Ranking the NBA Christmas Day Games
RANKING THE NBA CHRISTMAS DAY GAMES – Although the 2023-24 NBA season is still a couple of months away, the Christmas Day schedule has already been released. As has been the case the last few years, there will be five games on tap for the holiday. And we will rank them in descending order.
Top Christmas Day Game #5: Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks
Last season, the New York Knicks advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade. It should also be noted that they missed the playoffs eight times during that span.
Unfortunately, for the Madison Square Garden faithful, the Knicks’ postseason run came to an end as they fell to the Miami Heat in six games. On the heels of an unexpected playoff run, the Knicks are looking to prove that their trip to the conference semifinals is a sign of things to come rather than an aberration.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks finished with the best record in the league. Having the league’s best record did not help as the team was unceremoniously eliminated by the Miami Heat in five games, which in turn, led to the firing of Mike Budenholzer.
This was a rather odd decision given that Budenholzer guided the team to its first title in 50 years back in 2021. It will be interesting to see if a new voice was really the issue for such an unlikely playoff exit.
Top Christmas Day Game #4: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat
The Miami Heat needed a win in the play-in tournament just to qualify for the postseason. And they barely accomplished that feat. But once they got in, boy did they surprise everyone.
As previously stated, they upended the Bucks 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs. They knocked out the Knicks in six games in the conference semifinals.
They jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the Boston Celtics in the conference finals and finally won the series in seven games, punching their ticket to the NBA Finals for the second time in four seasons. While they were no match for the Denver Nuggets, the Heat are not a team that we should sleep on this upcoming season.
What can we say about these Philadelphia 76ers? They finished with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference but they were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in seven games. It is also important to remember they led the best-of-seven series 3-2, which means they could have closed out the series on their home court.
Following another disappointing postseason exit, the Sixers parted ways with Doc Rivers. So not only will the team have a new head coach this season – Hello former Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse – it has been well documented that James Harden wants to be traded and it can’t happen soon enough as far as he is concerned.
Whether they honor his request remains to be seen. What is fact is there is an air of uncertainty swirling around the team heading into the 2023-24 campaign.
Top Christmas Day Game #3: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns acquired Kevin Durant in a midseason trade back in February. However, injuries limited him to just eight regular season games with his new team.
Although the Suns did manage to advance past the first round of the playoffs, they were eliminated by the eventual champion Denver Nuggets in six games.
This resulted in the firing of Monty Williams, who had guided the team to its second NBA Finals appearance back in 2021. Just like the Bucks and Sixers, the Suns will have a new head guy in charge (Frank Vogel) and he will try to duplicate the success he had with the Los Angeles Lakers – the team he helped lead to an NBA title in 2020.
On the flip side of this matchup, the Dallas Mavericks didn’t even make it to the playoffs last season. This was disappointing considering they went to the Western Conference finals in 2021-22.
This marked the first time that none of the Texas-based teams made it to the postseason. While the Mavericks did opt to Irving to a three-year $126 million deal, the lack of success the team had when he and Luka Doncic were on the floor together, raises the question of whether the front office made the right decision.
Top Christmas Day Game #2: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets
Fresh off a title run in 2021-22, the Golden State Warriors finished with the sixth-best record in the Western Conference. In the first round of last year’s NBA playoffs, fans were treated to a memorable seven-game series between the Warriors and upstart Sacramento Kings.
While the Kings lacked playoff experience, they gave the Warriors all they could handle and then some. And if not for Stephen Curry dropping 50 points, the series could have had a different outcome. Golden State’s second-round opponent was the Los Angeles Lakers.
During LeBron James’ second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors won three of the four NBA Finals matchups between the two teams from 2015-2018. This time around, it would be James’ team that emerged victorious.
In what proved to be an up-and-down season for the Dubs – especially their erratic play on the road — it will be interesting to see if Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green can lead this team back to the top.
On the other side of this matchup, the Denver Nuggets did not get much respect going into the playoffs despite the fact they finished with the best record in the Western Conference. But after climbing the NBA mountaintop, they have certainly earned that respect. And a Christmas Day game between the last two league champions is the reason why this game is slated at the No. 2 spot.
Top Christmas Day Game #1: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers
Our top game is none other than the Boston Celtics taking on the Los Angeles Lakers. First, you cannot tell an NBA story without talking about either of these teams.
These storied franchises battled each other multiple times with the NBA title on the line in the 1980s. And these teams clashed two more times in 2008 and 2010. The Celtics won 4-2 in 2008, but the Lakers earned a measure of revenge when they defeated their arch-rivals 4-3 in 2010.
But enough about the past. Let’s fast forward to the present.
The Boston Celtics advanced to the conference finals for the fifth time in seven years. That is not an easy feat by any means. And they faced a familiar foe in the Miami Heat. Through the first three games, Miami looked like the superior team. Especially in Game 3 of that series, when the Heat beat them to the tune of 128-102.
The Celtics bounced back, and in a big way, notching victories in Games 4-6. And with Game 7 in their building, the stage was set for Boston to become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. But the eighth-seeded Heat found their footing in the series finale and went on to win Game 7 by a 103-84 margin.
The Cs acquired Kristaps during the offseason, but they also lost a defensive stalwart in Marcus Smart. With that in mind, the front office is hoping that adding another scorer to the mix will be enough to fill the void that was created by Smart’s departure.
The Lakers – who won it all in 2020 – have struggled a bit following that title run. In 2021, they were eliminated by the Phoenix Suns in the opening round of the playoffs. Additionally, they failed to qualify for the postseason in 2021-22. With both James and Anthony Davis not playing at 100 percent going into this year’s playoffs, the Lakers’ odds of a deep postseason run were not that great.
But after wrapping up the No. 7 seed, the Lakers defeated the No. 2 seed Memphis Grizzlies in six games. They followed that up with a 4-2 series win over the defending champion Warriors. The team’s unlikely run to the conference finals came to an abrupt halt, though, as they were swept by the Denver Nuggets.
Thanks to an active offseason, the Lakers could position themselves for another run at the Larry O’Brien trophy. And maybe, just maybe, we see these two teams squaring off in another Finals series.