It is almost August, and with that comes the release of the NBA schedule. It doesn't receive anywhere near the fanfare the NFL schedule release does because there are way too many games to zero in on, but the one date on the calendar of the most interest is Christmas Day. While the NFL has encroached on their territory in recent years Christmas is still known as a basketball day in most households. That's why even last year while battling against a slate of football games, it was one of the NBA's best individual days in terms of viewership.
Traditionally there are five games on Christmas Day-- one at 12pm ET, one at 2:30pm ET, one at 5pm ET, one at 8pm ET, and one at 10:30pm ET. The games always showcase the biggest stars the NBA has to offer, but the schedule-makers must choose carefully. Putting a team like the Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas several months beforehand does not guarantee the presence of Kawhi Leonard or Paul George and it is a big priority to avoid putting on a stinker.
What might the NBA's Christmas Day schedule look like this year? We'll take our best guess.
NBA Christmas Day Schedule Predictions
12pm ET: Milwaukee Bucks @ New York Knicks
The Knicks are the one team that always plays on Christmas Day, amassing a 23-31 record over the years as the team with the most Christmas Day games played. For a while there it was the bad game of the day but the Knicks are good again. In this universe the league pits them against the Bucks to capitalize on both national and international viewership. Giannis Antetokounmpo in Madison Square Garden is always a fun time and both teams are contenders in the Eastern Conference. A competitive matchup featuring a league MVP is always a winner.
2:30pm ET: Los Angeles Lakers @ Dallas Mavericks
This was the 2:30 game last year and it makes sense to go around one more time. Getting the Lakers into that early afternoon timeslot is key as it catches the pre-dinner East Coast crowd along with the post-Christmas morning West Coast crowd. Playing in Dallas means the game will start at 1:30pm local time; the NBA traditionally doesn't have its West Coast teams tip off before noon. And the storylines write themselves. Kyrie Irving vs. LeBron James. Luka Doncic. Anthony Davis. The stars will be out in force and it only makes sense to pit them against each other in an early enough window that everyone will be watching.
5pm ET: Philadelphia 76ers @ Boston Celtics
The Celtics have been a Christmas Day favorite for a few years now as Jayson Tatum elevated himself to true superstar status. They've played against the Bucks the last two years but this time around the NBA goes for a playoff rematch. Tatum dropped 51 on Joel Embiid and the 76ers to eliminate them last spring. Now Philly gets its chance for revenge. Two good viewership markets in the best Eastern time zone slot is a win for the NBA. The one risk factor here is the James Harden situation. He may not be on the Sixers by the time December rolls around. He might even be holding out. But Embiid provides enough star power to compensate and the historical rivalry between the two sides is too much to pass up.
8pm ET: Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors
The Kings? On Christmas? That's right, folks. It's a new age. The Kings are good and, more importantly, very fun to watch with their fast-paced offense. The Warriors will always get a primetime spot like this as long as Stephen Curry is suiting up. The two teams' playoff series last season suggests a budding rivalry and one the NBA would be wise to help grow. This is the boldest call on this list, especially since it relegates reigning Finals MVP Nikola Jokic to the latest slot possible, but the NBA knows where its bread is buttered. Curry needs to be in this slot to maximize viewership and the Kings are the best possible matchup to generate interest even if their star tandem haven't accomplished much yet.
10:30pm ET: Phoenix Suns @ Denver Nuggets
A rematch of last year's 10:30pm ET game, Jokic and the defending champs take on the league's newest superteam. The NBA would probably like to get the Suns into an earlier timeslot if possible but going for a playoff rematch is more interesting than pitting the Suns against the Lakers or the Nuggets against the Mavericks. The Nuggets deserve more scheduling respect after winning the title but Jokic doesn't move the viewership needle as much as his counterparts yet and as such it feels inevitable he'll end up in the latest timeslot. Regardless of all that this would be a tremendous matchup and the NBA will hope the star power on the court will be enough to overcome the late tip on the East Coast.