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Stars, snubs and competition: Why we can't wait for the NBA at Christmas

The NBA has opened an early holiday gift.

The league’s Christmas schedule is set — The Athletic is the first to report the lineup — and, as always, it’s packed with competition, superstars and potential playoff previews.

In the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers will take on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, while the Milwaukee Bucks will visit the Boston Celtics in a rematch for their seven-and-a-half games Final thriller.

In the West, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will take on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, and the defending champion Golden State Warriors will take on the Memphis Grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns. Defending MVP Nikola Jokic, a healthy Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets battle it out.

Which team and star shine the most? Who should be on the NBA’s biggest regular-season stage? Will the Lakers make the playoffs on Christmas?

You’ll be able to see all the action on ESPN, ABC and the ESPN app. Until then, our NBA insiders are answering some of the biggest questions surrounding the league’s Christmas schedule.

1. Which Christmas matchup will be the best conference finals matchup?

Tim Bontemps: Bucks-Celtics team. We saw how good the Warriors-Grizzlies were last season, so this would be a good answer, but the top picks have to be Milwaukee and Boston. Not only was this a classic seven-game series last season, but this time both teams should be better : Boston The experience of reaching the NBA Finals, with the addition of Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari, and the experience of the Bucks getting back healthy and getting Khris Middleton back. Sign me up for seven more games.

ANDREW LOPEZ: Bucks-Celtics. Maybe I’m a little biased because I covered the series last season, but it was a really fun game until Milwaukee came to a close. The Bucks didn’t have a healthy Middleton in that series, so his return adds another element. (Milwaukee also signed Joe Ingles and Marjoon Beauchamp.)

Kevin Pelton: Bucks Celtics. As interesting as the shooting of the young Nuggets and Grizzlies against the veteran Suns and Warriors is, the matchup of the Eastern Conference giants is the clear choice. Despite Middleton’s absence, Boston and Milwaukee play seven games in the 2022 playoffs. With the Celtics loading up this summer, I’d love to see both teams go all out.

Jamal Collier: Grizzlies-Warriors. Grant me seven Bucks-Celtics games, but I hate seeing a young team trying to replace a proven veteran. Memphis is trying for the second straight season at Golden State and has a chance to make the Finals, which is what makes for a great rivalry in NBA history.

Bobby Marks: Was it too late for the Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers (sorry) Memphis)? If not, it must be Phoenix vs Denver. Back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic and healthy Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. should be in contention for one of the top seeds in the West. Despite stalling in Game 7 against Dallas, Phoenix returned to the same starting five from a team that won an NBA-best 64 games in 2021-22.

2. Which Christmas showdown is not a feature you would like to see?

Mark: Brooklyn Nets vs. 76ers. I understand the reluctance to put Brooklyn on Christmas due to the uncertainty surrounding Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But Ben Simmons back in Philly would be tempting to start five games.

Pelton: 76ers Nets. KD or no KD, team pairings that will complete a massive trade (send James Harden to Philadelphia, Simmons to the Nets) in February, possibly Simmons’ first return to Philadelphia as an active player, this Will be more anticipated than the 76ers — the Knicks.

Collier: 76ers – Miami Heat. I know it’s become a tradition for the Knicks to host Christmas games, but I’d much rather see New York against a team like Chicago. That leaves room for a Philadelphia-Miami rematch in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals – with Milwaukee-Boston – especially given that Joel Embiid’s injury in the playoffs eliminated a major impact before the series began. Partly dramatic.

LOPEZ: Most games look promising, but I would love to see the Atlanta Hawks The team took the Knicks’ spot against Philadelphia. Beyond that, the only other game I can hope for might be if the NBA wants to show its young talent in one of those games. The world may not be clamoring for the Orlando Magic vs. Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day, but Paul Banchero vs. Chet Holmgren’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup will be interesting.

Bontemps: Minnesota Timberwolves-Clippers. Los Angeles is the deepest team in the NBA, has a great coach in Tyronn Lue, and — as long as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are healthy — will be the favorites to win the West. As for Minnesota, I think the Wolves will win 50 games for the first time in Kevin Garnett’s prime, and they have one of the NBA’s most charismatic young stars, Anthony Edwards. “Ant-Man” is exactly the kind of player that should be on the Christmas stage. Like Ja Morant and the Grizzlies this year, if the Wolves have a breakout season, I could easily see them get a Christmas call next year.

3. Which player scored the most at Christmas?

SCORE: Harden, vs. 45. I’ve said publicly that Harden will have A rebounding season and will be the talk of the MVP. Playing against a less bad team in New York on Christmas Day only reinforces that.

