NBA Christmas Day 2020 Schedule: Full Preview and Analysis for Each Game
The NBA is set to announce the first half of its regular season Friday but provided the first taste Wednesday with the release of the first three days of the slate—highlighted by a day full of basketball on Christmas.
Both reigning NBA finalists and the two brightest young stars in basketball will be in action, and with the season starting just three days before the holiday, the games are unlikely to be impacted by injuries. During a holiday season where many of us will be socially distanced, the NBA is providing an excuse to cut off the Zoom and take in some basketball.
Here is a preview of every game on the Christmas menu.
Pelicans at Heat
Time: Noon ET
A year ago, the NBA put the Pelicans in a Christmas Day showcase as part of an all-in promotional push for Zion Williamson. We know how that went. Williamson was limited to 24 regular-season games because of injury and was absent from New Orleans' Christmas showcase, a forgettable 112-100 win over Denver.
Good news: Zion should be healthy this time around.
Additional good news: Zion looked every bit the part of a superstar when he was on the floor last season. He averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 27.8 minutes per game, most of which he spent working his way back into game shape before the season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a four-month layoff, Zion should arrive this season in his best shape as a pro and ready for a star-turn in his first real national showcase since he left Duke.
Not to be forgotten, Williamson and his teammates will go up against a team went to the Finals last season.
The Heat are essentially running it back from their surprising bubble run. Jae Crowder left for Phoenix in free agency, but they brought in Maurice Harkless as a potential replacement and added Avery Bradley for depth on the wing. There's not much about this team we don't already know. Their improvement will be predicated on growth from Bam Adebayo, he of the shiny new max contract, and Tyler Herro improving on his solid rookie campaign.
Warriors at Bucks
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
The loss of Klay Thompson is a blow for a game that could have been the best on the Christmas slate. Thompson's Achilles injury limits the Warriors' short- and long-term ceiling, putting them much closer to the edge of playoff contention than a return to contender status.
Steph Curry and Draymond Green will enter this season feeling they have something to prove. Curry will, for the first time in more than a half-decade, be tasked with being the lone superstar on his team. The Warriors will fly as high as Steph can take them and no higher. Green's prime looked cooked last season, falling in line with his disappointing 2018-19. His time as an All-Star-level difference maker could be over.
Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre remain tantalizing young players who could break out...or increase Steve Kerr's stress levels. While we are yet to see James Wiseman at the NBA level, the same will probably quickly be said about the Memphis product.
As for the Bucks, it's all about Giannis. The supermax extension offer that's been sitting on his desk for weeks is still unsigned. Milwaukee improved its roster with the addition of Jrue Holiday this offseason but made some truly boneheaded errors that should be cause for concern in the Giannis camp. The Bogdan Bogdanovic fiasco is the most notable among those mistakes, but it was far from the only mistake.
There's an understandable stench of desperation exuding from Milwaukee after a second-round playoff failure. Holiday makes every All-Underrated team every season, and the Bucks should be the best defensive team in basketball with Holiday, Giannis and Khris Middleton roaming the perimeter. But Holiday hasn't made an All-Star team since 2013 and has never made an All-NBA team. He makes them better; the question is whether it's enough.
Nets at Celtics
Time: 5 p.m. ET
There's no game on the entire NBA schedule where the lack of fans will be more noticeable. Kyrie Irving missed the Nets' two trips to Boston last season, depriving Celtics fans of their chance to let the man who once promised to have his jersey hang in the rafters know how they feel.
Kyrie will be spared those boos once more on Christmas, with the Celtics set to play without fans for the foreseeable future amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe the PA system will just play the boos from LeBron's 2010 introduction in Cleveland so Boston can get the anger out of its heart virtually.
The Celtics that will show up on Christmas Day are in a bit of disarray. Gordon Hayward left this offseason, leaving only a massive trade exception and an old gamer chair behind in his wake. The Celtics have lost Hayward, Irving and Al Horford for nothing over the last two offseasons.
Irving's replacement, Kemba Walker, is out until at least January after undergoing stem-cell treatment on his knee.
The Nets are no stranger to star injuries, having essentially taken a redshirt season in 2019-20 with injuries to Irving and Kevin Durant sitting out the entire campaign.
No one knows quite what to expect from Durant, who is returning from a debilitating Achilles tear. Even with the extra couple months of recovery time, Achilles injuries have typically been among the most difficult for NBA players. It's been exceedingly rare for players to return to their former selves after the injury, and typically a full recovery doesn't happen in one season.
Brooklyn was also unable to acquire a third star next to Irving and Durant, leading to a potentially awkward settling of the hierarchy. Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert got used to being a significant part of the offense. There's only one ball to go around, and we all know who's about to get squeezed. How Dinwiddie and LeVert handle being punted down the totem pole might be the most important job for first-year coach Steve Nash.
Mavericks at Lakers
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Luka Doncic's ascent to the primetime marquee in a game against the defending champs might not be the game the NBA expects. Kristaps Porzingis is still in recovery from knee surgery, and the Mavericks didn't do much to improve their roster this offseason.
The Mavs are essentially the Luka show for the foreseeable future, which will lead to some brilliant individual performances but perhaps not necessarily many wins.
No one knows quite what to expect from the early-season Lakers. LeBron joked he would be cherry-picking the entire first half of the season in a conversation with Barack Obama.
It's not clear how much LeBron was joking. The Lakers and Heat were playing into October. James said he picked up a basketball twice during his extremely shortened offseason. It stands to reason that they'll ease LeBron and Anthony Davis, at the very least, back into the fold.
The national stage on Christmas may lead to the Lakers playing a more standard rotation, but there's likely going to be some big preseason energy from the defending champs early on.
Clippers at Nuggets
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Game of the night.
At the risk of sounding like a bloviating talking head, this game is a heart check for the Clippers. They're coming off of one of the more embarrassing playoff collapses in recent NBA history and followed it up with a tumultuous offseason.
Every concern people had about the Lakers last season ultimately happened to the Clippers. Reports of diva behavior by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and preferential treatment given to them by the organization are still leaking out months after their bubble bursting, per Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic. Doc Rivers is gone, but he's been replaced by Ty Lue, who was an assistant on the staff that oversaw the reported chemistry destruction. Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol both chose to be Lakers instead of, respectively, staying with or joining the Clippers.
Leonard has never been the type to be motivated by outside factors, but now might be the time for him to actually step into the leadership void. At the very least, send a message against the Nuggets team that's responsible for the offseason of NBA Twitter slander the Clippers endured.
Denver saw its reserve frontcourt via a strange spending bonanza by the Pistons but projects as perhaps the best regular-season team in the conference. Nikola Jokic is a strong outside MVP contender, Jamal Muray ascended to stardom in the bubble, and Michael Porter Jr. looks primed to emerge as a true third in command.
Barring an injury, this should be the first "playoff energy" game of the 2020-21 season.