Every major sports league within the United States has that one day of the year where the games are glorified to an even greater extent than they usually are. For Major League Baseball, it’s July 4th, where the USA’s pastime meets the USA’s birthday. For the National Football League, it’s Thanksgiving, where families get together annually to spend time together, eat a lot of food, and watch the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play football.
For the NBA, the crown jewel of the regular season comes on Christmas Day, a festive occasion filled with an entire day of basketball, starting early in the day, and ending late at night. This is the day when some of the best teams with the games most exciting players face off in potential playoff matchups. Some matchups are driven by offseason narratives, and others are driven from tradition.
With the 2022 NBA Christmas Day slate officially revealed, here are the rankings of the scheduled games in order from best to worst.
5. Philadelphia 76ers vs. New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden (New York, NY)
It’s become tradition for the New York Knicks to face the Philadelphia 76ers on Christmas Day. The two teams have faced off 12 times in the past on December 25th, which is the most frequent matchup on this holiday.
Christmas in the garden!
— James Harden (@JHarden13) August 14, 2022
However, some traditions aren’t good ones, and the New York Knicks playing on Christmas Day regardless of the state of the team isn’t one of them. Last season the Knicks saw major regression from the 2020-21 season in which they made the playoffs as the fourth seed, as they finished 19th in NET Rating and ended up with the 11th overall selection in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Do they really deserve a spot on Christmas day over better performing and more exciting teams as a result of their historical standing and market relevance? The answer is no, especially in a matchup that projects to be lopsided in favor of the 76ers, who have routinely been one of the league’s ten best teams over the last half decade and have the massive advantage in talent featuring Back-to-Back MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and former MVP James Harden.
The addition of Jalen Brunson along with the rest of their young talent makes the Knicks an interesting team as it looks like they’re going all in to compete for a playoff spot. However, they are neither interesting nor good enough to play on Christmas Day over other teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Atlanta Hawks.
4. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center (Dallas, TX)
LeBron James is set to play in his 17th NBA Christmas Day game, the most of any player in NBA History. When LeBron James is on the court, the product is always entertaining. Throw in Luka Doncic into the battle, and the result is a marquee matchup headlining two of the best players in the NBA, a battle of the old and new generations.
However, questions remain unanswered regarding the Los Angeles Lakers. Their core trio of James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook only shared the floor as a unit for 393 minutes, which is equivalent to about eight games. In the very small sample, they didn’t look very promising either as they had a NET Rating of -4.19, which would rank as the 24th best team in the NBA.
Will this trio of James, Davis, and Westbrook ever work cohesively? Will Westbrook even be on the roster on Christmas Day much less opening night? Will Davis be healthier on a game-to-game basis this upcoming season? Will rookie head coach Darvin Ham prove to be an upgrade over Frank Vogel? Is the roster built around the trio a strong one? There are quite frankly too many questions regarding the Los Angeles Lakers for one to get too excited about the matchup.
The historic star power, prospects, and franchise galore warrants the team having a Christmas Day matchup, but will the actual product live up to its expectations. Last season, the Lakers gave the public every indication that they will fail to live up to their lofty standards. Until they prove otherwise, the public shouldn’t be convinced that they can.
3. Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena (Denver, CO)
In a matchup that features two teams that met in the playoffs in 2021, the reigning Back-To-Back MVP, and the team that had the best record in the NBA last season, the sparks are going to fly when the Suns travel up to the Mile High City to take on the Nuggets.
With Nikola Jokic leading one of the league’s best offenses and with the return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. along with new offseason additions in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown. The Nuggets are looking to not only repeat the success they had from two years ago in their run to the Western Conference Finals, but to get over the hump and go on a run to win the NBA Championship.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns are running it back with the same core of stars and complimentary players that led them to an NBA Finals appearance and the best record in franchise history, but are looking to avenge an embarrassing playoff exit from last season.
With two title contenders battling it out, this Wild Wild Western Conference matchup is a gift right under the Christmas Tree.
2. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics at TD Garden (Boston, MA)
The Bucks and Celtics provided NBA fans with an absolute thriller of a seven game series when the two teams faced off in the second round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs.
The Celtics, who came back from a 3-2 deficit to win the series, were saved by the heroics of Jayson Tatum, who scored 46 points against an elite playoff defense while showing his absolute brilliance as a shotmaker, hitting 7 of his 15 three-point field goal attempts.
Tatum was going basket for basket with then-reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 44 points to go along with 20 rebounds and 6 assists in that same game. Antetokounmpo was doing everything for Milwaukee, anchoring their suffocating defense while shouldering an even larger offensive burden in the absence of Khris Middleton.
Hopefully this time around, the matchup between the two favorites to win the Eastern Conference proves to be even better with the addition of Malcolm Brogdon for the Celtics and the return of a healthier Khris Middleton for the Bucks.
1. Memphis Grizzlies vs. Golden State Warriors at Chase Center (San Francisco, CA)
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) August 13, 2022
Ja Morant wanted this. Draymond Green wanted this. The Grizzlies and the city of Memphis wanted this. The Warriors and the Bay Area wanted this. NBA Fans collectively wanted this.
If this slate of games were to be compared to ornaments on a Christmas Tree, this game would be the Star on top that lights it up. One can make the argument that no matchup between two teams in the NBA comes close to the current rivalry between the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies.
Between the exciting play of two superstar guards in Stephen Curry and Ja Morant, to the high tensions on the court after the injuries to Gary Payton II and Ja Morant during their second round matchup in the 2022 NBA Playoffs, and to the off court dramatics on social media, this matchup will truly provide the Christmas Spirit.