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Star-studded teams headline Christmas Day, Opening Week schedules

LeBron James and his remade Lakers crew figure heavily into the Opening Week and Christmas Day slate.

The Christmas Day matchup between the Lakers and Nets will have no shortage of star power.

It’s the biggest day of the regular season, so why not give the country the two most watchful teams on the same court?

That will be the case on Christmas Day when Lakers vs. Nets (8 p.m. ET, ABC & ESPN) serve as the prime-time attraction on the annual holiday blockbuster. That’s either a preview of the 2022 NBA Finals or a preview of next decade’s Hall of Fame induction. Maybe both. Either way, the national TV audience wins.

Assuming with crossed fingers that all will be healthy and ready, that game will feature LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, all still in their primes. That’s a combined seven Kia MVP trophies and eight championship rings.

Those six players weren’t on the floor for two meetings last season because of various reasons, mainly injury. In the case of Westbrook, he was a member of the Washington Wizards in 2020-21. Both teams are now loaded with Big Threes, are built to win in June and this game will generate conversation in that direction regardless of who wins.

The league announced the Christmas Day and Opening Night schedules on Tuesday — the complete 82-game schedule for the 75th anniversary season will be released Friday afternoon — and the appetizers could be tastier than the main course. For decades, the strategy has always been to place the marquee teams and players on prime display during the two most eventful regular season spots, and the league once again delivered.

The Lakers and Nets are embarking on a journey of rediscovery and perhaps redemption as well. Each saw their 2020-21 seasons interrupted and eventually destroyed in the playoffs by injuries — Davis for the Lakers, Harden and Irving for the Nets.

The Lakers couldn’t overcome the loss of Davis or a gimpy LeBron and fell in the first round to the Phoenix Suns. The Nets stood a better chance against the eventual-champion Bucks, but Durant’s potential series-clinching shot was ruled a two-pointer instead of a 3-pointer in the Eastern Conference semifinals because his toe touched the line and the Nets lost in seven games to Milwaukee.

The Lakers and Nets, when healthy, are formidable given the championship pedigree of some key players and overall level of All-Stars on each roster. Aside from their obvious greatness, however, those players are entertaining as well — a combination that should reflect positively in the Christmas Day television ratings.

The Lakers have loaded up on veterans in the offseason, which may prove beneficial to them in 2021-22 for a variety of reasons.

This will be James’ 15th appearance on Christmas and as an added bonus, the Lakers-Nets game will feature the two biggest markets. This game will help the league occupy the day and night in sports, as it usually does on Christmas. There are five Christmas Day games, beginning with the Hawks at Knicks (Noon ET, ESPN).

The Hawks-Knicks game is intriguing if only because those teams engaged in a spicy if short 2021 first-round playoff series. The game is at Madison Square Garden, which will be waiting for Trae Young. He served as the designated Knicks antagonist in 2021, haunting the home team by responding to taunts with big shots, many of which came in Atlanta’s close-out win in Game 5 at MSG.

The rest of Christmas Day will feature Celtics vs. Bucks (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC), Warriors vs. Suns (5 p.m. ET, ABC) and cap with Mavericks-Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). That’s the two teams in The Finals, plus Luka Doncic vs. Donovan Mitchell, plus a Warriors’ team that hopes to get Klay Thompson back by then following a pair of major injuries.

The league opens what is sure to be an eye-catching 75th season with a slate of games on Oct. 19. In the East, it’s Bucks vs. Nets and a rematch of their playoff series (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) and Warriors vs. Lakers (10 p.m. ET, TNT) in the West, both on TNT. And those four teams are uniquely qualified to pull the curtains on the season.

Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and others. The Lakers' revamped roster could mean big things for the 2021-22 season.

The Lakers will unveil their revamped and turbo-charged team that underwent yet another facelift designed to take advantage of LeBron’s remaining prime years. The new addition is Westbrook, who — unlike Davis and LeBron — has never won a championship. The Warriors are hoping to reclaim some glory after winning three titles in four seasons and then dealing with knee and Achilles injuries to Thompson. His status for the opener is perhaps doubtful, although to this date, his rehab has gone smoothly by all accounts. The Warriors didn’t make the playoffs last season, though no fault of Steph Curry, a Kia MVP finalist coming off one of his better seasons.

The Bucks will begin their title defense against the Nets with their nucleus intact. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and the rest of the championship team will all receive their championship rings from NBA commissioner Adam Silver on that night. There’s the argument, perhaps with some validity, that Milwaukee wouldn’t have been positioned to win a title had the Nets been healthy. Brooklyn will get the chance to support that notion as these teams might stand apart from the rest in the East.

The Celtics and Knicks will open against each other in New York on Oct. 20 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), a significant game because of league history. Both are among the original franchises and this is the 75th season. Also, guard Kemba Walker is now with the Knicks, having journeyed from Boston (via Oklahoma City) and gets the chance to see his former team.

New York native Kemba Walker starred at Madison Square Garden in college. The Knicks are betting he can do it again with them.

The league plans to announce a 75th anniversary team prior to the season and hold celebratory gestures throughout. That, along with strong matchups on Opening Night and Christmas Day, will make for a promising season.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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