In the dry months between the end of NBA free agency and the beginning of the regular season, one of the biggest pick-me-ups for the world’s basketball faithful is the announcement of the Christmas Day games. At a time where we spend time with the people we love most, it never hurts to have some fantastic basketball to watch, especially if sports are a shared passion throughout your family. The league capitalizes on this sentiment by putting together several must-see matchups and sprinkling them throughout the afternoon and evening. In fact, there’s probably no single day where better basketball can be enjoyed than Christmas.
This season, the NBA has once again released said matchups far in advance so we can obsess over them tirelessly until the big day arrives. LeBron versus the Warriors is officially no more, but each game brings its own sense of intrigue and gravity that more than make up for that particular matchup’s omission. Today, we will be rating each matchup on a scale from 1-5, with 5 being must-watch television and 1 meaning you’d have a better time drinking the egg nog you saved from last year than sitting through it. Without further delay, let’s get into it.
Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers- 5/5
Does it get any better than this? The two Staples Center rivals battling it out for supremacy over the city of Los Angeles, with reputations galore on the line. One has historical supremacy and a flashier superstar duo, but the other is the preseason favorite to win it all. Lakers vs. Clippers is a battle of philosophies, wills, and perhaps a preview of the Western Conference Finals. With both franchises adding superstar players in the offseason, their 4 matchups throughout the regular season will be one of the measuring sticks of who truly won the summer. The 4 headliners alone combine for 19 All-NBA First Team appearances, and the supporting casts around them are full of outspoken fan-favorites.
The plethora of storylines surrounding the rivalry only add fuel to the fire. Will the Lakers get the last laugh against Kawhi Leonard? Will Paul George show he was right for picking the Clippers? Can LeBron James and Anthony Davis restore Lakers dominance, or will the sound system and supporting cast of the Clippers prevail? The answers to these questions will be just one of the many reasons to tune in to what could be the league’s best matchup all season long.
New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets- 4/5
In a battle between 2 of the most promising young teams in basketball, the newly formed Pelicans visit the Mile High City to face off with the already cemented Nuggets. New Orleans may seem like an odd choice for a day usually reserved for the league’s most elite contenders, but this is clearly an attempt to introduce No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson to the public loudly and quickly. After all, New Orleans also plays on Opening Day. It’s difficult to blame the league for wanting to capitalize on the fame of their new star, and the team matchup itself provides a contrast of philosophy. The Nuggets built their team methodically through the draft, slowly creeping up the standings before leaping up the Western conference to claim the #2 seed last season. The Pelicans spent far too long failing to build around Anthony Davis, and their new young core provides a rare NBA second chance. Both teams go into this season with doubts surrounding them. Many believe the Pelicans aren’t a playoff team, or that Williamson is receiving too much praise for someone yet to play an NBA game. As for Denver, there are serious questions as to whether or not they can still hang with the West elites, particularly given their offseason complacency.
This may not be the battle of titans represented by some other Christmas matchups, but there’s still plenty of reason to watch. These teams could be dominating the league for years to come, so it’s best we familiarize ourselves with the idea of them playing on the league’s biggest regular season stage.
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors- 5/5
From a pure storyline and history perspective, this may very well be the most interesting matchup of the season. The Rockets and Warriors have met in both of the last 2 postseasons, with Golden State winning both matchups. However, most of the teams’ disdain for each other comes from their 2018 Western Conference Finals matchup, where the Warriors erased a 3-2 deficit after Rockets PG Chris Paul went down. Golden State swept the Cavaliers in the Finals, creating an underlying sense that if Paul had been completely healthy, it would’ve been Houston hoiting the Larry O’Brien trophy. 2 seasons later, both teams are at a crossroads. The Warriors lost Kevin Durant to free agency and Klay Thompson to an ACL tear, leaving them more vulnerable than ever before. The Rockets traded for Russell Westbrook from Oklahoma City, a high-risk, high-reward move that makes their season unpredictable.
The rivalry between these two teams has been one of the most exciting in the NBA over the last couple years, and the opportunity to see them face off on Christmas is a true joy. Each franchise may feature some new faces, but the mutual, insatiable desire to bury the opposing side remains unchanged.
Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors- 3.5/5
The fact that this matchup is rated as the worst among the Christmas Day contests truly speaks to how elite this year’s slate is. The Raptors, the defending NBA champions, would likely be scheduled for a rematch with the Warriors had both teams not lost their star Small Forwards. Instead, Toronto goes into next season as an underdog; as a group of players who were all considered supporting pieces to Leonard, but are now thrust into the spotlight. The loss of Danny Green doesn’t help either, but the Raptors should still be an East playoff team next season, and they have the potential to surprise a lot of doubters.. The Boston Celtics are also experiencing their fair share of turnover after losing both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford in the span of a couple hours. Adding Kemba Walker certainly helps ease the pain, but it will certainly be a season of change in Boston.
This rivalry isn’t on the level of Rockets-Warriors, but it still represents two teams in similar situations attempting to adapt to life without their star. The Raptors are mostly comprised of scrappy veterans who are used to teams constantly changing, but there’s young talent in Boston that doesn’t know what it’s like to be one of the main catalysts for the success of an NBA franchise. This could even be a playoff preview, most likely 5 vs. 4 or 3 vs. 6 matchup. Boston and Toronto may not be the East powerhouses they used to, but that won’t stop them from giving us a great show on Christmas Day.
Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers- 5/5
In what can only be described as the Eastern version of Lakers vs. Clippers, Bucks vs. 76ers has all the makings of not only a great Christmas game, but a tense conflict that we could see repeated for years to come. With Leonard out of Toronto, the East will likely have a new king next season, and both teams have a claim to the throne. The Bucks led the eventual champion Raptors 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals before collapsing, but they showed the skill and power necessary to make the Finals. The 76ers pushed Kawhi and Co. to 7 games, where they came a couple bounces and an overtime period away from topping the Raps on their home court. In the offseason both teams regressed in talent level slightly, meaning they’re on pretty equal footing going into next year. There are few scenarios that result in these two teams not meeting in the ECF, and their Christmas game will give us a small sample size as to what that series could potentially look like.
The franchise players for both teams also have drastically different personalities, bringing another layer of intrigue to the matchup. Joel Embiid of Philadelphia is perhaps the most flamboyant character in sports, as his on and off-court bubbliness has garnered him thousands of fans and social media followers. Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee is much more reserved, but he’s still just as confident in his own abilities as Embiid. Both are young, talented, and on a collision course to compete for Eastern supremacy. The conference may be in an unfamiliar position, but that just allows for an unfamiliar team like the Bucks or 76ers to take the crown.