The NBA’s schedule for the first half of the season should be public in the next couple of days — the season does start in three weeks — but we have a glimpse at the likely Christmas Day games.
This from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski — and remember his employer broadcasts a couple of these games, there’s no way he leaks this without some knowledge he will not get in trouble with his bosses for doing so:
ESPN Sources: Tentative Christmas Day Schedule pic.twitter.com/MId025HKvB
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 2, 2020
There are a few top teams — Philadelphia and Houston come to mind — who may feel left out and slighted, but this is about the league looking to get its biggest stars on one of its biggest stages. (James Harden is as big a star as the league has, but did the NBA want to bet he would still be on the Rockets on Christmas Day?)
Let’s look at the games:
NEW ORLEANS at MIAMI
Traditionally the prime-time Christmas Day game is a rematch of the previous year’s Finals, but that was never likely with the league trying to limit travel and the Lakers and Heat on different coasts. Instead, it’s Jimmy Butler and crew against Zion Williamson and New Orleans — much like the NBA’s bubble, there was no way Christmas Day games were happening without Zion. He is too big a draw. This may seem like a letdown for the Heat, but my guess is the players are good with being home and done early with work on Christmas.
GOLDEN STATE at MILWAUKEE
Did not expect this one, it feels a little “we have to get these stars on the floor” so they are thrown together. The Warriors are not the same team without Klay Thompson (out for the season with a torn Achilles), but they still have Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and the No. 2 pick James Wiseman. The Bucks should again be at the top of the East with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton joined by Jrue Holiday. It’s a star-studded matchup, if not a traditional one, and one where the Bucks defense could overwhelm the Warriors.
BROOKLYN at BOSTON
Kyrie Irving heads back to Boston. These two teams expect to be at the top of the East (along with the Bucks and Heat from the day’s first two games), and it’s an interesting showdown. Kevin Durant and Irving are healthy and with a strong core behind them — Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris — the Nets are as good as anyone on paper. Boston brings budding superstar Jayson Tatum (he just got paid like one), Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, but they will be without Kemba Walker for this showdown.
DALLAS at LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Luka Doncic vs. LeBron James. Kristaps Porzingis vs. Anthony Davis. The fastest-rising team in the West is taking on the defending champions. This is what a marquee Christmas Day showdown should look like. One could argue that the Clippers and Nuggets are bigger threats to the Lakers in the West (and one would be right about that), but this is the best matchup for ratings — a just L.A. showdown is too regional, and the Nuggets are not the draw that Luka is. Besides, it sets up the final game of the night…
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS at DENVER
Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the talented-on-paper Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in last year’s playoffs, as Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic blossomed and showed they are both gritty and one of the best duos in the league. The Clippers would like a little revenge. This is a fantastic Christmas Day showdown and the game on the slate with the most bad blood between the teams. This should get a little chippy, just like we all do by the end of Christmas Day after a full day of spending “quality time” with our families. Great choice by the league to schedule this one last.