Christmas Day is often filled with holiday cheer, presents and, most importantly, basketball.
The NBA will host five games throughout the day airing on ABC, ESPN and the ESPN app, and this year’s matchups are worth the watch.
Joel Embiid and James Harden will tip things off and are sure to bring energy into Madison Square Garden when the Philadelphia 76ers take on the New York Knicks at noon ET.
Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks will face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers (2:30 p.m. ET) before a rematch of the 2022 Eastern Conference semifinals ensues featuring Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (5 p.m. ET).
Taking over the night shift, the Golden State Warriors will battle Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies without Stephen Curry (8 p.m. ET), and reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic will finish off the evening when his Denver Nuggets go head-to-head with Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns (10:30 p.m. ET).
This year, the 76ers-Knicks game also will air on ESPN+ and ESPN2 as part of analyst Stephen A. Smith’s NBA-centric “alterna-cast” presentation, “NBA in Stephen A’s World.”
Here’s what you need to know about the 2022 Christmas Day slate:
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Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks, noon ET (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN+)
A couple of weeks ago, no one would’ve expected the 76ers and Knicks to be among the NBA’s hottest teams heading into the Christmas Day showcase. And yet, here we are.
The Knicks have won eight in a row, surging into the top six in the East and solidifying themselves as a credible playoff team — particularly amid the struggles of the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls. The 76ers, meanwhile, have bounced back from their 1-4 start to move into the top half of the East playoff picture behind another scintillating stretch from Embiid, who continues to make it a spirited case as the NBA’s most dominant center.
— Tim Bontemps
Los Angeles Lakers at Dallas Mavericks, 2:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)
The best player of this generation will face his potential successor as their teams scrap for a spot in the play-in scenario! That last phrase wasn’t part of the plan for James and Doncic, but that’s the reality for the Lakers and Mavericks as the season nears the midway point.
Nevertheless, it’s a marquee viewing experience when two of the league’s premier talents match up, one in his 20th season and the other 23 years old. Doncic has matched up with James, one of his idols while growing up in Europe, eight times, with the Mavs winning only two of those meetings.
— Tim MacMahon
Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics 5 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)
The Bucks and Celtics will meet for the first time since their seven-game series in the second round of last season’s playoffs, during which Boston prevailed en route to an appearance in the NBA Finals.
Milwaukee and Boston appear on a collision course once again. The teams own the two best records in the league, and both will have a key player available in this game who was absent during that playoff series.
The Bucks will have one of their best perimeter players back on the court for this matchup after Khris Middleton missed all of last year’s playoff series, and the Celtics will have big man Robert Williams III anchoring their defense after a left knee injury in Game 3 forced him to miss the final four games of the series.
— Jamal Collier
Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors 8 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)
It was just a few months ago that Morant took to Twitter to voice his desire for the Grizzlies to face the Warriors on Christmas Day in a rematch of the Western Conference semifinals. Now, his Christmas wish is being granted.
The battle lost some pizazz when Curry suffered a left shoulder subluxation against the Indiana Pacers, which is causing Curry to miss “a few weeks,” according to reporting from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“[It pisses me off] a little bit,” Memphis’ Dillon Brooks told reporters last week when asked about Curry missing the game. “But I got Klay [Thompson]. I like that matchup a little better, because he was talking a little smack before when we lost.”
But even without Curry, the holiday fireworks between the Grizzlies’ Morant, Brooks and Desmond Bane and Golden State’s Thompson, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole should lead to a worthy next chapter in this budding rivalry.
— Kendra Andrews
Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets 10:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)
Last Christmas, the NBA didn’t give you the MVP.
This Christmas, we get to see the back-to-back award winner, as Jokic returns to the Christmas Day stage when the Nuggets face the Suns.
Jokic is playing some of his best basketball, exploding for 40 points, 27 rebounds and 10 assists on Sunday, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to record such eye-popping numbers.
There’s always a chance for some Christmas-night drama between the Nuggets and Suns. Phoenix swept the Nuggets in a 2021 second-round playoff series that ended with Jokic being ejected from Game 4 after a hard foul on Cameron Payne. Booker and Jokic had to be separated while Jokic’s brothers yelled at Booker from the stands during the mini scuffle.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
NBA on Christmas Day by the numbers
13: Philadelphia and New York will meet on Christmas Day for a record 13th time. The 76ers won the most recent Christmas meeting, in 2017.
17: LeBron James (the all-time leading scorer on Christmas) is set to play in his 17th Christmas Day game, which will break a tie with Kobe Bryant for the most in NBA history.
24: The Lakers have the most wins on Christmas Day with 24 and will be playing on the holiday for the 24th straight season.
19: On Christmas Day last year, the Bucks overcame a 19-point deficit to defeat the Celtics 117-113.
38.3: Ja Morant averaged 38.3 points against the Warriors in the first three games of the 2022 Western Conference semifinals before missing the final three games with a knee injury.
1994: The Nuggets’ one victory in seven previous games on Christmas Day came against the Seattle Supersonics in 1994, when Denver’s roster included ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose.
60: New York Knicks hall of famer Bernard King still holds the record for most points scored in a Christmas Day game when he put up 60 points vs. the then-New Jersey Nets in 1984. The Knicks lost 120-114 despite his performance.
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