NBA on Christmas Day: Previews, where to watch five high-profile games


As it has done with so very many things, the pandemic has taken a little shine off the NBA showcase slate of Christmas Day games.

The unofficial start of the NBA season — at least when more casual fans start to pay attention — is still set with high-profile games, including a showdown of the two best teams in the NBA so far this season. However, some of the game’s biggest stars — Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trae Young, Luka Doncic and more — will likely be sidelined because of COVID health-and-safety protocols.

It’s still an impressive day of NBA matchups. Here is a preview of every game, plus when and where to watch. All times are Eastern. If you’re looking to stream the games, they are all on ESPN3/ESPN app.


Trae Young took over the Reggie Miller honorary title of “Most Hated Man in Madison Square Garden” — and the “f*** Trae Young” chants that came with it — after not just outplaying the Knicks last postseason, but also showboating a little, taking a bow, and rubbing salt in the wounds of Knicks fans as he did it.

This was set to be his glorious return, but he — along with Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, and Lou Williams — is out due to health and safety protocols. Add to that key Hawks’ players such as De'Andre Hunter are out and Cam Redish is questionable due to injury.

That opens the door for the Knicks, who have their own COVID (Kevin Knox, Immanuel Quickley) and injury (Derrick Rose) issues. Kemba Walker has stepped up with big performances in recent games — he scored 44 on Thursday — and could put on a show against a depleted Hawks defense, but New York keeps losing because it can’t get stops, plus both Julius Randle and Evan Fournier have not lived up to their new contracts. Both the Hawks and Knicks are below .500 and off to disappointing starts this season, both are fighting to get solidly into the play-in seedings then think playoffs, and in that setting this becomes the kind of game both teams need to win.


As of this writing, it’s not clear if Giannis Antetokounmpo will be cleared from health and safety protocols to play on Christmas (center Bobby Portis went into protocols on the same day, Dec. 16, and both could test out early with a couple of negative tests in 24 hours). However, we know that other Bucks starters will not play: Brook Lopez (back), and Donte DiVincenzo (health and safety protocols). The Bucks are shorthanded and are leaning into Olympian Khris Middleton running the offense and big minutes from DeMarcus Cousins at center. It’s a makeshift lineup, but the Bucks have won two in a row.

The Celtics have both of their biggest stars — Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — healthy, but that has not led to consistent play from Boston this season. Boston’s defense has been alright, but the offense is 17th ranked in the league for the season, 22nd over their last six games, and they quickly become a predictable isolation team too easily. That said, the Celtics have gotten up for the game and beaten the Bucks in two previous meetings this season.


This is the best game of the day: The two best teams in the NBA this season, two legitimate title contenders, and the biggest names are playing (although the Warriors will be without Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole due to COVID protocols, plus Klay Thompson‘s return will be next month, not on Christmas as hoped).

Stephen Curry has been playing at an MVP level this season: 27.7 points a game, 40.2% shooting from 3, 5.9 assists a game. He had been in a bit of a slump in the wake of breaking Ray Allen’s all-time NBA 3-pointer record, but he broke out of it Thursday night with 46 points. Plus, Curry has a history of big Christmas Day games.

While Curry grabs the headlines, the Warriors defense makes them a title threat — it’s the best defense in the NBA this season. Draymond Green has been brilliant and is quarterbacking a defense that gets back in transition, makes quick rotations, and just makes plays. That defense has been good, not great the past couple of weeks, due to COVID and injuries.

And that defense will be tested by the best team in the NBA this season.

Phoenix has its stars — Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, and don’t sleep on Mikal Bridges, who has performed at an All-Defensive team level this season — but watch them play, and it is beautiful team basketball. This versatile roster can beat you from three or pound a team inside. Tuesday night, when the Lakers went small with LeBron at center lineups trying to play Ayton off the court, he’s mobile and good enough to hold his own defensively on the perimeter and then make L.A. pay on offense. The Suns are also always balanced on the court — the floor is spread with shooters, and that positioning means they get back on defense and take away easy buckets. Call it culture or system or whatever coachspeak word you want, Monty Williams has the Suns dialed in.

“I think a big part of it comes down to our team culture, how guys step into situations and we remain ourselves,” Cameron Johnson said. “You can see our identity on the court when we have everybody. It’s a group of guys that likes playing together and we play for each other.”

Or, you can just use acting Lakers’ coach David Fizdale’s postgame breakdown of the Suns: “They’re kicking ass.”


