December 25 is a day that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For NBA diehards, it means a slate full of deliberately chosen, high-quality NBA games as the NBA on Christmas Day is an American staple.
These games are just one of 82 regular-season games for each of the teams involved. Yet, somehow, they always feel more significant. It might be that the league chooses marquee matchups and rivals to schedule, or it might just be a bit of Christmas magic. In any event, it’s something to look forward to. Here are our predictions for every game on the Christmas Day schedule this year.
Predicting Every Game on the NBA Christmas Day Schedule
NBA Christmas Day: Atlanta Hawks vs New York Knicks
The atmosphere in Madison Square Garden on the (rare) occasion that the Knicks are in the playoffs seems to breed villains. It wasn’t particularly surprising to see Trae Young taking a sardonic bow after his Hawks eliminated the Knicks in last year’s playoffs. The NBA schedule makers thought it was an iconic enough moment to revisit on Christmas Day.
If this season ended today (which, in light of the Omnicron variant, feels all-too-likely), neither of these teams would punch a ticket to the NBA’s postseason dance. The Atlanta Hawks remain a dynamic offensive team, as their Offensive Rating of 112.4 ranks third in the NBA. Unfortunately, they’ve had trouble getting stops, and their 111.0 Defensive Rating ranks 24th in the league. Overall, that leaves the team a middling 15-16, just outside of the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture in the 10th seed.
On the other hand, it’s hard to pinpoint a precise issue with this Knicks squad. The offense is subpar (their 109.2 Offensive Rating ranks 15th) and the defense is even worse (110.9, 23rd). They’ve been a major disappointment after an encouraging 2020-21 season.
Neither of these teams has lived up to expectations, but at least the Hawks have an identifiable strength. They should come away with a victory in this one. This is predicated on Young being available as he, Kevin Huerter, Danilo Gallinari, and Clint Capela are in COVID-19 protocols.
Prediction: Hawks 118, Knicks 107
Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks
This features another matchup between two Eastern Conference teams who have generally disappointed over the 2021-22 season. With that said, it wouldn’t be fair to lump the defending champions in with the rest of these squads. They’ve had some horrible luck with injuries this season, and when they’re healthy, they remain a force.
The Bucks are 11-1 on the season when all three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday share the floor. Unfortunately, that’s been a rare occurrence. Lineups featuring the Bucks’ Big 3 with Bobby Portis and Grayson Allen rank in the 84th percentile in point differential per CleaningtheGlass. However, even that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Bucks haven’t logged enough minutes with starting center Brook Lopez in the middle to qualify for CleaningtheGlass’s tracking.
At 21-13, the champs have the appearance of a group that will be fine so long as they’re healthy by playoff time. The Boston Celtics, on the other hand, have no such excuse.
These C’s are an uninspiring 16-16 despite rostering two superstar wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The best explanation may be an offseason coaching change, but this group is struggling to keep their heads above water. If the Bucks enter this contest with their 2x MVP and even one of Holiday or Middleton (who is listed day-to-day with a knee injury), they should secure this victory.
Prediction: Bucks 109, Celtics 102
Golden State Warriors vs Phoenix Suns
When the NBA was making the Christmas Day schedule, they may not have anticipated that this would project as the marquee matchup. Fast-forward to Christmas Eve, and this one looks like the best gift of the day.
These are the two best teams in the NBA by record. They’re also two of the three best (along with the Utah Jazz) by Net Rating as well. The Warriors rank first in the NBA in that statistic with a Net Rating of 10.5. The Suns clock in at third with a Net Rating of 7.6.
Fans can expect an interesting stylistic clash in this matchup. The Warriors have been turning back the clock this season with the same brand of spaced-out, motion-heavy offense that recently led them to an NBA championship.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns boast some of the best floor balance in the Association. Chris Paul and Devin Booker are one of the best backcourt tandems in the entire league, with Paul’s playmaking complimenting Booker’s score-first mentality. Meanwhile, Deandre Ayton has emerged as one of the league’s premier traditional big men, while Mikal Bridges is a prototypical glue guy wing.
At 26-5, the Suns look primed to repeat last season’s NBA Finals run. Unless, of course, the Warriors (26-6) stop them. This Christmas Day matchup is difficult to predict, as both teams are elite. We’re betting on the Warriors’ advanced experience on big stages to win out in what ought to be an absolute barnburner.
Prediction: Warriors 115, Suns 112
Brooklyn Nets vs Los Angeles Lakers
Conversely to the Warriors/Suns matchup, the league probably did expect this game to receive the lion’s share of Christmas Day attention. Heading into the 2021-22 season, many observers would have pegged this as a likely NBA Finals preview. By now, that appears considerably less likely.
The Lakers have fallen considerably short of expectations this season at 16-17. There were concerns about the fit between LeBron James and Russell Westbrook from the moment the Lakers acquired the latter. Nonetheless, most expected those concerns to manifest in the playoffs, not doom this ultra-talented outfit to mediocrity from the start of the year onwards. Anthony Davis‘ struggles certainly have not helped. The superstar big man is shooting 17.9% on 2.1 three-point attempts per game, shrinking a floor that’s already insufficiently spaced due to the presence of Westbrook.
Now, Davis is altogether absent with a knee injury. As disappointing as his season has been, they’ll be worse for wear without him.
The Brooklyn Nets have certainly come closer to meeting expectations: at 21-9, they sit atop the Eastern Conference. In all likelihood, they’d be the powerhouse that virtually everyone expected if mercurial point guard Kyrie Irving was vaccinated. In the meantime, they’ve managed to stay afloat with MVP-level play from Kevin Durant, and compromised but still highly effective play from James Harden.
Irving is looking increasingly likely to make his return soon. It’s not going to happen for this Christmas Day matchup, but his Nets are likely to come away with a victory over these Lakers regardless.
Prediction: Nets 119, Lakers 108
Christmas comes but once a year, and so does the NBA’s Christmas Day slate. Each of these matchups holds the potential to be competitive. NBA fans should tune into each if their families don’t mind.
Dallas Mavericks vs Utah Jazz
Another year, another underrated Utah Jazz basketball team. Yeah, the Warriors and Suns are clearly the two best teams in the West, but Utah is lurking just a few games back. As usual, they have a solid defensive team and a gifted offensive roster that relies on superstar Donovan Mitchell. They essentially have the same roster as the team that took the number one spot in the West last year so don’t expect any regression.
The Dallas Mavericks are the complete opposite of the Jazz. They have been so disappointing to start the year checking in at 15-16. Of course, injuries play a huge role as Luka Doncic has missed significant time and Kristaps Porzingis is now dealing with a foot injury. All in all, Jason Kidd‘s team is off to a difficult start and does not have enough to compete with Utah.
Prediction: Jazz 118, Mavericks 99
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