The NBA free agency storm has come and gone. This past week has provided fans with both shocking signings and blockbuster trades. Some teams have gained key franchise cornerstones that’ll benefit them throughout the next few seasons. Others lost players that were crucial parts in the franchise success. If anything is clear, it’s that team outlooks for next season are starting to take shape. With stars making their decisions on the next chapter of their careers, all there’s left to do now is fantasize about next season’s key matchups.
One of the days where we see the NBA’s premier teams in action is Christmas Day. The league provides the fans with five games spanning across many of the ABC/ESPN platforms. On a day where the NBA’s best come out to play, this year provides schedule-makers with a hard task. The NBA has shifted from a league full of big threes to a league full of dynamic duos. Many teams have their own 1-2 punch to carry them to success. The question is: which duos should/could be rewarded with the opportunity to play on Christmas Day? Playoff rematches, star power, and compelling storylines are all factors that play a part in these matchups. Considering those, which are best for the fans and the NBA?
12 PM ET: Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets
For eight of the past nine seasons, Christmas Day in the NBA has found its way to New York, specifically, Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks. No matter how bad the Knicks seem to be, the mecca of basketball must have some basketball played on Christmas Day. This year, though, the NBA must drift away from the usual Knickerbocker appearance on the lineup. Instead of giving the Knicks the New York spotlight, on Christmas, they must give it to the Brooklyn Nets.
Even without Kevin Durant on the court next season, the Nets still have much to boast over the Knicks. It starts with star power and the overall roster in which Brooklyn checks off both boxes. Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan create enough buzz to overtake Knicks as New York’s premier basketball franchise. If you need to give the city a game, the Nets are the team to turn to. Irving, Jordan, Dinwiddie, Allen, LeVert, Harris, and Hollis-Jefferson create a huge buzz that comes with New York’s huge market. The NBA certainly will generate more viewers and profit by making the switch from the Knicks to the Nets as the NBA’s regular New York game on Christmas.
The second half of this matchup brings in the Boston Celtics. Pitting the C’s against the Nets, even without KD, makes for a great story between the two. We can’t forget the disappointment that was the Boston Celtics’ season a few months ago. Although there was a variety of factors that contributed to the demise, most of the blame was put on Kyrie Irving. Irving, who’s now a Brooklyn Net, would be matched up against his former team with an opportunity to show that he’s much more than the player he was in Boston. To many, Irving isn’t a leader, nor can he be a first-option on a successful franchise. Even though it’s one game, it’d be satisfying to see Irving knock off the team he faced much scrutiny with.
Along with that, who wouldn’t want to see Kemba vs. Kyrie? Two players with similar playstyles going at it in under the bright afternoon lights of New York is truly a treat to fans. No one can forget about Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward matching up against this new and improved Brooklyn squad. This game not only serves as a “revenge” game for Irving, but it’s also a matchup between two teams who expect to be in the Eastern Conference Finals picture come June.
3 PM ET: Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors
It’s a crime to leave the Warriors off of the Christmas Day lineup. Since 2015, they’ve been the NBA’s best team. And, although they only retained three of five starters from last season, they still have their fair share of star power. Klay Thompson is still expected to be recovering from his ACL injury by the time these games come around, but to make up for that hole, the Warriors completed a sign-and-trade to bring in D’Angelo Russell. This leaves Golden State with another big three of Curry, Russell, and Draymond to combat the rest of the league. The Warriors are the defending champions of the West which guarantees them a game on Christmas. A bigger storyline than that is the history they have with an improved Houston Rockets team.
Houston ended the Chris Paul-James Harden experiment in favor of reuniting an old duo. They traded Chris Paul to the OKC Thunder in exchange for one-time MVP Russell Westbrook. This leaves Houston with their same elite supporting cast, and an even better duo to lead the front. The NBA is shifting to a league of dynamic duos which means schedule-makers need to do their best to put them on display. There’s no better matchup for Harden, Westbrook, and the rest of the Rockets than the team who’s been their biggest foe.
Golden State has eliminated Houston from the playoffs in four of the last five years. As good as the Rockets have been, the Warriors have just been better. Playoff rematches are always something to look forward to. This specific matchup has all the intrigue a fan can want. While the Warriors lost an MVP to free agency in Kevin Durant, the Rockets traded for one. With KD gone and Klay returning from injury, this season is the time for Houston to finally knock off Golden State.
