IIt’s that time of year again. When people gather around the Christmas tree to exchange gifts, then gather around the big screen TV to watch the annual slate of NBA games. This year, as in the past, the heads of the hoops are treated to a handful of excellent matchups. So we wanted to dive into these contests below to offer some perspective and some predictions.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. New York Knicks (12 p.m. EST/5 p.m. GMT)
Often the first game on the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule is just an appetizer, but this one is full of interest. The Bucks got off to a bit of a slow start this season, but they sit quietly at the top of the Eastern Conference standings today thanks to the play of big-name superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo and newly acquired Damian Lillard. The Knicks, a perennial Christmas Day entrant, are also directly into the playoffs thanks to team leaders Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson (and his cohort of Villanova University buddies, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart). While Milwaukee should be favored for its top-notch talent, the plucky Manhattan team could steal this one late, if Big Game Brunson gets hot. Not to mention the crowd at MSG New York should be excited for the match.
Prediction Dollars by four
X factor Immanuel Quickley, the New York bench slasher
Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets (2:30 p.m. EST/7:30 p.m. GMT)
Over the past few years, the Warriors and Nuggets have faced each other several times in the playoffs. But this final tilt of the regular season sees the two teams in very different positions. While defending league champion Denver is off to a good start (despite Nikola Jokić’s recent evictions), Golden State is somewhat shaken thanks to the indefinite suspension of trash star Draymond Green, who, at in many ways, is the heart of the team. and the mind. Yet the Warriors, fresh off a big home win over Boston on Tuesday, remain in the mix when it comes to a possible playoff appearance, thanks to red-hot sharpshooter Stephen Curry and a slew of young people improving. But with this game taking place in Mile High City, Colorado, the advantage goes to Jokić and his confident supporting cast, which includes guard Jamal Murray and bruiser Aaron Gordon.
Prediction Nuggets per eight
X factor Chris Paul, Golden State’s cautious veteran offensive initiator
Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers (5 p.m. EST/10 p.m. GMT)
These two teams will forever be linked in basketball history. Whether it’s the battles between the teams of Bill Russell and Jerry West or those between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson or, more recently, between Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, Lakers vs. Celtics remains THE rivalry par excellence in NBA tradition. That’s why the league placed this lavish match in the middle of its Christmas party. Featuring big stars such as the all-timer LeBron James, Anthony Davis, MVP candidate Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, this matchup should be a back-and-forth affair with neither team willing to give up any ground. Still, there will have to be a winner (it’s not the NFL, after all). Even if the Celts are in the lead in the East and the Lakers are in the middle of the pack in the West, the competition should remain close to the final buzzer. Advantage for the purple and gold home team (Boston has trouble getting close on the road, after all).
Prediction Lakers by one
X factor Austin Reaves, the starter turned sixth man with a sense of the moment for Los Angeles
Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat (8 p.m. EST/1 a.m. GMT)
It’s the Jimmy Butler Bowl! Yes, the current Heat star played for Philadelphia several years ago and, as he pointed out, the 76ers chose to exchange it, for whatever reason. Today, the two teams display very different sensibilities, on and off the hardwood. The 76ers are flashier with reigning MVP Joel Embiid and future star guard Tyrese Maxey. But Miami is more professional and more serious, just a group of tough guys who, despite being from South Beach, bring their packed lunches to the job site. Their hometowns are very different, as is the way they carry themselves in uniform. Still, the two could easily face each other in the first round of the playoffs this year when the season ends. With Embiid’s size and the way Philly is rolling lately, it’s fair to predict a comfortable win for the guys from the cold City of Brotherly Love.
Prediction 76ers by eight
X factor Jaime Jaquez Jr, the rising do-it-all rookie for Miami
Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns (10:30 p.m. EST/3:30 a.m. GMT)
The final game of the holiday night pits two megawatt rivals from the Western Conference. Just a year ago, Kevin Durant, now a Suns star, and Kyrie Irving, now a Mavs star, were on the same roster in Brooklyn. Today, however, after this epic implosion, they find themselves miles away from the hippest neighborhoods and out West, associated with superstars like Devin Booker in Phoenix and potential MVP favorite Luka Dončić in Texas. Some years the end of Christmas game is a bit throwaway, but that’s not it. Unfortunately for Phoenix, their team has been bitten by the injury bug as of late, with its “Big Three” of Durant, Booker and newly acquired guard Bradley Beal spending virtually no time together thus far. But Dallas isn’t exactly healthy either, as the team is recently missing star rookie Derek Lively II. If he plays, the Mavs have a good chance of winning. Otherwise, it will be everyone’s competition.
Prediction Suns at four o’clock
X factor Grant Williams, the new difficult striker for Dallas