• Kyle Russell

2020 NBA Christmas Day Game Previews

On Thanksgiving we eat turkey and watch the NFL, but on Christmas we open presents and watch NBA. Despite an unprecedented year marred by Covid-19, the NBA came back just in time to keep the holiday tradition alive; that tradition being a five game back to back full day of marquee matchups. Let’s celebrate and preview what’s sure to be a fun day of basketball.

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Miami Heat

After an ugly collapse in the Orlando bubble, the New Orleans Pelicans are back to break into the playoffs in a packed Western Conference. With Most Improved Player Brandon Ingram and preordained NBA superstar Zion Williamson, the Pelicans boast young star level talent. The Pelicans are built to run a fast pace and try to outscore their opponents.

Arguably the biggest surprise of the bubble by making it to the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat enter into the season looking to prove that wasn’t a fluke. Miami has a deep versatile roster led by All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The Heat can play multiple styles to best attack their opponents; in this case probably a bigger lineup to counter Williamson and veteran big Steven Adams.

To be straightforward, the Pelicans are mainly playing because the NBA is looking to promote Williamson as a future face of the league. The Pelicans are certainly a young team with lots of potential, but their bubble collapse leaves room for doubt they’ll ever reach it. Upsetting the Heat on national television would go a long way to show this wasn’t just a business decision.

The matchup to look out for here will be Willamson vs. Adebayo. Both are athletic freaks built to be modern small-ball fives. Willamson is a bruiser with cheat code agility for someone his size, making him a near unstoppable force at the rim. Adebayo meanwhile focuses his athleticism on the defensive end, guarding anyone anywhere on the court as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. What happens when Willamson goes against Adebayo is a must see.

Golden State Warriors vs. Milwaukee Bucks

After a lost season following injuries and the fatigue of five straight NBA Finals, Steph Curry returns to lead the Golden State Warriors in a bounceback campaign. While his fellow splash bro Klay Thompson is out following his tragic Achilles injury, Curry is still there to make bombing threes from deep look easy. The Warriors will need the two-time MVP to play at that level again if they hope to make the playoffs out West.

As far as the Milwaukee Bucks are concerned, they’ve already won re-signing Giannis Antetokounmpo to a five year extension. The reigning Most Valuable Player’s impending free agency, with several teams circling like vultures, would have been a looming cloud hanging over the team all season. With that now gone, the Bucks can focus on winning a title this season without panicking into bad short-term only moves.

The Warriors were a dark horse candidate to sign Antetokounmpo next offseason, so his signing does take out the biggest subplot of this matchup. After looking like a shell of himself last season, this could be an opportunity for Draymond Green to bounce back. The former Defensive Player of the Year will have to guard the freight train that is the Greek Freak if the Warriors hope to win this game.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics

After hitting rock bottom a few years ago, the Brooklyn Nets have been a huge success story catapulting themselves back to title contention with savvy front office moves and excellent internal development. The key crown of their rebuild was in the summer of 2019 when they signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Since then Nets fans have been waiting for Durant to return following his Achilles injury. With Durant back and looking healthy so far, the Nets are finally ready to contend.

The Boston Celtics have been an organization of consistent excellence, having gone to the Eastern Conference Finals three times in the last four years. WIth rising stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics are set up to be playoff mainstays for years to come. The young Celtics will struggle for some time while All-Star Kemba Walker recovers from knee treatment, but this team still hopes to break into the NBA Finals this year.

A few years back, Celtics GM Danny Ainge famously fleeced the Nets in a trade, the result of which dropped the Nets to their nadir while setting the Celtics up as the contender they are now. Having risen back up to contention, the Nets organization would certainly like to get back at the Celtics. Add in to that Irving was originally on the Celtics where he clashed with the young stars before leaving in free agency to the Nets.

The point is there’s plenty of juicy subplots in this matchup. This could also serve as a future playoff preview, with both teams expected to make deep playoff runs. The Celtics are already an East elite, while the Nets are looking to solidify their position as one.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers

An MVP candidate in his third season, Luka Doncic is off to one of the greatest career starts in NBA history. Thanks to him, the Mavericks have morphed from rebuilding team to playoff team to now a Finals contender. Last season saw Doncic and the Mavs run one of the most efficient offenses in league history, now they’re looking to improve on the defensive end to become a true threat in the West.

The Los Angeles Lakers begin their title defense after an offseason that many agree saw them get better. Even if they hadn’t, it’s hard to doubt the All-NBA talents of their star players Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Davis is still exploring the depths of his powers as he enters his prime, while James is still the dominant all controlling force he’s been for 18 seasons.

The prime time game on a prime time day, this is a matchup between the current best player on the planet, James, and one of the up and coming challengers to his title, Doncic. With Doncic basing part of his game on James, both are ball-dominant point forwards capable on their own of making a top 10 offense. With unnatural vision and high basketball IQ in both, there will be plenty of highlight assists to be seen in this one.

Outside of the Doncic vs. James matchup, this is also a potential preview of a playoff series to come. The Lakers rule as the gatekeeper to the Finals out West, while the Mavs have positioned themselves to make a run to the Finals. Depending on seeding, there’s a high chance they run into each other.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets

The Los Angeles Clippers have returned to right the wrongs of their blown 3-1 series lead last September. The talent on this team is undeniable, highlighted by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but last year was a reminder that talent doesn’t always win out. With a new head coach and a year of learning each other under their belt, the Clippers loom again as the biggest threat to the Lakers out West.

With one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, the Denver Nuggets have broken through in the West to be a consistent playoff team. Nikola Jokic is a game changer, arguably the best passing big man in NBA history. Jamal Murray reached a higher level last playoffs that he can build upon. The grit on this team is real, having come back from 3-1 deficits twice last playoffs to make it to the Western Conference Finals.

Closing out the Xmas day games is a revenge match between the Clippers and the Nuggets team they blew their aforementioned 3-1 lead to. The key in that series was Jokic taking advantage of a smaller Montrezl Harrell, who has since been replaced with a sturdier Serge Ibaka. The Clippers have the more talented roster and all the motivation to right their collapse. Ideally they’d do that in the playoffs, but until then a Christmas day game will have to suffice.