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NBA Christmas Day 2020 Preview

(Andrew Yang/The Intermission)

By: Vincent Tran

The Christmas season is always a special time of year. The atmosphere is festive and joyous, gifts are underneath the Christmas tree, and there are special meals and treats for all to enjoy. But for many sports fans, Christmas is a day where you can watch some high-quality basketball. NBA games run from morning until night on Christmas day and have left many memorable moments. This year is no different. There are five marquee matchups that will surely pique your interest. So while you open gifts, eat some sweets, and spend some time with family, here is a preview into what you may see on Christmas Day.

12:00 p.m. EST: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat

(Photo via ESPN)

The Eastern Conference champions Miami Heat square off against the young, up-and-coming New Orleans Pelicans in the first matchup on Christmas day.

The Heat are only two months removed from a Finals defeat to the Lakers and they have mostly retained the core that got them their last season. They have very tough, hard-nosed defensive players and they couple that with the three-point shooting of Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. This team is led by Jimmy Butler who seems to be able to do anything on the court when he feels like it. Although Miami lost key playoff contributor Jae Crowder in the offseason, they added Avery Bradley and Maurice Harkless who should add to that tough defence. The Heat are looking to build upon their playoff success from last season and are ready to prove that they hang with the heavyweights of the NBA.

The Pelicans have a young team headlined by the potentially generational talent in Zion Williamson and last season’s Most Improved Player Brandon Ingram. They also added the likes of Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe in the offseason to add veteran leadership and toughness to that young nucleus. However, there are questions about the floor spacing with JJ Redick being the only consistent three-point shooter on the team. But this might not be as big an issue if players like Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart continue to become better shooters and build upon the promise they showed last season. This is still a young team that is looking to show their potential to the league and having Ball and Zion on the same team will always have the potential for many highlight-reel plays.

The three-point shooting and defensive toughness of the Heat going up against the young and fun Pelicans team should be very entertaining. This matchup should be a close one to start off the day that could go either way, but the proven quality of the Heat should see them winning this one.

Prediction: Heat win

2:30 p.m. EST: Golden State Warriors at Milwaukee Bucks

(Photo via Golden State of Mind)

Stephen Curry and the new-look Warriors will be taking a trip to Milwaukee to face off against the two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

The Warriors are fresh off securing the second overall pick, James Wiseman, in an injury-plagued season and are looking to bounce back with a collection of new talent. They added Kelly Oubre Jr. in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason, which adds another good scorer to their roster, joining the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall. Though undoubtedly the biggest loss for the Warriors was losing Klay Thompson to another season-ending injury, this time being a torn right Achilles tendon. Had Thompson been healthy for the season, the Warriors would likely be back to being among the top championship favourites. The good news for the Warriors is that Steph Curry is healthy and back to his All-Star form and this team should still be competing for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also shaken up their roster after disappointing exits from the playoffs in the last two seasons. They’ve surrounded the newly extended Antetokounmpo with underrated guard Jrue Holiday and also made decent roster additions in DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, and Torrey Craig. They lost some depth by trading for Holiday and the failed trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic would have given them a good shooter, but the Bucks did well in switching up a roster that failed to live up to expectations in the playoffs. Still, these additions, along with maintaining their core of Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez, should see the Bucks finish as one of the top teams in the league and one of the title favourites for this season.

This game will be a fun one to watch, especially if Steph Curry is back to his MVP form. But the Bucks are an extremely good defensive team and newly acquired Jrue Holiday should do a good job guarding Curry. The Bucks pose a threat on both ends of the court and have ranked in the top tier of teams on both offence and defence in the last two seasons. This will be a thrilling match, but it should be a win with relative ease for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Prediction: Bucks win

5:00 p.m. EST: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics

(Photo via Nets Daily)

It’s a shame there are no fans allowed at these games because Kyrie Irving’s return to Boston would have been met with quite an interesting reception from Celtics fans. Boston’s Christmas gift to Kyrie would have been a loud chorus of boos and jeers coming from the stands of TD Garden, which would’ve been quite the sight to see. Kyrie’s sage burning routine wouldn’t even be able to get rid of all the negative energy towards him.

Although all of that would’ve made this game much more interesting, it is still a good game nonetheless.

The Celtics come into this game with their franchise cornerstones in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown along with Marcus Smart who is a very scrappy and hard-working player. But the Celtics had a pretty underwhelming offseason overall. They were supposed to build upon a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals but didn’t make additions that would make them the favourites in the East. They lost some contributing pieces to their squad, such as Gordon Hayward who had a bit of a resurgence coming back from his gruesome injury a few years ago. They added Tristan Thompson who should help this team with his energy and rebounding, as well as Jeff Teague who gives the Celtics a decent backup point guard, but these additions don’t separate the Celtics from the pack in the East. They are also missing Kemba Walker for the beginning portion of the season which might be troubling as he adds a different dynamic to this team. A short-handed Celtics squad may find it hard to deal with KD and Kyrie along with the depth of the Brooklyn Nets.