When the schedule was released, we thought this was the Finals preview game on Christmas Day.

Now… well, the Nets look like they could make the Finals, but that team will look nothing like this team. And the Lakers are a below .500 mess.

A lot of star power for this game is sidelined. For the Nets: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are both in health and safety protocols and will not play, but the Nets are just coming out of having 10 guys in protocol and having three straight games postponed because of not having enough players. LaMarcus Aldridge is in protocols, Joe Harris is out following ankle surgery. The Lakers are without Anthony Davis due to a sprained knee, plus are without role players Trevor Ariza, Malik Monk, Austin Reaves and Avery Bradley due to protocols.

The Lakers still have LeBron James — he turns 37 next week and is still playing at an All-NBA level of late and carrying the Lakers, averaging 26.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists a game. If LeBron scores 12 points in this game, he passes Kobe Bryant for the most points scored on Christmas Day in NBA history.

It’s this simple with the Lakers: When LeBron is on the court they play teams basically even (+0.7 net rating), when he sits they get outscored (-4.7 rating). Against the Suns Tuesday, Los Angeles played Phoenix even in LeBron’s 34 minutes, but they got outscored in the 14 minutes he sat by 18. Los Angeles has Russell Westbrook, and he is racking up numbers and is a threat the nights his jumper falls, but he has not carried the load to get LeBron more rest.

Without Davis, the Lakers’ defense is a mess.

Brooklyn will have James Harden back for this game, the lone player from their “big 3” who can play right now. He’s had a slow start to the season and his conditioning — coming from an offseason of hamstring rehab — but was showing signs before getting sidelined with a positive COVID test. In this game, he can be full-on vintage Harden with the ball in his hands, Patty Mills is the only other playmaker on the active roster.

Brooklyn, for all the drama — Harden’s start, Irving thinking he’s making a statement or whatever — is 21-9 and has the best record in the East. Durant has played at an MVP level and carried this team for stretches. The Nets, when primarily healthy, have looked like legitimate title contenders. Which is a lot more than the Lakers can say. However, what that means for Christmas Day is very hard to say.


No Luka Doncic in this one, he is in health and safety protocols. The Mavericks also will be without Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber, and Reggie Bullock from their rotation due to protocols.

Utah deserves this moment in the spotlight: 22-9 record, the best offense in the NBA, sixth-best defense, Donovan Mitchell is averaging 25.1 points a game and is carving up defenses, and inside Rudy Gobert is playing the best basketball of his career — 15.5 points, 15.1 rebounds, and Defensive Player of the Year level defense in the paint again.

While the Suns and Warriors have been the two best teams in the NBA this season, the Jazz are knocking on that door and should be seen as contenders. It’s easy to dismiss them after a Kawhi-less Clippers team beat them in the playoffs going small, but that Jazz team was not healthy (no Mike Conley, while Mitchell was playing on basically one leg) and with the addition of Rudy Gay and others, they will not be easily beaten going small now. This Jazz team has a chance to be last year’s Bucks, finally putting it all together in the playoffs and proving the doubters wrong.

A fully healthy Mavericks team would be an interesting test for the Jazz. This Jalen Brunson-led Mavs squad (and Brunson is having the kind of season that will get him PAID next summer) is not much of a threat if the Jazz didn’t drink too much egg nog before the game.

PBT Podcast: Kings a playoff threat? Plus some summer free agent talk.


The last time the Sacramento Kings were in the playoffs, there was a Bush in the White House and Pixar released the first “Cars” movie.

They are back with a vengeance this season, going into the playoffs with a top-three seed and an elite offense, but how far can they go once in there? Maybe a long ways if things break right, and Corey Robinson and Kurt Helin of NBC Sports get into all of that.

They discuss the passing of Knicks legend Willis Reed, then Corey’s Jukebox compares Jayson Tatum to Eddie VanHalen’s “Eruption.”

Finally, they focus on some possible free agents this summer maybe making their final runs with teams — will Draymond Green be back with the Warriors? What about Kyrie Irving with the Mavericks? The Knicks want Josh Hart back but are not getting a discount, and don’t be surprised if the Heat and Trail Blazers try to make some big moves.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above (the Christmas games segment) or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at

LeBron James begins on court work, shoots down report of return before season’s end


Lakers fans’ dreams of their retooled roster — one that was impressive for the three games everyone was together just after the trade deadline — getting healthy and making a surprise run through the Western Conference start with one simple premise:

LeBron James getting back on the court.