Having Westbrook and Harden go up against a team that’s prevented the success of both players is something to watch. Yes, Harden and Westbrook can drop 50-point triple-doubles with ease, but can they put their playstyles together to knock off the player who’s undisputedly the top guard in the league? To many, Houston, on paper, may be a better team than the Warriors. After the offseason moves, these two teams may be closer than they’ve been in past seasons. That’s all the more reason why this matchup is something to see. Houston and Golden State have a combined five All-Stars and three MVPs. With those numbers, it’s a no-brainer that these two squads should be going at it on Christmas Day.
5:30 P.M. ET: Milwaukee Bucks @ Philadelphia 76ers
Before Kawhi Leonard decided to sign with the Clippers, the Raptors were certainly going to be in Philly’s spot. That’s no longer the case. Now, the Milwaukee Bucks must face their biggest threat to their Eastern Conference crown, the Philadelphia 76ers. This matchup is the premier matchup in the East, as these are the two favorites. If Kawhi didn’t sink the hearts of Sixers fans everywhere in Game 7, this probably would’ve been the East Finals. Since the acquisition of Tobias Harris last season, the Sixers have believed that they can make it to the NBA Finals. And, although that didn’t come to fruition yet, they’ve made moves that make them a threat to the Bucks.
The Sixers failed to re-sign Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick while retaining Tobias Harris on a max deal. To make up for those losses, Philly went out and acquired Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Kyle O’Quinn, James Ennis III, and Raul Neto. This isn’t close to the team they had on paper last season, but nevertheless, it’s a roster that can compete for an NBA Finals spot. That’s what makes them a prime opponent for the Bucks on Christmas. As for Milwaukee, they lost some key pieces bridging the gap between them and teams like Philadelphia. Nikola Mirotic elected to play overseas while Malcolm Brogdon signed with the Indiana Pacers. Both were critical pieces of Milwaukee’s best season in franchise history.
Christmas Day is all about seeing the best matchups across the NBA. As the two best teams in their conference, this matchup is pivotal and must be added to the lineup. For the Bucks, they’re coming off a 60-win season which included the top seed in the East. They’re coming into next season with revenge on their mind. And, with Kawhi Leonard out of the East, this leaves the conference wide-open for anyone’s taking. For now, it seems to be Philly, Milwaukee, and then everyone else. This matchup not only displays another one of the league’s dynamic duos in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but it also showcases the reigning league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo-Embiid battles never fail to disappoint. Beyond the storylines, it’d be interesting to see how Philadelphia’s improved defense will matchup against the force that is the Greek Freak. The Bucks are coming into a season with a target on their back, and the Sixers have the best chance of knocking them off. Giannis won MVP, but it clearly wasn’t enough. These are the East’s best two teams. Both have championship aspirations and will have to go through one another come playoff time in order to reach that goal. It’s a preview of the most likely East Finals matchup. Anteokounmpo, Embiid, Middleton, Simmons, Bledsoe, and Horford make for another must-see game on Christmas Day.
8:00 P.M. ET: Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers
The NBA’s yearly primetime game should feature arguably the two best teams in the NBA. This should also be the first edition of the “Battle for L.A.”. These twp franchises had two of the best offseasons this year. The Clippers not only signed Kawhi Leonard but traded for Paul George all while retaining their most critical assets in the process. On the other side, the Lakers pulled off a trade that paired Anthony Davis with LeBron James. And, now, Los Angeles has the two best duos in the NBA. It’s only fitting that they go at it on Christmas Day. This has every single little thing a fan can want.
Los Angeles’ huge market is great enough for the fans and the overall sport of basketball. But, to have 82 nights a year where championship-level basketball is being played is phenomenal. Better yet, to have these two teams meet in the City of Angels, under the bright lights of NBA Christmas, is truly something to marvel. Maybe it’s an overreaction considering this is just a holiday and not NBA Playoff basketball. However, with the level of talent on both squads, this gives the game an instant playoff feel. And, to have it on this holiday, where premier matchups are seen, elevates it that much more.
Beyond the high-profile superstar matchups of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Paul George, there’s a multitude of storylines that both the fans and the media will buy into. The idea of who’s the true top franchise in Los Angeles is something that’ll flood the headlines of every major sports outlet in the country. That includes Per Sources Sports.
