For every major American holiday, there’s a sport planting its flag. For Thanksgiving, we have football. The Fourth of July is baseball territory. And Christmas belongs completely to basketball. Whatever your family’s preference may be, you’ve likely caught a glimpse of one of these marquee games at a holiday gathering. For some, it’s background noise for prepping the turkey. For others, it’s an intensive three hour-plus ritual, orchestrated to the minute.
As we enter 2020’s home stretch and wrap ourselves in the holiday season, sports are once again playing an indispensable role in reconnecting millions with the aesthetics and rituals of holidays that could have easily been otherwise forgotten.
Football did this for me on Thanksgiving day, and I fully expect basketball to do the same. That’s why I want to jump the gun a bit and take an early look at the NBA’s slate of games scheduled for Christmas Day. Basketball on Christmas is one of my favorite happenings in sports. It has always been less about playoff implications and win percentage, and more about the drama and storylines of a game. The NBA didn’t skimp in this department at all, so my breakdowns of these games will be all about the potential storylines that will define them.
Pelicans at Heat
Probably the most out-of-pocket matchup of the day, and potentially the most lopsided. The Heat proved last season in the bubble that they’re a finals-caliber team, while the Pelicans raised more questions than answers about their future. This game is the NBA setting the stage for some individual players to shine in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram all have opportunities to make a statement one way or another and announce their individual presence as a force in the NBA’s 2021 landscape. Williamson in particular will draw some extra intrigue in his second year, as an electrifying young talent and nucleus to the Pelicans rebuild.
Warriors at Bucks
This matchup brings with it a surprising sense of urgency for both teams. The Bucks are determined to show Giannis Antetokounmpo they can win him a ring as the Greek superstar looks toward free agency. The addition of the perennially underrated Jrue Holiday could do just that, and we could get some real hints at his impact in this matchup. On the other side of the ball, Golden State is determined to prove it is still a finals-caliber team, despite the devastating loss of Klay Thompson. For the Warriors, beating the Bucks on this stage could put the NBA on notice in a big way.
Nets at Celtics
Get the popcorn. Two Eastern Conference powerhouses will clash in what’s sure to be a high-intensity outpouring of electric offensive performances. The Celtics have been the stalwarts in recent years, having fallen just short of the finals on several occasions. The Nets are the NBA’s new hotness, boasting a returning Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving who will look to put Brooklyn on the map in a big way. If both players can put on a show against a proven contender like Boston, the Eastern Conference could be headed for a big shakeup. Oh, and don’t forget Irving’s rocky history with Boston. This should be a fun revenge game for both sides.
Mavericks at Lakers
The Mavericks take on the defending champion Lakers, but this game is once again nothing about the teams themselves. It’s about the two stars, Luka Dončić and LeBron James. Dončić has drawn comparisons to James through his knack for shattering records in his first and second seasons. Beating James on a big stage could signify a passing of the torch of sorts, and alert the NBA to a new Western Conference powerhouse.
Clippers at Nuggets
A gritty rematch from the 2020 playoffs closes out the Christmas slate. The Nuggets put on a stunning display in the bubble as they shocked the Clippers with a comeback from a 3–1 deficit. Los Angeles will be looking for revenge, while Denver will want to prove its run to the Western Conference Finals was no fluke. This game could answer some lingering roster questions too. Can the Clippers fix their chemistry issues? And can Jamal Murray follow up that performance in the bubble?
Man, I love the NBA’s schedule-making. Whether you’re a basketball fan, sports fan or simply looking for an escape from any holiday or COVID-19-induced stress, the NBA just sent everyone a pretty spectacular early Christmas present. I can’t wait to open it.