A Look Ahead at the NBA on Christmas Day

An analysis of storylines and predictions for the slate of five NBA Christmas day games following a record-short (COVID-influenced) offseason.


media by Kira Zizzo

Take a look into storylines and predictions for each of the five Christmas day matchups. 

by Luka Owen, Reporter

 72 days marks a record-short offseason following what will surely go down as the most bizarre NBA season in league history.

 As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league Hiatus halted play starting March 11 2020, and caused for the season to continue through mid-October. This leaves players from 22 of the leagues 30 teams with just over two months to prepare for their first game of the 2020-2021 season. 

Nonetheless, the show must go on. The NBA Christmas games, which usually mark the midway point of the season, will now be played on the third day of the season. This festive day of basketball traditionally features some of the league’s best matchups for the entire season, and this year is no exception. 

Here is an in-depth look at the biggest storylines and predictions for each of the five tremendous Christmas day matchups. 


Game #1: New Orleans Pelicans vs Miami Heat

Where and When:

10:00 AM MST on ESPN

Top Storylines: 

After an underwhelming 2019-2020 campaign, the Pelicans look to develop their young core into a true playoff threat. 

After a surprising move in the trade of Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks, the New Orleans front office aimed to emphasize their trust in their young trio of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Zion Williamson. 

Williamson, the high school/college phenom and former first overall pick, will be playing in his first season opener and Christmas day game after missing the majority of last season with a torn right lateral meniscus (CNN sports). Williamson managed a strong 22.5 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game in his 24 appearances in his rookie season.

On the other end, Miami comes into the 2020-2021 season with sky-high expectations after their performance in the NBA playoffs last year shattered their projections. The five seeded Heat managed to win the series against the fourth seeded Pacers, first seeded Bucks, and third seeded Celtics on an improbable run to the NBA Finals where they were later defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. 

Superstar Small Forward Jimmy Butler aims to build off of a career best season a year ago, while playing in a mentorship role for a young and hungry Miami squad. 

Furthermore, Miami fans will watch closely at the play of big man Bam Adebayo, as his max contract extension signed this offseason plans to earn him a tremendous $163 million over the next five seasons. Bam will be playing under immense pressure to show that he is worth the high price tag. 

ESPN odds:

MIA -5.5 

RCHS Student Predictions (Against the Spread):

Luka Owen ‘21 (author):  MIA

Matthew Procter ‘21: NO

Ryan Kennedy ‘21: MIA

Ty Hall ‘21: NO

Ben England ‘22: MIA

Owen Barrett ‘22: MIA


Game #2: Golden State Warriors vs Milwaukee Bucks 

Where and When:

12:30 MST on ABC

Top Storylines:

For the second straight season, the Golden State Warriors will be without the play of five time all star Shooting Guard Klay Thompson, after he suffered a season ending achilles tear while working out in Southern California on November 18th. 

This means that superstar Point Guard Steph Curry will likely be forced to hold the load for an otherwise young Golden State team. Curry looks to regain his offensive dominance after a broken hand kept him out of all but five games a season ago

Additionally, Golden State bolstered their starting lineup this offseason, drafting Center James Wiseman from Memphis with the second overall pick in the NBA draft, and trading a first round pick for Small Forward Kelly Oubre Jr. from Oklahoma City. 

The Warriors will look to reinstate themselves after a horrific 2019-2020 season in which they won just a measly 15 games, snapping a streak of five consecutive NBA Finals appearances. 

Meanwhile, Milwaukee added the 11 year veteran and former UCLA Bruin Point guard Jrue Holiday in a trade with New Orleans in which they were forced to give up three future first round picks, as well as Point Guards Eric Bledsoe and George Hill. 

With this effort to pair another star-caliber player with back to back MVP champion Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee seems to be in a “Finals or bust” mindset entering this season. Antetokounmpo was secured by the Bucks  December 15 with a supermax extension worth $228.2 million over the next five seasons

ESPN odds:

MIL -7.0

RCHS Student Predictions (Against the Spread):

Luka Owen ‘21 (author):  MIL

Matthew Procter ‘21: GSW

Ryan Kennedy ‘21: GSW

Ty Hall ‘21: MIL

Ben England ‘22: MIL

Owen Barrett ‘22: MIL


Game #3: Brooklyn Nets vs Boston Celtics

Where and When:

3:00 MST on ABC

Top Storylines:

Kevin Durant is back! NBA fans will get to see one of the league’s best back on the court for the first time since rupturing his achilles tendon in the 2019 NBA Finals. Durant’s road to recovery has been long and arduous, so his return to the NBA court is a huge milestone. 