Pelton: Embiid, 38 points. Embiid, the league’s leading scorer last season, totaled 64 points in Harden’s back-to-back games against the Knicks in Week 1 with the Sixers. In Game 1, Embiid went to the line with an incredible 27 free throws. Freshman Isaiah Hartenstein provides more size when defending Embiid in the low post, but given that Hartenstein averaged 4.9 fouls per 36 minutes last season, he’s unlikely to keep Embiid out of charity.

Collier: Embiid, 41 points. I’m predicting another MVP-caliber season for Embiid, who hasn’t played on Christmas since 2019, and he has the right game to provide a good game. Watch out if Embiid circles the “Christmas in the Garden” season on the calendar.

Bontemps: Morant, 50. We know Morant is a performer. We also know that the Warriors, like in the vast majority of the Western Conference semifinals following Gary Payton II’s injury, have no weapon to slow Morant down. So let’s say Morant, on his Christmas debut, did something really special, spending half a dollar under the watchful eye of the basketball world.

LOPEZ: Murray, 41 years old. The 25-year-old guard was in the middle of his best 2020-21 season before tearing his left ACL and was forced to miss the rest of the season and the Nuggets’ entire 2021-22 season. Murray will have a chance to show off to a national audience during his Christmas home game against the Suns. Let’s score 40-plus points, and he tied the NBA Christmas record with eight 3-pointers.

4. LeBron will play a record 17th Christmas game. Which contestant is most likely to end up breaking the all-time record this Christmas?

Bontemps: While the popular answer here is probably the player James faces Donqi Odd, but I’d pick Jayson Tatum. Tatum, who has played on vacation in all six of his NBA seasons, is 24 years old. (It’s worth noting that this will also be Jaylen Brown’s seventh Christmas game). It’s hard to see anyone chasing James, but Tatum — the big-market club’s established superstar — has time and a secret.

Collier: Doncic. The Mavericks and Doncic are in their third straight Christmas game. Doncic, 23, is already one of the brightest young stars in the league, and easily one of the biggest. So for the foreseeable future, you’ll likely have his team in a game on Christmas that would give him a chance to break James’ record.

Lopez: Tatum, about to enter his sixth season, And will play in his sixth Christmas game. Tatum’s teams are often seen on Christmas Day — only the Lakers and Knicks have more games on Dec. 25 than Boston — and there’s no reason to think Tatum or his team will be out anytime soon. Slow down.

Pelton: Tatum actually Leading James’ pace. (James will turn 27 when he plays for the sixth time on Christmas). Considering the Celtics have been playing holiday games — this will be their 12th Christmas game since adopting their current five-game roster in 2008 — Tatum has a chance to keep playing as long as he’s in Boston. .

MARK: James’ record is safe. Stephen Curry will play in his ninth game on Christmas, but the Warriors guard will turn 35 in March and will likely fall short of the mark. Doncic has youngsters around, but can we be sure that Dallas will be a consistent championship-caliber team in the future?

5. Fill in the blanks: The Lakers will be ____ in the West on Christmas morning.

Score: Fourth. This is not a typographical error. I’ll put on my fortune-teller hat and predict that Russell Westbrook will embrace coach Darwin Ham’s vision, Davis stays healthy, and James plays like an MVP for the first 10 weeks of the season.

Collier: Seventh. Hopefully LeBron and Adelaide will be healthier, but they’ll be dealing with a lot of the same issues as last season, with an odd lineup around them in the improved West.

Pelton: Seventh. With the nationally televised game being held back in the schedule and the Grammys back in Los Angeles, the Lakers’ early schedule should be favorable. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see them comfortably above 0.500 at that point, health permitting. The real test for the Lakers will come after the calendar turns to 2023.

LOPEZ: Eighth. Los Angeles has a lot of problems right now. What will Westbrook think? How will Anthony Davis’ shoulders be supported? How will the team work with Ham? So let’s play it safe here, the Lakers will be in the middle.

Bontemps: Eighth. Lakers, even with the healthy duo of James and Davis , apparently also outside the top six in the West. It’s very difficult to have around 60% of the lineup on a minimum contract. The minimum salaries for these players are there for a reason, and it speaks to the Lakers’ lack of depth across the board. Can they complete higher grades? That’s possible, especially if both James and Davis have played 70-plus games. But Davis has done it twice in 10 NBA seasons, and James has started to have injury problems.

bonus! Fact or Fiction: The NBA needs to bring back Christmas-themed jerseys.

Collier: Facts. Names on jerseys are hard. Please be more creative (less sleeves).

LOPEZ: Facts. Absolutely, but only in one situation: Please leave the sleeved sweatshirt in the closet – please.

Bontemps: Fiction. These jerseys are disgusting. no, thank you.

Tag: Fiction. We really need another spare jersey! ?

Pelton: Fiction. They are Christmas sweaters for NBA jerseys.



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