Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors
This is Christmas appearance No. 1 for Kemba Walker and only No. 2 for Toronto. It only took the former heading up the Atlantic coast to Boston and the latter winning a world title to make this happen.
Assuming the Raptors don’t pull the plug, these clubs could find themselves battling it out in the East’s second tier. That probably isn’t the storyline the NBA will try to sell, though. Between Walker locking horns with Kyle Lowry and up-and-comers Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam going toe-to-toe, there’s a decent amount of individual intrigue here.
Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers
This isn’t the holiday’s highest-profile matchup, but it could be the five-game slate’s most significant.
“While the Western Conference next season is going to be a dogfight, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are the massive favorites to finish atop the East,” ESPN’s Tim Bontemps wrote. “They appear destined for a showdown in the conference finals.”
There might be a top-five talent on each team—Giannis Antetokounmpo for Milwaukee, Joel Embiid for Philly—and they seem to bring the best out of each other. In last season’s three meetings, Embiid averaged 34.7 points, 15.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists, while Antetokounmpo went for 43.0 points, 15.7 boards, 7.7 dimes and 3.0 rejections.
Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
Please let Paul George be healthy for this. Please let Paul George be healthy for this. Please let Paul George be healthy for this.
There could be four top-10 players sharing the Staples Center stage and dueling it out in front of a global audience. Am I the only one already drooling?
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors
OK, maybe this isn’t the West’s can’t-miss matchup anymore, but any time Stephen Curry and James Harden occupy the same hardwood, the game has all-time-classic potential. When they battled on Jan. 3—a one-point Houston overtime win—Harden delivered 44 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and 10 triples (including the game-winner), while Curry countered with 35 points, six dimes and five triples.
While Curry and Harden are the headliners, the newcomers might be the game’s most interesting participants. How will Russell Westbrook adapt to Mike D’Antoni’s system? How can D’Angelo Russell blend his game to Golden State’s? Each team’s ability to integrate its new star will go a long way toward deciding if either (or both) still belong among the West’s elite.
New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets might not have a national pull just yet, but they probably should. They were the West’s second seed last season, and they have a wildly intriguing (and under-25) tandem in point-center Nikola Jokic and scoring guard Jamal Murray. Jokic might be the best passing big man we’ve seen, and Murray is so electric he was one of only a dozen players with multiple 45-plus-point outbursts in 2018-19.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, already feel like a brand given the arrival of Zion. Getting them on the holiday slate was a no-brainer, and they could become Christmas regulars with a strong showing.