Looking Ahead at This Year's NBA Christmas Day Slate
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
There's nothing like waking up on Christmas morning, drinking some hot chocolate, opening presents, and watching NBA basketball. This season, the league has five games starting at noon that will not fail to impress. In this article, I will be looking at each matchup and give my prediction for who will emerge victorious.
Pelicans vs. Heat (12:00 PM)
Up first, the electric Pelicans will spar with last year's runner-up, the Miami Heat. New Orleans' 2019 first overall selection Zion Williamson is more than ready to show the league what he can do without a minutes restriction. He was stellar in the preseason, putting up 26 and 31 points in his first two games. Fellow Duke alum Brandon Ingram will also be looking to improve upon last year's breakout season.
Besides Jae Crowder, the Miami Heat were able to keep their Finals core intact, headlined by the hard-nosed Jimmy Butler. They should get meaningful production from Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, their pair of human flamethrowers. During the preseason, undrafted guard Max Strus served as yet another example of the Heat's ability to unearth hidden gems.
The Pelicans and head coach Stan Van Gundy will use a fast tempo right out of the gate. I believe that New Orleans will topple the Heat in their second game of the season.
Warriors vs. Bucks (2:30 PM)
This year will serve as Steph Curry's revenge tour, and he's taking names. Fully healed from a broken hand, Curry is prepared to put the league back on notice, one 30-foot shot at a time. Although Golden State lost Klay Thompson to a torn Achilles, they should still be vying for a playoff appearance.
The Bucks will be looking to make a statement win early this season, especially after their shocking exit in the second round of last season's playoffs. With Giannis Antetokounmpo fresh off signing the largest contract extension, he will lead the new-look Milwaukee roster at home.
Antetokounmpo will bully the Warriors frontcourt without much resistance; Draymond Green is five inches shorter and four years older. Steph Curry can't win a game by himself, so the Bucks will handily win this matchup.
Nets vs. Celtics (5:00 PM)
Former Celtic Kyrie Irving burned sage around TD Garden before their preseason matchup last Friday night. He and the Nets then proceeded to trounce Boston by 24 points, blowing the lead out to almost 40 at one point. This will likely be the story for Brooklyn this year; some nights, Irving and Kevin Durant will look unstoppable, both together and individually.
Though the Celtics took the brunt of Friday night's game, their core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will look to make it closer come Christmas evening. It needs to be underscored that starting point guard Kemba Walker will be out for an unspecified time after receiving a stem cell injection in his left knee in October. The Celtics point guard rotation will likely function as a blend of Jeff Teague, rookie Payton Pritchard, and Marcus Smart.
Without a viable point guard to match up against Kyrie, Brooklyn has a profound advantage on Christmas Day. The Nets will take advantage of the hopeful Celtics' injury woes.
Mavericks vs. Lakers (8:00 PM)
There's a good chance that at 22 years old, Luka Dončić will bring home his first MVP award. He's just that transcendent of a basketball talent. Nonetheless, his star teammate Kristaps Porzingis is still out with a torn meniscus suffered in the NBA bubble. Without the 7-foot-3 center, who will pick up the slack and assume secondary offensive responsibilities? Josh Richardson is coming off a down season in Philadelphia, and Tim Hardaway Jr. could come back down to earth this year.
LeBron James and the Lakers have had just 72 days to recover after their Finals victory on October 11. While there will be a significant amount of load management in place for James and Anthony Davis, the dynamic duo is ready to embark on their journey to go back-to-back. This includes LeBron showing Luka who's still the king of the league, something he'll be motivated to accomplish on Friday night.
From LeBron to Talen Horton-Tucker, Los Angeles is arguably the deepest team in the league. The Lakers' stingy defense will be too much for the Mavericks to overcome.
Clippers vs. Nuggets (10:30 PM)
The final Christmas game this year very well could be the best one, with the Clippers and Nuggets dueling in a rematch from the playoff bubble. The Clippers were evidently lacking in chemistry last season, and locker room tensions were exposed after they were eliminated at the hands of Denver. This year, they'll seek to utilize Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – both well into their primes – to their fullest potential.
Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee left Denver in free agency, leaving a large gap in their frontcourt behind Nikola Jokić. However, they have an offensive dynamo in Michael Porter Jr., who will look to secure a spot in the Nuggets' starting lineup for years to come. The 22-year-old is their X-factor this season; if he can invest more effort in defense, the sky's the limit for the former lottery pick.
Paul George will have a big game after coming up short during last season's playoffs. The revamped Clippers will exact revenge on the Nuggets to wrap up this year's Christmas Day slate.