NBA on Christmas Day: History and Preview

The NBA on Christmas Day is a tradition that dates back to 1947. It’s usually reserved for the league’s top stats, top teams, and key matchups and 2018 is no different. You have the league’s two biggest markets (New York, Los Angeles), the defending champions (Warriors), playoff rematch (Celtics vs 76ers), superstars (Russell Westbrook James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard), and future superstars (Donovan Mitchell). 

Before diving into review this year’s slate, let’s take a look at some history of the teams on Christmas Day 

  • Hornets and Grizzlies are the only two teams to have never played on Christmas 
  • Pelicans (0-2) and Raptors (0-1) have never won on Christmas; Pelicans last appeared in 2015 while the Raptors only appearance was in 2001
  • Bucks 2018 game vs Knicks will snap the league’s longest Christmas Day drought (1977) and the Jazz first appearance since 1997 means the Hawks not only have the longest drought (29 years), but are the only team in the NBA (with a previous game) to last appear prior to 2000

We take a look at this year’s 5 game schedule with a quick preview and some Christmas Day history for both teams. 

Milwaukee Bucks @ New York Knicks

Christmas Day History

Bucks are 2-2 all time playing on Christmas Day, with both wins coming on the road. They have not played on Christmas since 1977. If it seems like the Knicks play every year on Christmas, well it’s because they do. New york has played more Christmas games than any other team, going 22-30 all time playing on Christmas. That includes playing in the first Christmas Day game ever back in 1947, when they beat the Providence Steam Rollers when the league was the BAA. The 22 wins and 30 losses are both the most in NBA history on Christmas. The Knicks are making their straight Christmas Day appearance, they lost at home to 76ers last year.

Storyline to watch

Last time these teams played, Knicks won 136-134 in overtime, back on 12/1. Mario Hezonja dunked emphatically and than stepped over Giannis Antetokounmpo. After the game, Giannis promised to get revenge next time. This is next time.

Season-in-Review

To the surprise of no one, the Bucks find themselves near the top of the eastern conference standings, while the Knicks are near the bottom.

For the Bucks, Giannis is putting up MVP-type numbers, with 27 ppg, 13 rpg, and 6 apg. Bucks role players have shown improvement and Eric Bledsoe, Kris Middleton, Malcolm  Brogdon, and Book Lopez are all playing extremely well.

The Knicks stink, but they are a different kind of stink than normal. The plan coming into this year was always all about development and the Knicks suddenly have several promising young players. Allonzo Trier, an undrafted free agent, has been a major surprise. First rounder Kevin Knox and second rounder Mitchell Robinson have both shown promise as young cornerstone pieces. Former lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay has broken out and really shown progress as of late. 

Lakers @ Warriors

Christmas Day History

Lakers: 21-22 all-time on Christmas. Last year, the Lakers lost to the Timberwolves.2018 wl e the Lakers 21st consecutive Christmas Day appearance, dating back to 1997.

LeBron James has been part of the Christmas Day schedule every year since 2006 and this is his fourth consecutive year facing the Warriors. 

Warriors are 12-15 all-time on Christmas and 2-1 against Lebron James teams, with the loss coming back in 2016, to James’ Cavs. 

Storyline to watch

Lebron James is 1-3 the last four years against the Warriors in the Finals. He won’t face them in the Finals for a 5th straight season, but given the way the Lakers have shown improvement, it’s possible they do face each other in the playoffs at some point before the Finals. As of Wednesday, the Warriors are 21-10 and the Lakers are just 2.5 games back at 18-12. 

Connections

In 2015-16, Luke Walton coached the Warriors as interim head coach, while Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery, leading them to a 19-0 start. In his first year on the job, in 2016, Walton only won 26 games in 82 chances. Walton did show improvement last year, going 35-47 and this year’s expectations are through the roof, due o the acquisitions of Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo. 

Javale McGee has started every game at center for the Lakers (29), and is having a career year, averaging almost 12 ppg, and 6.7 rpg. In just 27 starts, the last two years with the Warriors, McGee averaged just 5.5 ppg and 2.9 rpg. 

Thunder vs Rockets

Christmas Day History 

Thunder are 5-13 all-time on Christmas Day and are making their 9th consecutive appearance. Their 5-13 mark is the worst for any team with 10 or more Christmas appearances. Rockets are 5-5 and making their second straight appearance. 

Storyline and connections

These are tied together – the last two NBA MVPs are Russell Westbrook (2017) and James Harden (2018), who were teammates from 2009-2012. They lost in the 2012 NBA Finals together. 

Beyond that, these teams have one thing in common – they both unsuccessfully employed and quickly moved on from Carmelo Anthony. Last year in OKC (16.2 ppg) and this year in 10 games with Houston (13.4) are his only years averaging under 20 ppg. ‘Melo is essentially banished from the Rockets until they decide to trade him or buy him out. 

Rockets got off to a horrible start but as of Wednesday, find themselves over .500 for the first time this season (15-14). The Thunder also started out a little slow, with Westbrook sidelined by injury but are now a steady 19-10. 

76ers vs Celtics

Christmas Day History

For all the Celtics history, they are just 13-18 all-time on Christmas. 2018 will be their fourth consecutive appearance. It’s the second straight appearance for the 76ers, who are 17-13 all-time. This is the first game between these franchises on Christmas since 1961, and the 76ers were known as the Syracuse Nationals. 

Storyline to Watch

These are two of the top teams in the east and have both gotten off to slower than expected starts. 76ers added Jimmy Butler a few weeks into the season, to add to their core of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Celtics have spent the first couple of months integrating Gordon Hayward into the lineup and continue to develop their young guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier. 

If the season ended on Wednesday (it doesn’t! many months to go), this would be a first round 4-5 playoff series. Celtics eliminated the 76ers from the playoffs last season. In fact, the Celtics have had the Sixers number, at least according to Embiid. Embiid, earlier this season said, “This is not a rivalry. I don’t know our record against them, but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass.” 

Blazers vs Jazz

Christmas Day History 

Blazers are a remarkable 14-3, the best record on Christmas Day. This is their first appearance since 2010. For the Jazz, they are just 4-2 and are making their first appearance since 1997, when they were led by Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone. 

Preview

Jazz are surprisingly near the bottom of the standings. They are 14-17, which isn’t that bad until you consider its 14th place in the West. The Blazers find themselves at 17-13 and 5th place in the west. 

This is an exciting game that hopefully fans will tune into. These are two teams that are never in the top teams conversation and don’t garner the type of respect that they should, despite the Jazz poor start. Donovan Mitchell is a rising star (averaging 21 ppg) and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are both all stars for the Blazers. 

What are you most looking forward to while watching the NBA on Christmas Day? For more NBA talk, you can follow me on twitter @msschneid or instagram @mikedropsports 



Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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