After winning two NBA Finals (and two Finals MVP awards) in just three seasons in Golden State, Durant looks to start a new chapter alongside the great Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

Irving will once again be making his return to the Boston Square Garden, more than a year after opting out of his $21.3 million player option with the Celtics at the end of the 2018-2019 season.

 In August of 2017, Irving was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics, bringing along with him the hope to restore Boston’s dominance among the NBA landscape. However, this experiment by the Celtics coaches and front office proved to be a bust, as in two seasons, he was unable to lead the team past the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Questions of lingering bitterness between Irving and the Celtics organization are the headline of this bigtime matchup on Christmas day. 

ESPN odds:

BKN -1.0

RCHS Student Predictions (Against the Spread):

Luka Owen ‘21 (author): BKN

Matthew Procter ‘21: BKN

Ryan Kennedy ‘21: BKN

Ty Hall ‘21: BOS

Ben England ‘22: BOS

Owen Barrett ‘22: BKN


Game #4: Dallas Mavericks vs Los Angeles Lakers

Where and When:

6:00 MST on ABC

Top Storylines:

The enticing matchup of reigning first team All NBA winners LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Luka Dončić takes the spotlight in the first of two night games on Christmas day. 

Dončić entered this season as one of the league’s premier players at just age 21, after an All Star sophomore season with Dallas. He is a trendy preseason MVP candidate, and if he were to win the prestigious award, he would tie Derrick Rose for the youngest ever to receive the award (22). 

In the City of Angels, the Lakers have constructed what looks to a lineup capable of being the next NBA dynasty after winning the Finals a season ago. Although James and Davis by themselves could be enough to propel any lineup to a championship, the Lakers added several more key pieces in the offseason. 

After the departures of veterans Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo following the team’s championship win, Frank Vogel’s Lakers team made a splash in free agency, obtaining former sixth man of the year Center Montrezl Harrell from the Clippers, as well as trading for sixth man of the year candidate and Point Guard Dennis Schröder from Oklahoma City. 

The Lakers have their eyes on their first consecutive NBA Championships since the late Kobe Bryant led Lakers in 2009 and 2010

ESPN odds:

LAL -7.0

RCHS Student Predictions (Against the Spread):

Luka Owen ‘21 (author):  LAL

Matthew Procter ‘21: LAL

Ryan Kennedy ‘21: DAL

Ty Hall ‘21: LAL

Ben England ‘22: DAL

Owen Barrett ‘22: DAL


Game #5: Los Angeles Clippers vs Denver Nuggets

Where and When:

8:30 MST on ABC

Top Storylines:

This matchup features a rematch of the 2020 Western Conference Semifinals in which the Denver Nuggets sent shockwaves through the basketball world by overcoming a three to one deficit and winning the series in seven games. 

The Clippers entered the series as heavy favorites, as many NBA analysts had foreseen an LA vs LA Western Conference Finals since well before the season started. The Clippers will look to get their revenge on the Nuggets on Christmas.

In the Mile High City, Nuggets fans anxiously await the play of Jamal Murray, as they hope he can maintain the electric performance that he brought forth in the 2020 playoffs. The 23 year old point guard averaged 26.5 points and 6.6 assists in 19 playoff games last season, helping propel the Nuggets to their fourth ever Western Conference Finals.

Meanwhile, the Clippers made a major move December 10th, re-signing Small Forward Paul George to a maximum contract worth $190 million over four seasons. NBA fans are well aware of George’s capabilities as a former first team all NBA and MVP candidate caliber player. 

However, the timing of the contract does seem a bit peculiar, considering George is coming off of a historically bad postseason by his standards, in which he earned the nickname “Pandemic P” after shooting a pitiful 32% in the second half of all postseason games last year. 

ESPN odds:

LAC -1.0

RCHS Student Predictions (Against the Spread):

Luka Owen ‘21 (author):  LAC

Matthew Procter ‘21: DEN

Ryan Kennedy ‘21: LAC

Ty Hall ‘21: LAC

Ben England ‘22: DEN

Owen Barrett ‘22: DEN