Several of NBA’s best and brightest stars set to shine on Christmas Day
The 5 marquee games feature Kia MVPs and All-NBA talent across the board.
Tuesday night’s doubleheader was a great way to wake up the palate for a new NBA season. And Wednesday’s 13-game sampler platter was the ideal follow up, a chance to taste a bit of everything the 2020-21 season has to offer.
But nothing satisfies the hunger like Friday’s Christmas Day showcase, a five-course meal full of the league’s best teams, a who’s who of the best duos and players that highlight matchups that provide the framework for where the season goes in the coming weeks and months.
You could put together a first and second All-NBA team with the star power that will be in uniform around the country, including Kia MVP’s past, present and future, as well as champions and Finals MVPs of the same ilk.
Nine players who earned All-NBA honors last season are scheduled to hit the floor and that doesn’t include Brooklyn’s two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving or New Orleans Pelicans’ sensation Zion Williamson, three of the biggest and most recognizable stars in the NBA’s global universe.
The NBA’s scheduling Santa has delivered the goods as usual; not even a global pandemic could disrupt this holiday tradition, which gets under way early in the day and will keep you locked in until for hours.
A quick look at the menu:
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Miami Heat, Noon ET (ESPN)
Zion Williamson garners the biggest headlines, and with good reason. His Christmas debut is a great way to kick things off. But Stan Van Gundy’s bringing a deep Pelicans team to his old stomping grounds to challenge the reigning Eastern Conference champions. Brandon Ingram led the way (24 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds) in the Pelicans’ impressive season-opening win over Toronto. And it’s Ingram, who will continue to serve as the Pelicans’ go-to-scorer until Zion polishes his skills and becomes a more versatile threat. The Heat will counter with a burgeoning Big 3 of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic (20 points and 7 assists off the bench in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to Orlando). The Heat need to clean up the turnovers that (22 total and 13 combined from Adebayo and Butler) that led to 24 Magic points. The turnovers and the absence of the Heat’s usual hustle are issues that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra won’t allow to continue.
Keep an eye on: The starting point guard matchup between Lonzo Ball and Tyler Herro. Ball didn’t secure a contract extension, making this a show and prove year for the former No. 2 overall pick. Herro showed how much he enjoys the big stage as a rookie in the Orlando bubble.
Golden State Warriors vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 2:30 ET (ABC)
Any time you can get the last two players to win back-to-back Kia MVPs on the same court, it’s must-see-TV. Both Steph Curry and his Warriors and Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Bucks have been humbled the past two seasons, injuries and a playoff absence for the former and back-to-back playoff flameouts for the latter. The Warriors got routed in their season opener against Brooklyn and despite his usual wicked overall performance, The Greek Freak came up short in a loss to Boston Wednesday night. Someone gets a chance to get off the snide with a win. While the Bucks remain among the best teams in the league, the Warriors will have to scratch and claw their way to get back into the playoff mix without Klay Thompson available this season and so many youngsters on the roster.
Keep an eye on: Warriors rookie James Wiseman’s baptism continues. He acquitted himself just fine against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets on opening night. Now he’ll get a relentless dose of the furious style of Antetokounmpo. Welcome to the NBA rook!
Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics, 5 ET (ABC)
They tussled in the preseason. But now these two contenders and rivals can get down to the serious business of who owns the Atlantic Division, and perhaps the Eastern Conference this season. Jayson Tatum had no problem facing up the reigning Kia MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo to secure the first win of the season. So you know he won’t shy away from a matchup with Kevin Durant, who seems to be back in his elite space after an 18-month absence after Achilles injury. Durant’s entire season is going to be a refresher course for anyone who has selective amnesia in regards to the most accomplished scorer of his generation (sorry James Harden). And he he might not even lead the Nets in scoring this season, what with Kyrie Irving burning up the nets (and sage) in his official return to Boston, and everywhere he goes.
Keep an eye on: Jaylen Brown, the Celtics’ “other” star, continues to fly under the radar far too often. He put together an All-Star caliber campaign last season, as one of the league’s best two-way talents, but might have to wait until this season to be rewarded.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 8 ET (ABC/ESPN)
There’s a reason this game earned the prime time slot. Like giddy children tearing open gifts in the morning, LeBron James has become a Christmas Day staple the past 17 seasons. He’s done it at every stop, from Cleveland to Miami, back to Cleveland, and now in Los Angeles, where he and Anthony Davis restored order after just one season together. Luka Doncic might want to take notes on how to do it on the holiday, because this is one of many items he could inherit from the current global face of the league. No one cares that both the Lakers and Mavericks are coming off losses in their respective season openers. The last time we saw Luka square off against two of L.A.’s finest under the lights, he was foreshadowing the postseason demise of the LA Clippers in the Orlando bubble. The venue changes but not the tug of the future (Luka’s just 21) on the suffocating grip of the past and present (LeBron is a mere days away from his 36th birthday).
Keep an eye on: New Lakers point guard Dennis Schroder is still in the early stages of figuring out how to play alongside LeBron, an experience that’s worked out extremely well for so many others the past. He’s the type of competitor that’ll be eager to steal the show with a vintage performance of his own.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets, 10:30 ET (ESPN)
The first step of the Clippers’ vengeance/redemption tour went as planned, as they spoiled ring night at Staples Center for the Lakers in Tuesday’s season opener. The opportunity to get a piece of the team that humiliated them in rallying from a 3-1 deficit in Western Conference semifinals the Orlando bubble has to be just as inviting. It’s not that the Clippers will be able to wipe away the sting of the Lakers winning the championship they thought was theirs, or the Nuggets rallying to knock them off before they get even got a chance to compete for it. Every target nailed on this new quest for Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and these reconstituted Clippers is what matters. The Nuggets, of course, are still fuming that their rally for the ages is still being categorized as a “collapse” instead of their triumph. Jamal Murray had a rough night (1-for-9 shooting, 9 points) in the Nuggets’ overtime loss to Buddy Hield’s tip-in at the buzzer. So you know he’ll be ready for a bounce back effort with the whole world watching.
Keep an eye on: Nuggets All-NBA center Nikola Jokic looked like his usual self in the opener. So did the other player the Nuggets are counting on taking that next step this season. Michael Porter Jr.’s breakout in the Orlando bubble is the launching pad that led to his 24-point, 5-rebound, 3-block effort against the Kings. We need to see more and more of Porter under the brightest of lights.
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