The matchups for the NBA’s annual Christmas Day slate of games were leaked on Tuesday, and the schedule includes familiar names like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, as well as some fresh Yuletide faces like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Donovan Mitchell. We figured we’d rank the games from worst to first (or frankincense to gold, if you prefer), so you can schedule your holiday travel accordingly.
5. Milwaukee Bucks vs. New York Knicks
What could possibly be more exciting than a matchup between Brook Lopez and Enes Kanter on Christmas? Forget hanging stockings from the mantle or leaving presents under the tree. Give your kids the gift of Malcolm Brogdon vs. Tim Hardaway Jr. on the biggest NBA day of the regular season.
Hey, at least there’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is worth the price of admission on his own and a leading MVP candidate. And the game should take place before fans from the biggest media market lose all hope on their team making the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But the matchup will likely not feature Kristaps Porzingis, the other freakish talent who is still recovering from his February ACL tear and would have made a Christmas meeting with Antetokounmpo much more interesting.
Anyone who might argue that San Antonio and Toronto just don’t have the mass appeal to qualify for the Christmas slate more interesting should explain to me how Utah does. I’m not sure the casual basketball observer is going to be captivated by the advanced analytics contributions of Joe Ingles.
What this game does have is a handful of under-appreciated stars. Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell and Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum may not be household names outside NBA circles, but maybe they should be. You can sell grandma on the likability of those characters, tear your nephew away from Fortnite long enough to catch a few wildly entertaining highlights, and convince your hockey-obsessed uncle that this regular-season NBA game will be competitive throughout.
3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors
It’s Arguably The Greatest Player Ever vs. Arguably The Greatest Team Every Part 12. Or whatever the number is now. This game is an easy sell: LeBron James will face Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the Warriors with a new cast of characters. And, man, are Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley characters. LaVar Ball might be there, too. This game could get extremely weird.
If new Warrior DeMarcus Cousins is eyeing a return “around Christmas,” as ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported, this game could be more apocalyptic than the TV movie pitch in “Scrooged.” (And as long as we’re making 1980s references, Magic Johnson should be there trying to tamper with Klay Thompson, too.)
I’m not sure it’ll be all that competitive, though, so long as Golden State is engaged enough to remind LeBron he needs better reinforcements to match their starpower, but the specter is certainly there.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets
These may be the best teams in the Western Conference not named the Warriors. Considering how deep the West is, that should distract your family from arguing over who drove the furthest for this.
The last two MVP winners, OKC’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden, are pitted opposite each other. Both have complementary All-Stars — Paul George and Chris Paul, respectively — to share the load. New Rocket Carmelo Anthony will face the team that dumped him for Dennis Schröder. Even Steven Adams against Clint Capela is entertaining. Gerald Green will have a cool haircut. It’ll be fun.
Maybe we’ll even find out what nerdy gifts Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Thunder GM Sam Presti exchange over the holidays. Hi, Sam, I got you this abacus from the early 20th century that Ramanujan defeated in a math olympiad. Maybe you can use it to acquire better 3-point shooting.
Sick burn. Fire game.
1. Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia is convinced that recent lottery picks Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz comprise the NBA’s best young core, even though they shot a combined 29 percent from 3-point range (Simmons and Fultz, their future backcourt, were 0-for-12 on the season) and lost a playoff series in five games to a Celtics team that started Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. That sentence will anger Sixers fans, and angry Sixers fans make for an exciting foil under any circumstance.
Last we saw these two teams play, Embiid was talking trash and Boston’s Marcus Morris was reminding him that his team trailed the series three games to none. The 76ers will be out to prove that those three Eastern Conference semifinals games decided by 10 combined points were just flukes. The Celtics, meanwhile, will be armed with (knock on wood) a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, along with barbs about premature confetti celebrations and Bryan Colangelo’s burner account saga.
The egg nog will be spiked, Twitter will be afire, and two East Coast rivals will resume battle.
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