The NBA’s Christmas Day schedule has become a staple of the sports world over the years, generally featuring enough games to lift basketball fans’ spirits from the morning late into the night.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the end of the 2019-2020 season and the subsequent planning for the start of the 2020-2021 season, fans were rightfully concerned about the status of the league’s annual holiday tradition.
Luckily, the league swooped in to save the day, saying “Have no fear, Christmas Day basketball is almost here.”
On December 2, just 20 days before the start of the 2020-2021 regular season, the NBA dropped the year’s Christmas Day schedule, featuring five games between 10 of the league’s biggest and best franchises.
Five games over the span of more than 10 hours seems overwhelming at first glance, and may leave a casual basketball fan with lots of questions. You may be asking:
- ‘Which games should I plan my holiday around?’
- ‘When can I watch my favorite players?’
- ‘I’m a Clippers fan, when should I tune out to avoid having to think about the 2020 Western Conference Semifinals?
Luckily, we have all of the answers you’re looking for. To ring in the holiday season, it’s time for a breakdown of the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule for 2020:
12 p.m. ET: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Miami Heat
Pelicans forward Zion Williamson is undoubtedly viewed as the future of the league heading into the 2020-2021 regular season. If there were any doubts about that, just take a look at the very first game on the Christmas Day slate in 2020.
Williamson’s Pelicans will take on one of the league’s hottest commodities, the Miami Heat, at noon ET as kids on the East Coast start to settle down after seeing what Santa Claus delivered early in the morning.
The matchup makes a ton of sense, given the loads of young talent that can be found on both sides of the ball, and some of the emerging superstars that the league wants to showcase.
The Pelicans bring all of the hype that surrounds Williamson, alongside rising star forward Brandon Ingram and a talented backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball to the table.
Meanwhile, the Heat contribute one of the league’s more fascinating lineups, with star swingman Jimmy Butler leading the way, point guard Goran Dragic returning to the fray, and youngsters like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro emerging as the future of the franchise.
It’s a nice, even matchup to start off the holiday, and will be the perfect appetizer for the rest of a star-studded Christmas Day.
2:30 p.m. ET: Golden State Warriors vs. Milwaukee Bucks
If things had gone different for the Warriors in recent years, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see these two teams collide in the NBA Finals on numerous occasions.
But, the departure of Kevin Durant, back-to-back season-ending injuries for Klay Thompson, and a long absence from Steph Curry in the 2019-2020 season set the dynasty back a bit after its seemingly-endless pursuit of the NBA Finals in the second half of the 2010s.
On the other end, the Bucks have struggled to live up to their true potential in recent years, failing to qualify for the NBA Finals last year despite a league-best 56 wins in the 2019-2020 regular season.
Even without Thompson for the 2020-2021 campaign, the Warriors are a dangerous team heading into the regular season. Meanwhile, the Bucks are just as much a contender as they have been in recent years, with Giannis Antetokounmpo looking to silence any doubters as he looks to prove his worth in his eighth year in the league.
Add in all of the drama surrounding Antetokounmpo’s status as it relates to free agency after this season, and this one is the equivalent of television gold wrapped up in a pretty bow for the folks at ABC.
5 p.m. ET: Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics
If all goes according to plan for these two teams in 2020-2021, don’t be surprised to see this expertly-placed Christmas Day matchup serve as an early look at the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals.
The NBA knew exactly what it was doing by placing this battle between the Nets and Celtics in the 5 p.m. ET window, with all eyes focused in on some of the league’s biggest names.
On one hand, Nets fans will get their first Christmas Day glimpse at the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who will have already had one game under their belts to work out any kinks and rust from their extended absences last season (their first in Brooklyn).
On the other, Celtics fans will find out how their young core can stack up against some of the league’s greatest players, all coming on the heels of a massive contract extension that star forward Jayson Tatum signed in November.
While the Celtics will be without point guard Kemba Walker, they’ll still see some familiar faces in Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, and will get a peek at the newly-acquired Tristan Thompson down low, as well.
Depending on which conference you believe is better heading into the 2020-2021 season, this game could turn out to be the first-place or second-place game of the day if you were to put it on a podium with the 8 p.m. ET primetime game.
Just settle in as you enjoy your Christmas Day dinner and enjoy the ride.
8 p.m. ET: Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers
As long as load management doesn’t come into play a few days after the league’s season openers, this game could go down as one of the best Christmas Day battles in recent memory.
The Lakers and the franchise’s fanbase are on cloud nine after LeBron James and Anthony Davis brought a championship back to Los Angeles after the team’s stint in the bubble, and now the debate turns to whether or not they can do it again.
There won’t be any financial concerns to worry about for either superstar, with Davis signing a five-year, maximum extension with the Lakers and James signing a two-year extension of his own to solidify the team’s core for years to come.
It’s a deadly duo that the Western Conference will have to deal with for the foreseeable future, and it’s up to the league’s rising stars to take down the NBA’s latest superteam.
One of those youngsters with the potential to be the league’s new king? Mavericks guard Luka Doncic.
Doncic has emerged as one of the league’s most talented point guards since his rookie year in 2018-2019, and has consistently proven that he can go punch-for-punch with established names like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and even James and Davis on one occasion.
If Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis can improve year-over-year, don’t count out a potential Lakers-Mavericks matchup in the second or third round of the postseason in 2021.
For those on the East Coast, this will be just the dessert you need to wrap up the day after your Christmas Day feasts in the evening.
10:30 p.m. ET: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets
Think we forgot about you, West Coast folks? Think again.
To complete the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule for 2020, the league decided to pour a little salt in the wound for Clippers fans that haven’t gotten over the team’s historic collapse against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals just a few months ago.
While the Clippers had to deal with the consequences of their (lack of) actions in that series, the Nuggets were able to reap the rewards and become one of the biggest winners from the NBA’s bubble experiment in the summer of 2020.
Point guard Jamal Murray and big man Nikola Jokic became fan-favorites in the process, as the duo helped bring Denver back from not one, but two different 3-1 series deficits against the Jazz and Clippers in back-to-back postseason series.
Nuggets fans will definitely hope for less stress as the team maneuvers through the 2020-2021 season, and this Christmas Day battle against a newfound rival will be the perfect test to see if they’re for real, or if the Clippers will bounce back in a big way in the new year.