NBA Christmas Day 2018 Schedule: Game-by-Game Preview and Analysis

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2018

NBA Christmas Day 2018 Schedule: Game-by-Game Preview and Analysis

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The NBA officially announced its Christmas Day schedule Wednesday and it once again features a collection of the best and most exciting teams in the league.

    A battle between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers highlights the five-game lineup, featuring LeBron James taking on the defending champions with a new team alongside him.

    Top stars like James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard will also be in action, giving fans a chance to see elite individual play throughout the day.

    Several of the games scheduled for Dec. 25 could also be previews of intriguing playoff series. Although one game likely won't make or break a season, each battle could tell us a lot about what to expect going forward.

    Here's a breakdown of the Christmas Day lineup.

Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks (12 p.m. ET, ESPN)

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    The New York Knicks have a huge fan base that will likely tune in regardless of projections, but there isn't much reason for the team to be excited heading into the season.

    The squad hasn't reached the playoffs in five years and their star player Kristaps Porzingis remains out with a torn ACL. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the forward could potentially return by Christmas but even if he does, he will likely be rusty.

    No. 9 overall draft pick Kevin Knox will be the one to watch for the Knicks after a big Summer League, but he won't be enough to carry the team into contention next season.

    New York has played the most Christmas Day games of any franchise, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but are just 22-30 overall. There is little reason to think there will be much more success this season.

    On the other hand, fans will get to watch one of the most exciting players in the sport, Giannis Antetokounmpo, playing in one of the most famous arenas in Madison Square Garden.

    The 6'11" star can play nearly every position and has gotten better in each season of his career, making it fun to imagine what he will accomplish during the 2018-19 campaign. A big performance on the national stage will help raise his profile even more.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets (3 p.m. ET, ABC)

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    The highly anticipated Carmelo Anthony Bowl.

    Anthony spent one forgettable season with the Oklahoma City Thunder and now will hope for more success with the Houston Rockets after verbally agreeing to join the team, per Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.

    The 10-time All-Star will want to prove he is better than what he showed in 2017-18, and the Thunder will want revenge on a player who basically stole $26 million last year.

    Of course, this is only a small storyline in what should be a fun overall matchup.

    James Harden and Russell Westbrook will go head to head in a battle of the last two MVP winners. Each player is capable of putting up 50 points or a triple-double, so you don't want to miss this one.

    Adding in superstars like Chris Paul and Paul George, plus an exciting battle of centers in Clint Capela and Steven Adams, there will be plenty to look forward to in this game.

    Perhaps most importantly, it will tell us whether the Thunder are as good as they should be after a disappointing 2017-18 season.

Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics (5:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

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    With LeBron James going to the Western Conference, the East is now wide open. However, these two teams appear to be the clear favorites to reach the NBA finals.

    According to OddsShark, the Boston Celtics have the second-best odds to win a title behind the Golden State Warriors at 11-2. The Philadelphia 76ers are three spots back at 16-1 and the Toronto Raptors are the only other team better than 100-1.

    This puts a lot of pressure on this rivalry, which already features some of the most talented players in the league who will only get better with more experience.

    Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons helped expedite the rebuild in Philadelphia, leading the team to 52 wins last season just two years after going 10-72. These players were competing in their first completely healthy seasons and showed that they can be perennial All-Stars.

    Unfortunately, the Sixers lost in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals to a Celtics team that was nearly as young.

    It was Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who starred in the postseason, giving Boston plenty of confidence going into next season with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward presumably returning to full strength.

    Although this game won't decide the East, it will give the winner a lot of confidence going forward.

Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)

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    There won't be an NBA finals rematch on Christmas Day, but really, there still is.

    Instead of hosting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the defending champion Golden State Warriors will match up against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The four-time MVP's free agency was the biggest story of the offseason and now it is unsurprisingly the primetime matchup on the biggest day of the regular season.

    We know what to expect from the Warriors at this point. They have won three of the last four NBA titles, including two with Kevin Durant after he joined a star-filled lineup with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

    After adding DeMarcus Cousins in the offseason, it would be a major surprise if Golden State wasn't once again the team to beat in the NBA.

    There is much more uncertainty about the Lakers, including whether young stars like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma can fit well in a rotation with James. From a league-wide perspective, we want to know if LeBron's supporting cast now is better than it was last season.

    A nationally televised matchup with the Warriors will be a good measuring stick.

Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

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    A year ago on Christmas Day, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell was a little-known rookie hoping his team could play in the spotlight.

    "As I'm watching these games on Christmas it got me thinking," Mitchell tweeted, "...Christmas games in Utah in the future??"

    The 21-year-old is now one of the top young stars in the sport and will get his wish with a late-night battle against the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Utah reached the second round of the playoffs last season behind the play of Mitchell, who averaged 20.5 points per game during the regular season and 24.4 points per game in the playoffs. Center Rudy Gobert helps lead an elite defense that can slow down even the best teams in the NBA.

    This will create a major test for a Blazers squad that has been much better in the regular season than the playoffs.

    Damian Lillard was a legitimate MVP candidate last season but the team was still swept out of the first round for the second year in a row. This has raised questions about whether he and CJ McCollum can lead a real contender.

    In any case, watching Lillard and Mitchell battle head-to-head could be a high point of Christmas night.