The gritty and proven Los Angeles Clippers are looking to stake their claim as one of the best teams in the NBA. This comes just one season after they took a healthy Warriors team to six games in the first round of the playoffs. Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Montrezl Harrell are all part of a supporting cast that, if healthy, can take the Clippers to the NBA Finals.
The Lakers, after missing the playoffs last season, come in with DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Kuzma, and Danny Green spearheading their supporting cast. LeBron and the Lakers have much to prove this season putting heavy pressure on his greatness. Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony have all been players whose teams tested the greatness of LeBron. Now, it’s time for the duo of Kawhi and PG13 to do the same.
Beyond the players, you can even make the story surrounding this matchup between the respective front offices. Jerry West, an “executive board member” for the Clippers, has been known for putting together massive dynasties. This includes the dynamic duo of Kobe and Shaq as well as the “Showtime” Lakers. Now, the team that West had built to succeed in the past is back in championship contention.
But, this time, it’s due to the work of GM Rob Pelinka and President/Owner Jeanie Buss. Both front offices have compiled teams that are, as mentioned previously, championship contenders. There’s no doubt that Jerry West is the better overall executive. But, this season, the question will be if Pelinka and co. did a better job assembling their championship contender.
This is the NBA’s best matchup. If we don’t see it on primetime on December 25, it’ll be a crime to fans everywhere. LeBron, AD, and co. facing off against Kawhi, PG13, and others is just something we need. For the league, they must take into account the money they’ll make from not only the high-level ratings, but also from what will be the sold-out Staples Center as well.
10:30 P.M. ET: Portland Trailblazers @ Denver Nuggets
In the Christmas Day nightcap, the NBA must keep it out west for yet another premier matchup. Once again, an argument can be made to replace the Trail Blazers with the Jazz. However, Portland and Denver are both teams that should remain as top teams in the West. Although the Jazz had one of the better offseasons in the NBA, they simply don’t have as big of a case to be on the Christmas Day lineup as the teams above.
Portland and Denver already have unfinished business from this past season. The Blazers defeated the Nuggets in seven games in the West Semifinals. Both teams also expect to be in the mix for a Finals berth along with the Clippers and Lakers. This matchup not only serves as a playoff rematch but a game between two of the NBA’s best teams as well.
Both teams should be getting both healthier and deeper this season. Denver went through the entire 2018-19 season without a first-round pick, Michael Porter Jr. After being sidelined the entire season due to a back injury, many still consider him a sleeper in the draft if he’s able to get healthy. Although Porter’s ability at full health has yet to be determined, Denver is expecting a fully functional, critical piece in him for the upcoming season. And, with the increased level of competition in the West, Porter will add to what is already a deep and talented Denver squad.
In addition to having the second seed in their conference last season and the return of Michael Porter Jr, Denver also drafted another sleeper this season. Oregon C Bol Bol was one of the overlooked prospects in this year’s draft. Having him with Porter, Murray, Harris, Milsap, and Jokic makes for a team that can certainly be a threat in the West. Moreso, it makes for a team that needs to be highlighted on Christmas Day.
For the Trail Blazers, they still have Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. And, although there haven’t been any drastic changes in portland, these two players always seem to keep them in the mix of things. This backcourt duo has led Portland to exceed expectations throughout the league. The NBA has shifted to a league of dynamic duos, but Lillard and McCollum have always been there.
Portland added to their arsenal by trading for C Hassan Whiteside, making them a bit more solid defensively. They also added former Knicks’ F Mario Hezonja. In addition, they managed to re-sign Rodney Hood and Damian Lillard. Above all, Jusuf Nurkic will be returning. Like the Nuggets, the Trail Blazers managed to improve while keeping key pieces.
Both teams got better over the course of the offseason. With the new level of competition, it’s needed. Denver and Portland are very much contenders in the West. It’s only right that they face off on Christmas Day for some bragging rights. This nightcap won’t just intrigue NBA fans to stay up for one last game, but it might give them a taste of what’s to come in May.
Putting the NBA’s Best on Display
This slate of games looks to be the best in NBA history. If the NBA’s schedule makers can make these games happen, we’re certainly in for a treat. A plethora of former All-Stars, MVPs, and champions will be on display for the world to see. Each one of these games carries their own storylines and attractiveness that the fans and media will buy into. Basketball on Christmas Day should put the best in the league out there. This schedule achieves just that.