There was good news on that front Thursday following his evaluation. The Lakers announced that LeBron started “on-court activity” and a “gradual basketball movement program” to return from a foot tendon issue that has sidelined him for 12 games. However, no official timeline was given for LeBron to return to the court.

At almost the same time that news broke, it was leaked to multiple reporters that LeBron was targeting a return for the final week of the season. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin summed it up well on SportsCenter:

“A league source familiar with LeBron James’ thinking told me that he believes LeBron will push for sometime over the final three games the Lakers play in Los Angeles — April 5 against the Clippers, April 7 against the Suns, April 9 against the Jazz — to target that range so long as there are no setbacks in his rehab to make his comeback. Get back onto the court, get a little bit of a dress rehearsal before either the play-in tournament or a playoff berth for the Lakers.”

Within an hour after the reports of a LeBron return timeline broke, he shot them down on Twitter.

There is zero chance word of LeBron targeting the final week of the season was leaked to at least four well-sourced NBA and Lakers’ reporters randomly or by someone that all of these people did not trust. Choose to read between the lines what you will, or who you think is pressuring whom, but this did not get out on accident. There is unquestionably a desire to get LeBron back on the court in Los Angeles before the end of the season. The Lakers need LeBron for any kind of playoff run and they don’t want to just throw him in the mix for a play-in game.

The Lakers are currently tied for 9/10 in the West with Dallas, just half a game back of the Thunder and Timberwolves for the 7/8 seeds, and 1.5 games back of the Warriors as the No. 6 seed (although they will be difficult to catch, especially with Golden State having now won two in a row on the road — the Lakers would need a record two games better than the Warriors the rest of the way). Los Angeles is also half a game up on the Pelicans and Jazz for falling out of even the play-in. The Lakers need wins.

LeBron would help with that, but he says there still is no timeline for his return.

Jaylen Brown on future with Celtics: ‘I will stay where I’m needed and treated correct’


Jaylen Brown may have one more year on his contract after this one — a fully guaranteed $28.5 million — but in today’s NBA, it’s already time to talk about his next contract.

That next deal will not be a simple extension with the Celtics (unless the extension rules change dramatically under the new CBA being negotiated). Under the current rules, Boston can offer an extension starting at around $36 million a season, however, if he goes to free agency his max contract would start at $44 million. It’s an easy call for Brown.

That means Brown would be a free agent. While Boston could offer larger raises and a fifth year other teams cannot, Brown would have the option of going anywhere he wants. Would he want to stay in Boston, playing with Jayson Tatum? Logan Murdoch of The Ringer asked him, and Brown’s answers raised eyebrows.

“I don’t know. As long as I’m needed. It’s not up to me,” he says. “We’ll see how they feel about me over time and I feel about them over time. Hopefully, whatever it is, it makes sense. But I will stay where I’m wanted. I will stay where I’m needed and treated correct…

“I just enjoy the time that you have now,” he says. “If it’s your whole career, it’s your whole career. If it’s not, it’s not. Some of the greatest players of all time haven’t finished with their organization. Michael Jordan retired a Wizard. As much as we like it here and enjoy being here, you see where life takes you. You see how the process goes. All you do is really focus on what’s in front of you right now, to be honest. But I don’t really know or want to answer that question because that type of stuff makes Celtics fans speculate and go crazy. Especially right now, I’ll just say we’ll get there when we get there.”

Some have tried to spin those comments as “Brown is not fully committed to Boston.” To my eyes, it reads more like a message to the Celtics that if they don’t want to pay him the max another team will. Brown is an All-NBA level player on the court and a smart, independent mind off it — one not bound to convention. He wasn’t going to play the “this is the only place I ever want to play” game that placates fans, even when the players don’t mean it. Brown was honest.

If Brad Steven and the Celtics toy around with trying to get Brown for less than the max, he’s got options. For example, the Hawks are watching the Atlanta area native, a source told Sean Deveney of

“One reason the Hawks are trying to unload (John) Collins is to get that cap space and be in position to add someone, another star, with Trae,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “It is not easy to get free agents to Atlanta but Jaylen Brown would be different—they want to be in position, at least, to make a move if he wants to be there. I think there is not question they are watching the situation with him. Closely.”

