This year’s NBA Christmas Games is a fusion of the league’s most prestigious stars and 10 organizations at the dawn of an unpredictable season. We have Zion Williamson against Bam Adebay, Stephen Curry against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum against Kevin Durant, Luka Dončić against LeBron James and the LA Clippers against their spirit of the past.
Let’s dive in and take a look at the most intriguing stories in every game, starting at noon on ESPN with two great men.
MORE: A complete list of NBA approved restaurants for team meals
The best young giants of the league
These teams are hoping to fight for titles during this new decade, and both are equipped with exciting players who can define the future of the NBA game on the front field. Bam Adebayo (23) and Zion Williamson (20) are great people of the future. And they dominate in unique ways.
At this stage, Adebayo is a more complete player for one of the main reasons – defense, which is Williamson’s biggest flaw in the second season.
Just ask Jason Tatum, to whom Adebayo in one of the most beautiful balloon moments rejected a potential slam dunk that could define a career. The combination of size, speed and wit of Adebay makes him probably the prototype defensive player great for the current era. Although Jimmy Butler is obviously the heart and soul of this strong Heat team, Adebayo is his backbone.
But Adebayo can’t compete with Williamson’s natural scoring ability. The young Southerner has a great sense of play and skill in finding ways to push his strong frame to the edge. Williamson scored 22.5 points per game last season, converting over 58% of his shots.
Even the best rookies often suffer from inefficiency as scorers, but Williamson arrived in the league with elite sentiments. If teams keep him away from the hoop, they can stop him. Easier said than done, but that’s exactly what Adebayo & Co. will do. try to do in this game.
The 2nd game includes a match between two guys who collected four of the NBA’s last six MVP trophies.
Giannis Antetokounmpo became the most dominant NBA force in the interior, leading the league in points i defensive leap last season, while Stephen Curry literally changed the sport with his perimeter excellence.
Curry suddenly looks deadly. Most of his key partners from the Dynasty dynasty season of 2010 have either disappeared or broken in, and this year’s model looked awful in his debut against Brooklyn. The Warriors adorned the field with versatile threats in all positions, but on Tuesday the ball constantly found obscure playmakers incapable of doing anything. That left Curry on the island. He can do a lot, but he can’t do everything alone.
If Game 1 is a sign of things to come and the defense can devote a huge amount of resources to stopping Curry, this team’s only hit this season will again involve ping pong balls.
The NBA is a cruel league. Injuries are a fact of life, and success is fleeting. Warriors are just the latest proof that every dynasty is fading. With their MVP locked in the years to come, the Bucks dream of dominance in the 2020s just as the Dubs dominated in the 2010s. A big win over Curry in this game would be a poetic step along the way.
With all the attention paid to the recent failures of the Bucks playoffs, they can look for the story of Curry and Golden State for some encouragement. Curry didn’t even make it to the finals until he was 27. Giannis had just turned 26 a few weeks ago.
Sock condition: If there is a red flag in Antetokounmpo’s game, it is on the line. The huge free throw he missed against Boston on Wednesday was not unexpected. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Giannis has missed 25 free throws from the clutch – the most in the NBA league. Clutch time is defined as the last five minutes with a score within five points. Of the 20 most active free-throw performers from the clutch in that time frame, it ranked last, converting 64% of those important free add-ons.
Oh wow, Networks
Welp, the Nets quickly erased a bunch of questions in their debut. Both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving outscored Curry and looked great doing so, combining 48 points on 32 shots. Steve Nash’s new coaching staff was nothing but a masked smile as the Nets dominated at both ends.
With Mike D’Antoni, Nash, Durant and Irving all involved, these guys could easily become the best attacker in the league. Although the big names of the team got all the titles, its rotation was also encouraging. GM Sean Marks has created one of the deepest teams in the NBA league. Players like Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert would start in most lineups, but they lead a unit off the bench that will drive this team to victories even when the superstars don’t shoot all the cylinders. LeVert added 20 points in 25 big minutes on Tuesday, showing that this team is more than a pair of superstars with posh coaches.
LeVert and Allen are the exact types of bench players that Boston lacks. There is no doubt that the Celtics have a couple of phenomena on their wings, a dangerous striker and a good coach, but there are real question marks deeper in their rotation. Gordon Hayward is gone. The front still looks thin. And in the context of the now brutal Eastern Conference teeming with great coaches and superstars, it is unclear whether this team is still a legitimate candidate.
If Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continue to score goals like they scored in Wednesday’s impressive win over Milwaukee, it would be a big increase. But even these rising stars need more help than they currently have.
LeBron v. Luke
What is it like to be the most famous phenomenon in basketball? This game involves two guys who know the answer.
People, Luka Dončić’s madness is not unjustified. At 21, he could have been an undergrader, but instead led the Mavs attack who was literally the most efficient scoring machine in league history last season. It was before he melted our faces with one of the most impressive playoff debuts in his last memory.
Doncic is now in charge of upgrading that foundation and proving to the basketball world that he is ready for the next step. That means improving his defense and getting out of the first round of the playoffs.
At 35, LeBron James is completely in the professorial phase of his career. Don’t let that gray in the chin fool you – he’s not an emeritus yet. He enters this season as the ruling MVP of the finals and the oldest player in the league, which is amazing. At 18, he still plays great basketball and has a legitimate chance of winning more titles and becoming the leading scorer in NBA league history.
If Doncic could learn one thing from Professor James, it is a tried and tested lesson for the defense to win championships. Purples and Gold had the best defense in the West last season, while Dallas took ninth place. James does not lack insulting most interesting parts in his biography, but those chases blocks in the big moments will always help define his legacy.
Sock condition: For LeBron, this will be the 14th consecutive season in a row on Christmas, making Kobe Bryant equal the longest run. James has 361 points in his career on Christmas, the third in a row of all time. Follows Bryant (395) and Oscar Robertson (377).
In this delicious rematch, two teams are hoping to get out of the Lakers in the west. Last year’s seven-game epic series left a bad taste in the mouths of Paul George and the Clippers, who fell apart when the most important thing was in the balloon.
But the short season gave the Clippers a chance for a fresh start. Match 1 showed they are ready to repeat. George looked great at both ends as the Clips ruined the ring ring for the Lakers. At this point, Kawhi Leonard has become a reliable playoff force, but the duo’s success will largely depend on George’s post-season performances.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, are entering this year with confidence. They know they belong, they are young and they are ascending. The team boasts probably the best young core in the entire league. Nikola Jokic is 25, Jamal Murray is 23 and Michael Porter is 22. Not only are these guys young, but they fit in perfectly in attack. Jokic is currently the best player in the league; Murray is one of the best young guards; and Porter is a growing beast on his lap.
The amazing Jokić-Murray interaction from a favorite is the League Pass hipster to the main attraction on Christmas for a reason. These guys appear as Stockton-Malone from the 2020s, and in case you think it’s an exaggeration, consider this wild status from last year’s playoffs:
Top two passers – by to shooters Playoffs 2020
1. Nikola Jokic to Jamal Murray: 185 points
2 Jamal Murray for Nikola Jokić: 166 points
3 LeBron James to Anthony Davis: 147 points
via another spectrum
Jokic is a savant. Murray takes his breath away. The two dominate the defense like no other duo in the league, and neither has reached its peak yet.
Sock condition: On Tuesday, George became the first player to score 30 or more points while shooting 70% or better off the field from the season opener, as Blake Griffin did the same for the Clippers in 2015.