The NBA's marquee regular season showcase is going to have a different feel this year. The annual Christmas Day basketball-gasm could wind up being a really tough watch given how hard the league has been hit by COVID-19. A ton of star players will miss the games and, in some cases, be replaced by guys from off the street.
The New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks will open the slate at Noon ET on ESPN in what looked like an incredible rematch from the 2021 playoffs between two up-and-coming teams.
Unfortunately, both squads have struggled this season, and both will be missing a ton of key players. The Hawks will be without Trae Young, Clint Capela, Kevin Huerter, Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari. The Knicks will be missing Nerlens Noel and Kevin Knox due to health and safety protocols, while Derrick Rose is out with an ankle injury. Without Young playing this game simply won't be as fun.
The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks will tip-off at 2:30 p.m. and what looked like a matchup of Eastern Conference contenders is simply not going to be as fun. The Celtics enter the game with a 16-16 record, while the defending champion Bucks are 21-13. Luckily Giannis Antetokounmpo is back after going through health and safety protocols but no one knows if he'll actually play.
The Celtics currently have 12 (!!!!) players in health and safety protocols. That's essentially an entire roster. Among those missing are Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Enes Kanter Freedom and Grant Williams. Meanwhile, the Bucks will likely be without Donte DiVincenzo who is in protocols and, as mentioned, no one knows if Antetokounmpo will play.
The Phoenix Suns (26-6) and Golden State Warriors (26-6) play at 5 p.m. and this is certainly the big matchup of the day. Unfortunately, the Warriors will be short-handed, with Damion Lee, Andrew Wiggins, Moses Moody and Jordan Poole all in health and safety protocols. Meanwhile, the Suns have no one in protocols making them an aberration leaguewide.
When the schedule was set, the marquee game of the day was the Brooklyn Nets facing the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. The 8 p.m. tip-off is almost always reserved for the top game on the slate, but Saturday's matchup is likely to be ugly. The Lakers (16-17) have been terrible all season, while the Nets (21-9) have trudged through despite being short-handed.
The Lakers will be without Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Austin Reaves, Avery Bradley and Malik Monk thanks to protocols. Anthony Davis is also out due to a knee injury. The Nets have been hit even harder, as they will be missing 10 players including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, Cam Thomas, David Duke Jr. and Kessler Edwards. This game will essentially be James Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and a bunch of random guys casual fans have never heard of.
Dallas is missing Luka Doncic, Reggie Bullock, Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr, Josh Greene and Trey Burke thanks to protocols. Somehow the Jazz have their entire roster clear of COVID for the moment and are almost injury-free. This game was supposed to showcase two of the league's brightest young stars with Doncic facing off against Donovan Mitchell, now we've been robbed of that.
Every game on the schedule has been severely impacted by COVID-19. The games will go on but it just won't be the same kind of Christmas Day we've been used to getting from the NBA.