Most likely, the Celtics will re-sign Brown out in the summer of 2024 and this is all moot. But if the Celtics have a couple of rough playoffs, things could feel different. Whatever happens, Brown is open to it.

Three things to Know: Towns hits game-winning free throws in night of stars returning


Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Karl-Anthony Towns returns and hits game-winning free throws

Karl-Anthony Towns could not have been happier.

“This is what movies is made of,” Towns said postgame (via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic). “You come back, 51 games missing, sellout crowd, Target Center and you get the ball with seven seconds left, no timeouts. You’ve got to make it. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Towns did make it, well the free throws, anyway. The Hawks’ John Collins fouled Towns on his final shot — something upheld by a review — then KAT sank both free throws to give Minnesota the 125-124 win.

Towns finished with 22 points and showed a little rust shooting 8-of-18 (but hitting 2-of-3 from beyond the arc), which is to be expected after being out since Nov. 28 with a calf strain. The Timberwolves got a needed win in the tight West playoff chase, and did it without Anthony Edwards (still out with a sprained ankle).

The Hawks got hosed on what would have been their chance on game-winning free throws.

There were 3.6 seconds left on the clock after Towns’ free throws and the Hawks called time out to set up an inbounds play. That ended up being a Collins 3-pointer that did not hit the rim, but Atlanta’s Saddiq Bey was in position for the offensive board and appeared to be fouled by Taurean Prince. After the game, referee crew chief Ben Taylor told a pool reporter his crew missed the call.

“On postgame review we see it. It appears that Prince moves back into Bey’s space, and we should have assessed a foul on the play.”

Trey Young finished with 29 points and eight assists to lead Atlanta. The Hawks remain the No.8 seed in the East, one game up on Raptors (they are now three back in the loss column from the No.7 seed Heat, who will be next to impossible to catch).

2) Ja Morant comes off bench in return from suspension, scores 17

Ja Morant was welcomed back with a standing ovation and a roar from the Grizzlies faithful Wednesday night.

“Obviously, I’m thankful and grateful for everybody who has been supporting me during this time,” Morant said, via the Associated Press. “It definitely helped me a lot. Definitely made me feel a little better. Eased everything that’s been going on. Felt good to be back. Super excited and glad we were able to get the win.”

Morant had missed nine games (eight due to a league suspension) following an incident where he flashed a gun in a club and broadcast it on social media. Morant took time away and got counseling in Florida on how to better manage the stress in his life.

He didn’t play hoop or workout much during that time, so he came off the bench and had a minutes limit in his return while he plays himself back into shape. Time away or not, the explosive hops are still there.

Morant finished with 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting in a 130-125 Grizzlies win over the Rockets. Jaren Jackson Jr. continued his hot play with 37 to lead Memphis.

The win put the Grizzlies two full games up on the Kings for the No.2 seed in the West.

3) Luka Dončić scores 30 in return, it’s not enough to beat Warriors

Luka Dončić returned after missing five games with a left thigh strain and it didn’t look like he missed a day — 30 points,17 rebounds, and a couple of ridiculously good assists.

It just wasn’t enough, not with Kyrie Irving out (foot soreness).

In a defense-free game — the losing Mavericks had a 127.6 offensive rating— Stephen Curry and the Warriors had a couple more buckets and picked up the 127-125 win. Curry finished with 20 points, while Jonathan Kuminga led the Warriors with 22.

That’s not what anyone is talking about out of this game. Instead, it’s the bizarre inbounds play that gave the Warriors two easy points.

Toward the end of the third quarter, Golden State’s Anthony Lamb missed a straight-on 3-pointer and the rebound caromed out of bounds. The baseline referee points it would remain the Warriors’ ball, but then instantly transitions into pointing the other direction to call a Mavericks timeout. That confused the Mavericks, who thought he signaled their ball. After the timeout came the inbounds play.

The Mavericks thought it was their ball (although why nobody came down to take the ball out is confusing), and after the game owner Mark Cuban sent out this angry Tweet and said he would file a protest over the game.

Referee crew chief Sean Wright explained the call postgame.

Initially on the floor the original signal was in fact Golden State ball as this can be seen on video. There is a second signal but that signal is for a mandatory timeout that was due to the Mavs.

The Mavericks’ loss drops them a game below .500 and tied with the Lakers for the 9/10 seeds in the West play-in. The Warriors remain the No.6 seed.