Brooklyn Nets fans will finally be able to see the true potential of their team in a big matchup against the Celtics on Christmas. KD and Kyrie missed the majority of last season with injuries and this will be the chance to see what this team is capable of now that everyone is healthy. These two All-Stars alone would have made the Nets a playoff team, but they also have some very talented players on the roster as well. Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Joe Harris give this team some offensive firepower outside of Durant and Irving, while Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan are two good centers that help with interior defence. This team has their two stars as well as a very good supporting cast and should be among the top teams in the East and one of the favourites for the championship.

This game will be a good test for both teams as we can see what a Celtics team without Kemba Walker is like and how good a fully healthy Nets team can be. This will be a very entertaining game to watch, but it is hard to see a Celtics team without Kemba beating a full-strength Nets squad. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should put up a good fight for the Celtics, but the Brooklyn Nets will likely cruise away with the win.

Prediction: Nets win

8:00 p.m. EST: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers

(Photo via Silver Screen and Roll)

This is a matchup between the future and the present.

Luka Doncic and the Mavericks represent the future of the league, with the 21-year-old phenom being the overall MVP favourite for many people this upcoming season. The Mavs surrounded Luka with better defenders by adding Josh Richardson and James Johnson, which should ease the load on Luka and improve a defence that finished below league average last season. They should still be able to build upon their top five rated offence, especially with Luka operating as the primary ball-handler. But one big concern for the Mavericks is that they are going to be without Kristaps Porzingis until January. The 7’3” Latvian is a big component of this Mavericks team and without him, they are going to be missing a secondary star who complements Luka’s game with his floor spacing and shot-blocking. This means that more of the offensive load will fall on the shoulders of Luka Doncic and what better way to show that he can handle that than during prime time on Christmas Day, but it will be a tough task going up against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

LeBron James and the Lakers are coming off winning the franchise’s 17th championship and have reloaded the roster in an effort to repeat and win back-to-back titles for the first time since Kobe Bryant did so in 2009 and 2010. The Lakers had arguably the best offseason out of any team, which is quite remarkable given the little trading assets they had as well as their salary situation. They lost key contributors Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard, but exchanged them for the top two finalists for the Sixth Man of the Year award last season in Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder, as well as adding Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews who are important role players that should greatly improve this team.

The Lakers also did amazingly by not only extending LeBron James’ contract to keep him with the team for the next three years, but they also signed Anthony Davis to a five-year max contract, essentially locking up his prime years with the team. They also brought back Markieff Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and recently extended Kyle Kuzma, while second-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker is also looking to build upon a strong preseason performance. This team is loaded from top to bottom and the Lakers' front office has put this team in a position to contend for multiple championships and remain the top team in the NBA for the next few years.

A factor that could go against the Lakers in this game is the number of minutes AD and LeBron play, as they are only two months removed from winning the championship. While this may be a potential cause for concern for the Lakers, it will likely not even factor much into the outcome. This game has the potential to be a close and thrilling match, but the loss of Porzingis coupled with the new acquisitions the Lakers made in the offseason should see them winning this game comfortably over Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

Prediction: Lakers win

10:30 p.m. EST: Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets

(Photo via CBS Sports)

The final Christmas game is a rematch of the 2019-20 Western Conference Semifinals in which the Denver Nuggets came back down 3-1 to complete a major upset upon the Los Angeles Clippers, whom many favoured to win the championship last year. This is probably the most evenly matched game of the day and is going to be a very thrilling match between two of the Western Conference’s best teams.

After an abysmal and forgetful Game 7 for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in that series, the Clippers will be looking to get revenge on the Nuggets and redeem their shortcomings from a season ago. They lost Montrezl Harrell and Landry Shamet in the offseason but reloaded their squad with Luke Kennard and Serge Ibaka who add more three-point shooting and Ibaka’s defence should be an upgrade over what Harrell provided them last season. Apart from those additions, the Clippers are running it back with the core squad that garnered so much hype from a season ago. Kawhi, PG, and the rest of the returning Clippers have one season together under their belts and are looking to fix the chemistry issues that marred them last season. This team should once again be among the top teams in the league and should be gunning for another shot at the title.

The Denver Nuggets enter this season with relatively the same roster that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season. They lost Jerami Grant in the offseason, but are banking on big years from Michael Porter Jr and Bol Bol, and also have Will Barton returning from injury. The Nuggets made some underrated additions this offseason in former Real Madrid guard Facundo Campazzo and forward JaMychal Green, who should give this team additional playmaking and defence, respectively. The Nuggets are going to be reliant on their two stars, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, but this team has talent all over the roster. Like many of the top contenders in the league, the Nuggets boast a deep squad and many of their young stars are in prime position to have a good season. This team has the potential to be a championship contender for the next few years, although there are some questions about their defence. The Nuggets defence ranked outside of the top ten and losing Jerami Grant does not help with that. Michael Porter Jr will have to show major improvements on defence as in the bubble he was seen as somewhat of a defensive liability. Still, their defence didn’t stop them from making it to the Western Conference Finals last season and they should still be one of the best teams in the West.

This game could arguably be the best game of the night as these two teams match up quite well against each other. They both have two stars and deep rosters, which makes this game one that you won’t want to miss. There are also the storylines from last season’s playoffs in play in this game, which make it even more interesting. This game is basically a toss-up, but the Clippers might come out victorious because of the two-way abilities of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and their defence is much better than Denver’s.

Prediction: Clippers win


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