Christmas is not only the most important day of the year for our friends at the North Pole. It’s also a glorious day for the NBA, where the league has been putting its best stars and teams against each other for decades in matches where spectators can watch over roaring eggnog. (The first Christmas games of the competition were in 1947, when the Baltimore Bullets defeated the Chicago Stags 87-70 at the Baltimore Coliseum).
This Christmas comes at a strange time for the N.B.A. campaign because it’s the first week of the season. There won’t be any fans in the stands. Ten teams spread throughout the day – all 13. For the fifth consecutive year, the NBA has put five games on the field – and many of the league’s most recognizable faces will be on the field, including LeBron James, Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.
Some teams, like the Golden State Warriors and the Miami Heat, seemed to shake in their first season. Others, like Sethi, looked like jugglers.
At Christmas there were the classic games. So it will be 35 years since debutant Patrick Ewing de Knicks helped the Knicks beat the Boston Celtics in Madison Square Garden by 32 points and 11 rebounds.
One thing you need to know: Erik Spoelstra of the Heat won the top score of the competition on Christmas Day (7-0), which tied him to Les Harrison, who coached the Rochester Royals from 1948 to 1955, for the best coaching record in his career.
Overview : After Cinderella’s trip to the finals of the N.B.A. League during the bubbling season, Heat rested for less than eight weeks – less than any team except the Los Angeles Lakers during the off-season. They won’t have the slightest semblance of Christmas morning at home after signing a game early.
Miami didn’t look so surprisingly lethargic (and sensitive to turnover) in their opening loss to Orlando on Wednesday. The Heat now has to deal with unwanted feuds and the cheeky Zion Williamson, who will play for the first time since his absence last season as a debutant after knee surgery at the biggest regular season stage of the league.
Curious to see how he will play under the demanding New Orleans new coach Stan Van Gundy, Williamson averaged 28.5 points in two pre-season games and has lost significant weight since last season.
Warriors against Dollars: Fighting in two directions M.V.P.S.
One thing you need to know: After Giannis Antetokounmpo was called MVP for the second year in a row, he kept the city of Milwaukee – and many residents of Wisconsin – in a state of hype/anxiety/Latino for weeks until he wondered if he should sign a long-term agreement with the Bucks in the preseason. Last week he finally put an end to the collective fear of his community by accepting the most lucrative contract in the league’s history, a five-year contract that could be worth about $228 million.
Overview : Antetokounmpo has led the Bucks to the league’s best regular season score in each of the last two seasons, but the playoffs have been different. Last season, the Bucks failed to beat the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and Antetokounmpo is desperate to reach the NBA finals – and win a championship. It won’t be easy. After the Boston Celtics won 122-121 on Wednesday-evening, the Bucks tried to take the lead in the first game of the season. Antetokounmpo missed a late free throw that would probably have sent the game in overtime. He wasn’t happy.
As for the Warriors, their glorious past as champions never seemed as far away as Tuesday night, when the Nets opened the season with a loss of 125-99. After missing most of last season due to an injury, two-time MP Stephen Curry appears to be fully fit again. But without Klay Thompson, for the second time this season, the Warriors could face another long period of growing pains.
Nets against Celts: Kevin Durant is always very good.
5:00 p.m., ABC.
One thing you need to know: Netcentrum DeAndre Jordan has the record for blocked shots in a Christmas game (8 in 2011) and net leader Kyrie Irving has the record for stealing (7 in 2016). (Bonus: Nets coach Steve Nash played as a player at Christmas).
Overview : This game is played in stellar duets: Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown for the Celtics, Irving and Kevin Durant for the Nets.
The Celtics overcame the heat in the final of last year’s Eastern Conference. It was a difficult season, with the loss of former All-Star Gordon Hayward in a free agent exchange, while Kemba Walker, another All-Star, continued to struggle with knee problems that will keep him out of the country for a few more weeks. Instead, the Celtics rely on 22-year-old Tatum and 24-year-old Brown to carry them, alongside their young players like Robert Williams III and Grant Williams. (Celtics added two quality veterans in low season – Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague, to help them).
For the Nets, Irving and Durant were the superstars that the Nets hoped to sign for the 2019-2020 season. They dominated the opening night house opener against the Golden State Warriors. Durant, who hasn’t played competitive basketball in 18 months, doesn’t seem to have lost a step. Caris LeVert seemed comfortable in the second unit. This team quickly established itself as the favorite in the Atlantic Division, if not the favorite in the East.
The game will also mark Irving’s official return to the field in Boston, where he played for two seasons. The team did not make it to the 2018-2019 season and Irving left for the Nets, although he expressed his intention to stay in Boston. The Celtics players seem to be doing well with Irving. Fans, not so much.
Mavericks vs. Lakers: Luke can plead his case for the M.V.P..
8:00 p.m., ABC and ESPN.
One thing you need to know: With an extra 35 points, LeBron James would become the top scorer of the competition by Christmas, for no. 1 Kobe Bryant (395 points) and nr. 2 Oscar Robertson (377 points).
Overview : Instead of playing Miami in the last N.B.A. game on Marquee TV’s daytime show, James and the Lakers will receive Dallas and Luka Doncic, one of the M.V.P. favorites this season. The game plan is indicative of Doncic’s growing stature as he enters his third NBA season in Slovenia.
I’ve always wanted to play at Christmas, Doncic said.
James twisted his left ankle in losing the Lakers to the Clippers and missed the last eight minutes. I shot very well, he said, but he insisted that the injury wouldn’t prevent him from taking care of Doncic. The Mavericks also lost their first game and, more disturbingly, the fourth quarter 106-102 loss to Phoenix, who quickly reopened the discussion about Dallas’ repeated failures last season.
The Mavericks will be without Kristaps Porzingis, but everything indicates that Dallas’ second best player will make an early return. Porzingis suffered a severe knee injury in August which required further surgery after he was unable to spend time with the Knicks due to more severe knee injuries.
Clipper vs. Nuggets: You have something to prove.
One thing you need to know: In the Nuggets’ 124-122 overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night (more on that in a moment), Nikola Jokic scored his 42nd career point with 29 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists. Triple career. This places him fourth among the active players, according to the Basketball Guide. The names for him are easy to recognize: Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and James Harden.
Overview : As I said, the Nuggets have lost their start to the season – and that’s ridiculous. Buddy Hield of the Kings won the game with a buzzer tip. But the Nuggets are not so far from a post-season race that saw the Clippers eliminated in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinal. Jokic, 25, and Jamal Murray, 23, who is virtually unstoppable on the bubble, are just in their prime.
The Clippers certainly have a chance to win the championship and they showed some courage to win the Lakers on Tuesday night in the season opener. Paul George, who fought on the bubble, confirmed his status as best player of the league and scored 33 points on 13 of the 18 shots from the field.