseason.
Many moves have been made, switching talent about and helping distill power across the Association’s two conferences, though from the little bit of ball we’ve seen thus far it seems fair to say that much of the main focus of the league will remain in Los Angeles, with the champion Lakers trying to fend off the still-hungry Clippers.
And on the East side of things, a new power in Brooklyn has made a big first impression while both Milwaukee, secure in its standing with the reigning MVP, and talent-laden Boston look willing to battle to keep their spots as favorites.
And lets not forget the other NBA finalist in the Heat and several of the league’s freshest young stars — Zion Williamson, Luka Doncic, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokić and more — all will be on display for what should be an ideal slate of Christmas Day showdowns.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Miami Heat (12 p.m. ET, ESPN) – The Pelicans come back from a rough run in the bubble with a new head coach in Stan Van Gundy and a healthy Zion Williamson. As the team continues forward through life without Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, this young team still has some quality pieces to grow with long term.
The Heat are coming off an NBA Finals appearance and look forward to bouncing back. The young core built behind their fearless leader in Jimmy Butler bring extra excitement behind what can be a true foundational success moving forward. Keys to watch for in this game include the how effective is Lonzo Ball’s shooting and the Williamson-Bam Adebayo match-up.
If Ball can continue to shoot the ball effectively from the field, the higher the chance the Pelicans can win their games. In the case for Williamson vs. Adebayo, both of their games leave an impact on both ends of the floor. The winner of that match-up can make a huge difference in the outcome of the game.
Golden State Warriors vs. Milwaukee Bucks (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC) – The Warriors look to bring holiday cheer via their leader Stephen Curry. Anything will likely improve on the team’s last-place finish from last year, which was largely due to the injuries of their top three players in Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Curry. With Thompson out again this year, the Warriors are in a real fight to get back to the dynasty success that gave them three championships in five years.
Milwaukee is feeling fine after locking in their superstar, Giannis Antetomkoumpo, to a five-year supermax extension, creating long-term stability in building with one of the game’s most unique talents. The Bucks made big moves as of late, like getting Jrue Holiday from the Pelicans, but was their moves enough to keep them afloat in an increasingly challenging East? In this game, I look forward to seeing how Curry comes out, giving the Christmas spark we are accustomed to see him give.
From the Bucks perspective, we know Antetomkoumpo will get his stats, but who will be the next guy to step up? Kris Middleton is the typical sidekick to Giannis, but he has issues in high-profile games at times. Let’s see if the emerging all-star is able to come through during this Christmas showcase.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics (5 p.m. ET, ABC) – The Nets-Celtics rivalry looks to heat up again with the arrival of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn against Irving’s old team and the rising stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who’s development he kind of impeded for a season.
The key to this game is the matchups between Marcus Smart and Irving and the Tatum/Brown combination vs. Durant. Fireworks will be all over the game, as Irving and Durant are arguably two of the top-five talented and skilled players in the league and have the ability to score at anytime anywhere on the court. Tatum and Brown are also emerging as top scorers in the league as well. But can the Celtics defense slow down Brooklyn’s Big Two offensively and force the other players to beat them?
I expect Tatum and Brown to rise up to the challenge, and even though Irving and Durant can work their magic offensively, Tatum, Brown and the Celtics will have the be able to defend at a high level to slow down the Nets and keep the game close.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN) – The defending champs look to bounce back on the national stage after getting annihilated by their crosstown rivals on opening night. LeBron James knows how to shine on the biggest stages, and it appears that the grooming of his No. 2, Chicago native Anthony Davis, is paying off in its biggest ways. Can AD, however, show up on another big stage like this Christmas?
For the Mavericks, their franchise prodigy Luka Doncic is the future of the league and many people’s choice for MVP this season. Luka’s presence in what should be the most watched game of the day solidifies his worth within the league both today and projected forward. Can he live up to the hype and put on a performance that can be one for the ages, or at least one that will out-do the league’s reigning King?
This will be a statement game for the Mavericks, one that could be used to show they are ready to compete and beat the best of the best. I will be paying attention to see if they will be able to seal the deal.
LA Clippers vs Denver Nuggets (10:30 p.m. ET) – The Clippers-Nuggets saga reached new heights in their seven-game playoff battle in the bubble. As it continues on this Christmas Day showdown expect quite a bit to be different from the bubble experience, where the Clippers gave up a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets, allowing Denver to make a rare Western Conference Finals appearance.
Looking to improve on their success last season, Denver should want to make a big statement win on Christmas Day to show that the bubble success wasn’t a fluke. This will be a perfect time to see how Jamal Murray responds under the league’s brightest lights and if his performance can be the leaping board to get him toward an elusive all-star bid.
The revamped Clippers will be seeking revenge on just about everyone behind the leadership of new head coach Ty Lue. Paul George showed up big against the Lakers in their win on opening night, but he still has demons haunting him from his rough play against the Nuggets in the bubble series.
I will be looking for PG-13 to make a big statement against this Nuggets team and show that this new George is not the one to play with moving forward in the Western Conference this season.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media