NBA Christmas Day 2021 Schedule: Game-by-Game Preview and Analysis
The NBA announced its nationally televised opening-week and Christmas Day slates Tuesday. As usual, the Christmas Day schedule will feature five games and contain some of the sport's biggest names and teams (all times ET).
- Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks: Noon
- Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks: 2:30 p.m.
- Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns: 5 p.m.
- Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers: 8 p.m.
- Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz: 10:30 p.m.
The slate includes every NBA regular-season MVP from 2009 to 2020 (reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets are not included).
Two-time regular-season MVP (and defending NBA Finals MVP) Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are set to play the Boston Celtics. Four-time MVP LeBron James, 2016-17 MVP Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis will see 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant, 2017-18 MVP James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Two-time MVP Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors will visit Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the defending Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns. New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose, who won the 2011 NBA MVP with the Chicago Bulls, will take on the Atlanta Hawks.
That group doesn't include some other notable superstars who could win MVP some day, including Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.
Here are some quick breakdowns of all the teams and games.
Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks
Last spring, the Hawks and Knicks engaged in a heated first-round playoff battle that featured a testy relationship between New York fans at Madison Square Garden and Atlanta superstar point guard Trae Young, who was vociferously booed and even spit on by one fan.
The dominant scorer got the last laugh, averaging 29.2 points and 9.8 assists per game in a 4-1 series win. The Knicks offense struggled in defeat as Young largely did what he wanted.
New York's backcourt scuffled outside herculean efforts from Rose, but the Knicks got some reinforcements thanks to offseason additions Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, who should help New York improve its three-point shooting.
The Hawks upset the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers after beating the Knicks before falling to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. They got one of their big pieces back after re-signing power forward John Collins, who posted 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during the regular season.
Atlanta also picked up Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper in the draft, and both players impressed in summer-league action. Both could play key reserve roles this year as Atlanta looks to make the leap to the NBA Finals.
This should be a fun matchup between two teams that appear destined for the playoffs again.
Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks
Antetokounmpo and the defending NBA champion Bucks will face a new-look Boston Celtics team looking to bounce back from a .500 campaign.
The Bucks' Big Three of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday is back in business. Middleton and Holiday's playoff performances complemented the two-time NBA regular-season MVP (and 2021 NBA Finals MVP) as the team earned its first NBA title in 50 years.
They'll be a title favorite once again. The roster is largely intact, with complementary pieces such as Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton returning.
The Celtics reshuffled quite a bit.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge is out, and head coach Brad Stevens got the call up to the front office. Ime Udoka was hired as the head coach following a successful stint as an assistant.
All-Stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are back, and Marcus Smart re-signed. The C's also welcome back some interesting young talent, namely Aaron Nesmith, Robert Williams III and Payton Pritchard.
But some veterans have been brought in, including guard Dennis Schroder and big men Al Horford and Enes Kanter. Together, this group will look to improve off last year's effort in a quest to make the franchise's first NBA Finals since 2010. Beating the Bucks in their own building would be a huge win.
Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns
Two of the best point guards in NBA history will square off when Curry and the Warriors face Paul and the Phoenix Suns.
The Dubs are looking to make the playoffs following a two-year absence. They'll welcome back shooting guard Klay Thompson, a five-time All-Star who was a staple of the Warriors' three championship teams (and two runner-up squads) in the 2010s. Thompson has missed the last two seasons because of an ACL tear and then an Achilles tear.
Golden State also added a pair of lottery picks in Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, who have looked good in summer-league ball and can contribute right away.
Obviously, the Warriors return the NBA's leading scorer in Curry alongside jack-of-all-trades Draymond Green, who is fresh off winning an Olympic gold medal with Team USA men's basketball.
The Suns are itching to get back to the NBA Finals after reaching that round last year, only to fall to the Bucks. Adding Paul via trade proved to be a masterstroke as the team followed his lead into its first championship appearance since 1993.
The backcourt partnership between Paul and Devin Booker thrived, and Deandre Ayton took another step forward in his development as he excelled down low. The whole group was led by Monty Williams, who was among the finalists for the league's Coach of the Year award.
Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers
This could very well be an NBA Finals preview, as both teams are loaded with elite talent.
The battle of Big Threes will go down at Staples Center as Durant, Harden and Irving face off against James, Davis and Westbrook.
The Brooklyn Big Three barely played at the same time last year because of injury, COVID-related concerns, personal reasons and Harden starting the season on the Houston Rockets before a January 13 trade.
Still, the Nets finished 48-24 and earned the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed. They reached the second round, where they fell in seven tough games to the Bucks despite missing Harden and Irving for multiple contests apiece.
The Lakers won the 2019-20 title but are looking to rebound after falling to the eventual Western Conference champion Suns in the first round. Their roster has taken on a new look as the team engineered a massive trade for Westbrook, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Washington Wizards.
L.A. also added a host of veterans on one-year deals, none more notable than 10-time All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist Carmelo Anthony, who joins his good friend James on the Lakers.
Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz
Two Western Conference playoff mainstays will end the Christmas slate as the Dallas Mavericks visit the Utah Jazz in Vivint Arena.
Neither team made wholesale changes, and both made big re-signings.
On the Dallas side, third-leading scorer Tim Hardaway Jr. is back on a four-year deal. He came up big in the playoffs as the Mavs nearly upset the Los Angeles Clippers before bowing out in seven first-round games. Hardaway more or less was the team's second scoring option during that stretch as Kristaps Porzingis largely struggled.
Meanwhile, the Jazz have brought back Mike Conley to run the point. The 14-year veteran shined last year en route to leading Utah to the league's best record. Injuries forced him to miss five of six second-round playoff games against the Clippers, who beat Utah to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
But a healthy Conley running it back with largely the same Jazz roster should put the team in contention for a conference title once again.
This matchup will also feature a battle of superstars in nightly triple-double threat Doncic and an explosive shooting guard in Mitchell. Both figure to help carry the league's torch through the 2020s as faces of the NBA.