The NBA’s Christmas Day schedule is always a delicate balancing act, and this year’s slate is no different.
On one hand, Christmas Day is one of the few days where you can binge 10-plus hours of live NBA action. However, family obligations often prevent even the most hardcore basketball diehards from doing so.
If you must choose between which of the five games to watch, we’re here to help.
Based on entertainment value—the star power present, whether the teams play aesthetically pleasing styles, etc.—and the potential playoff ramifications, here’s a look at which Christmas Day games you should prioritize over the others.
5. Milwaukee Bucks vs. New York Knicks (12 p.m. ET)
There’s always a clunker on the Christmas Day schedule, and more often than not, it involves the New York Knicks.
This year is no different.
Unless Kristaps Porzingis returns from his torn ACL by Christmas, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are going to beat the Knicks’ brains in. Even Knicks fans know it.
Once again, the trash-ass Knicks will play a nationally televised game on Christmas, and once again, no one but me is permitted to watch. The game will have a Nielsen rating of “S” for Seth
— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) August 8, 2018
Sure, it’ll be fun to see New York youngsters like rookie Kevin Knox and second-year combo guard Frank Ntilikina in the national spotlight, but the odds of this game being competitive midway through the third quarter are slim to none. And with the Knicks all but assured of a sixth straight trip to the lottery, this matchup won’t carry much weight in terms of playoff seeding, either.
Frankly, the only reason to watch this game is to see how HAM the Greek Freak goes at Madison Square Garden. A 50-point triple-double isn’t out of the question. Otherwise, cram in your family time in the morning, skip the first game of the day and focus your attention on the later action.
It’s admittedly tough to get too excited about the Portland Trail Blazers fresh off their four-game sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans in the opening round of this past year’s playoffs. The Blazers appear to have run their course, as they didn’t demonstrably improve this offseason while the rest of the Western Conference engaged in an increasingly intense arms race.
However, pitting Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum against Utah Jazz sparkplug Donovan Mitchell in the final Christmas Day matchup should lead to some high-scoring fireworks.
It appears as though the Rookie of the Year runner-up already has this game circled on his calendar, too.
Speak it into existence 🤷🏾♂️ https://t.co/vBSknlNa0S
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) August 8, 2018
Down low, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert will go to war against Jusuf Nurkic, who needs to recapture his 2016-17 form for Portland to have a chance in the bloated West. Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio is always good for a few “how in the hell did he do that?” passes per game, too.
Both of these teams should be firmly in the mix of the West playoff picture, and every game will count in what promises to be a tightly contested race. Still, this matchup likely won’t hold as much national appeal as the other three on the slate.
This marks the fourth straight year that LeBron James will face off against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas, but it’ll be the first time he does so as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
James’ decision to head West represented a seismic shift for the NBA. The Eastern Conference is suddenly wide-open after his nearly decade-long reign of terror came to an end, while we’re now guaranteed not to have an NBA Finals rematch between James and the Warriors for the fifth straight season.
Golden State only got better this summer, as it signed four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins using its taxpayer mid-level exception. Though Boogie is coming off a torn Achilles tendon and may never reach his previous heights, even a 60 percent version of him would be an improvement over the motley of sorry centers the Warriors trotted out last season.
Speaking of a motley of sorry players, how about the Lakers’ free-agent signings after LeBron? It’s tough to imagine a more potentially caustic quartet than Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee—add Nick Young to the mix and that’s NBA Yahtzee!—especially given the Lakers’ lack of incumbent three-point threats. Bet against LeBron at your own peril, but it’s difficult to imagine him making his ninth straight trip to the NBA Finals with L.A.’s roster as currently assembled.
Showdowns between James and the Warriors will draw in the highest number of casual fans, which is why the NBA slotted this as its prime-time Christmas Day game. However, it likely won’t have major playoff seeding implications for the Warriors, and there’s a non-zero chance Golden State turns this into a rout by halftime. This’ll be fun, but there are better matchups earlier in the day.
2. Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics (5:30 p.m. ET)
After the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics engaged in an all-out war during the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs this past spring, they were a lock to appear in marquee matchups moving forward. Not only will they face off on opening night, according to Sam Amick of USA Today, but they also drew the late afternoon game on Christmas Day.
It doesn’t take much work to sell this game. On one side, you have the star-studded Celtics, who will likely roll out a starting five of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford. On the other, you have the Sixers, who tout two of the NBA’s best 25-and-under players in reigning Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Joel Embiid.
Further adding to the intrigue of this matchup is Markelle Fultz, who missed most of his rookie season due to a reported shoulder injury that turned his shooting stroke into an ungodly abomination. The Sixers traded with the Celtics to move up two spots for Fultz, while Boston snagged Tatum with Philly’s No. 3 pick and laughed its way to the bank.
These two franchises also have 50-plus years of history with one another, although they haven’t clashed much on Christmas Day. In fact, out of their 444 regular-season matchups to date, only one has come on Dec. 25, according to Micah Adams of Perform Group.
Celtics and 76ers have played 444 times in the reg season in a rivalry that dates back to 1949.
They've only played once previously on Christmas.
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) August 8, 2018
So, why isn’t this matchup the top dog on Christmas Day? For one, Sixers-Celtics fatigue could be an issue. Additionally, both teams figure to jostle for top-three seeds in the East, so this may not have major playoff implications either way. Oh, and it’s at 5:30 p.m. ET, so good luck getting out of Christmas dinner to watch it.
If nothing else, make sure you’re following along on Twitter, as Philly and Boston fans likely won’t be in the Christmas spirit during this game.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets (3 p.m. ET)
Four words: CARMELO ANTHONY REVENGE GAME.
With ‘Melo headed to the Houston Rockets after his failed one-year stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the matchup between these two Western Conference contenders becomes even more juicy. On the off chance he buys into a reduced role alongside his longtime buddy Chris Paul and reigning MVP James Harden, he could be the offensive difference-maker Houston needs to assert itself as Golden State’s top threat in the West.
Then again, losing Anthony may be addition by subtraction for Oklahoma City, too. With him no longer hijacking possessions on offense and putting forth minimal effort on defense, the Thunder could be substantially better. Between getting Andre Roberson back from a torn patellar tendon, subbing in Patrick Patterson and Jerami Grant for Anthony and adding Nerlens Noel as a backup center, the Thunder’s defense should be downright nasty this season regardless.
It isn’t as though this matchup doesn’t feature plenty of star power, either. It’ll contain the two most recent MVPs in Harden and Russell Westbrook, the Point God Chris Paul and Playoff P himself, Paul George. Throw in microwave scorers Eric Gordon and Dennis Schroder, and this should be an entertaining slugfest on both ends of the court.
Unlike Sixers-Celtics, the playoff implications in this one could be massive, too. Whereas Houston ran away with the West’s best record last season, it may fall back toward the pack this go-round. Avoiding the Warriors’ side of the playoff bracket will be paramount to any team’s chances of making it to the Western Conference Finals, which likely makes the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds invaluable.
At 3 p.m. ET, you should be able to sneak away from family for a few hours before dinner to watch this one. It’ll be worth your while.