As the snow blankets the streets and families gather around their festive trees, the NBA Christmas Games stand as a beacon of holiday tradition for basketball fans since 1947. December 25th has not just been a day of celebration but a stage for some of the most iconic moments in basketball history. From epic rivalries to breathtaking performances, these games have etched themselves into the hearts of fans worldwide. As we approach the NBA Christmas Games 2023, we look back at the legacy of this holiday tradition and forward to the new memories that will be created on the hardwood.
Here’s a look at this year’s matchups:
Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks, Madison Square Garden, 12 p.m. ET
Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets, Ball Arena, 2:30 p.m. ET
Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers, Crypto.com Arena, 5 p.m. ET
Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat, Kaseya Center, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns, Footprint Center, 10:30 p.m. ET
Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks
The upcoming Christmas Day game featuring the New York Knicks against the Milwaukee Bucks marks the third consecutive year the Knicks have played on this major broadcast day. Historically, the Knicks have a 23-31 record on December 25th, while the Bucks hold a slightly more favorable 5-4 record on the holiday.
This matchup is particularly intriguing as it offers a glimpse into what might have been in the 2023 NBA playoffs. The Bucks and Knicks were on a collision course for the Eastern Conference semifinals, but Milwaukee was surprisingly defeated by the eighth-seeded Miami Heat. The Knicks had their own playoff journey, overcoming the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round before being eliminated by Miami in the semifinals.
Recalling their last Christmas encounter in 2018, the Bucks emerged victorious with a 109-95 win, thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s impressive 30-point, 14-rebound performance. Both teams are eager to make amends for their holiday losses last season, with New York having fallen to Philadelphia and Milwaukee to Boston.
Last season, the Knicks lost all three games against the Bucks, but this year they’re better equipped for a stronger challenge. The addition of Donte DiVincenzo to a lineup featuring Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle, and Josh Hart boosts their prospects. For New York to triumph in this holiday clash, the onus will be on Robinson and Randle to contain Antetokounmpo, a formidable task.
The Bucks continue to be one of the NBA’s elite teams, with a lineup starring Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Khris Middleton. Under the new leadership of coach Adrian Griffin, they’re set to bring a fresh approach and perspective to the game.
Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat
This Christmas Day, the Miami Heat will be making their first holiday appearance since 2020, while the Philadelphia 76ers gear up for their second consecutive Christmas game.
Historically, Miami has shone brightly on December 25th, boasting an impressive 11-2 all-time record on Christmas. This includes an undefeated 8-0 streak under head coach Erik Spoelstra and a perfect 6-0 record at home. Philadelphia’s Christmas Day record, on the other hand, is a respectable but less dominant 19-14.
This year’s matchup between the Heat and the Sixers is shaping up to be a thrilling encounter, especially considering the recent changes in their rosters and their past encounters. Last season, the Heat clinched two out of three regular-season games against the Sixers, propelled by key players like Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro. However, Miami’s lineup has seen some notable changes this year. While they have acquired Josh Richardson, they lost two vital rotational players, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, to free agency. The onus now falls on Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin to fill these gaps, which presents a challenge.
The 76ers, led by stars Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris, have also made some strategic additions, including Patrick Beverley off the bench. Beverley’s inclusion is expected to be beneficial for the team, although overall, the Sixers are not anticipated to surpass their performance from the 2022-23 season.
With both teams undergoing significant roster transformations, this Heat vs. Sixers game is set to be a captivating showdown for basketball fans.
Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers
Rewinding to their last Christmas encounter in 2008, the Lakers, led by the legendary Kobe Bryant, triumphed over the then-reigning NBA champions Boston Celtics, who had bested them in the 2008 finals. Historically, Boston holds a 16-20 record on Christmas Day, while Los Angeles stands at 24-25.
Last season, the Celtics, led by LeBron James, decisively won both games against their longstanding Western Conference foes, the Lakers. This year, however, Boston’s lineup has undergone significant changes, notably with the departure of fan-favorite point guard Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies. This move was part of a three-team deal that brought Kristaps Porziņģis from the Washington Wizards to Boston. Derrick White steps up as the new starting point guard, joining forces with Porziņģis, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford. Some speculate that the team may have regressed with Smart’s exit.
The Lakers have also revamped their roster, but with a more positive outlook. They’ve successfully re-signed Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, maintaining a strong lineup that features LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Jarred Vanderbilt, and D’Angelo Russell. New additions like Jaxson Hayes, Gabe Vincent, and Taurean Prince bring much-needed depth to their bench. The Lakers have also been involved in trade talks, with rumors circulating about their interest in two-time All-Star Zach LaVine. If such a trade were to happen, it could significantly bolster the Lakers’ already impressive roster.
With both teams sporting new lineups, this Celtics vs. Lakers clash is shaping up to be an unmissable event for basketball enthusiasts.
Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns, boasting one of the NBA’s most impressive rosters on paper, are rightly set to host a Christmas Day game this year. Their December 25th face-off against the Dallas Mavericks marks their third consecutive Christmas appearance, with a solid 12-8 record in these holiday games. Dallas, not far behind, is stepping into their fourth consecutive Christmas Day game.
The Suns-Mavericks rivalry has intensified, especially since the Mavericks ousted Phoenix from the 2022 playoffs in the Western Conference semifinals. Since then, the Suns have undergone significant changes. They’ve bolstered their lineup by acquiring Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets during the 2022-23 season and Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards in the offseason. These additions, alongside stars like Devin Booker, Josh Okogie, and Bradley Beal, make the Suns a formidable contender for the NBA championship this year.
The Mavericks, led by the dynamic guard duo of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, have also made notable moves. They brought in Grant Williams through a sign-and-trade with the Celtics during the offseason. However, the depth surrounding Dončić and Irving raises some questions. The Mavericks’ starting lineup is rounded out by Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dwight Powell, with Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber, Richaun Holmes, and Jaden Hardy coming off the bench as key contributors.
While the Suns appear well-equipped to take on the Dallas roster, the intensity of the rivalry promises to make this matchup an exciting and competitive spectacle.
Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets
The reigning NBA champions, the Denver Nuggets, are set to showcase their talents on Christmas Day, facing off against the formidable Golden State Warriors.
The Golden State Warriors, led by the sharpshooting Steph Curry, have been performing well this season. They have overcome their road woes and found more stability in their non-Steph Curry minutes and bench production, thanks to new addition Chris Paul. Despite the questionable fit, CP3 has struck brilliant chemistry with the star players and second unit. He’s been critical in their turnover rate drop this year and clutch play. Paul’s presence has taken significant pressure off Curry’s playmaking duties, allowing him to play more freely.
Meanwhile, Draymond Green has looked like his 2016 self with three games over double-digit scores and 50.0% 3-point shooting efficiency across six appearances. The Dubs will hope Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins find some sustainable form beginning with their game against the defending champions.
The Nuggets have established themselves as the benchmark of excellence in the NBA, a status they look poised to maintain this year. Under the leadership of stars Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray, the team boasts a robust lineup featuring talents like Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
They have carried their form from last year’s playoffs into this season seamlessly. Nikola Jokic has been firing on all cylinders, leading the team in points, rebounds, and assists. Meanwhile, the rest of the group has been efficient, too.
Denver has shut down questions over their lack of bench depth, with Christian Braun, Reggie Jackson, Peyton Watson, and Julian Strawther stepping up big-time after the departures of Bruce Brown Jr. and Jeff Green. The Nuggets, unfortunately, will not have Jamal Murray on the floor for the foreseeable future after he endured a hamstring strain. He could be a big miss in the Nuggets’ most challenging game of the season thus far.