The first thing that pops out about the NBA’s 2019 Christmas Day slate is that the league finally won’t subject viewers to watching the sorry-ass Knicks just because they’re a big market. The Association’s marquee day of matchups was revealed Friday, and it will feature the Lakers taking on the Clippers, the Rockets traveling to face the Warriors, the Sixers hosting the Bucks, the Raptors facing off with the Celtics, and the Pelicans squaring off with the Nuggets. We all know why we’re here, so let’s rank these matchups from “pour yourself an extra cup of eggnog” to “excuse yourself from the rest of your family,” or whatever it is you do on Christmas Day.
5. Celtics vs. Raptors
This game is happening one year too late. Boston could be good next season, but they don’t have the same star power or intrigue level without Kyrie Irving. And while I understand the league’s hesitation to leave the defending champs off Christmas Day, there is a Kawhi Leonard-sized hole in Toronto’s lineup that can’t be ignored. The problem with the East is the Bucks and Sixers are so much more interesting than everyone else, but I’m sure for scheduling logistics reasons the league needs at least one more intraconference matchup to make everything work. I’m convinced that’s how we ended up with this game, that will undoubtedly lead to a try-hard Enes Kanter tweet at some point during the day.
4. Rockets vs. Warriors
This one is going to be a little weird! After back to back years of hotly contested playoff series, these teams will return to action on Christmas looking wildly different. Golden State won’t have Kevin Durant nor Klay Thompson. Houston will have Russell Westbrook instead of Chris Paul. I would have rather seen a Rockets-Jazz redux here, although I can understand why the NBA would want to showcase Steph Curry and the worldly popular Warriors over the Jazz (I’m sorry, Utah.) It’s tough to know how good the Dubs are going to be while Klay is out, which could lead to this game being a bit of a dud. A Russ and Harden return to OKC would have also been interesting, but the league may be hedging against a full Thunder teardown, which is understandable. Hopefully these two teams still bring out the best in each other after all the changes.
3. Pelicans vs. Nuggets
I thought about putting this matchup No. 1 just because of the image of Zion Williamson and Nikola Jokic sharing the court. One is an athletic marvel who seemingly floats in the air and looks like he is going to shatter a backboard every time he dunks. The other is built like an untoasted marshmallow but he’s still a fringe MVP candidate. The Zion-Jokic juxtaposition is reason alone to tune in, but if you need a few more, know that the Nuggets are always entertaining, highly proficient offensively, and often find themselves in absurdly close games. And while the Pelicans may not be a playoff team this year, they are going to play fast as hell, and they project to be the most intriguing fastbreak squad in the league.
2. Bucks vs. Sixers
Look, both these teams are great, and this game looks most likely of all the Christmas contests to be a conference finals preview. But there’s also a good chance this one ends up being a defensive slugfest that ends with a final score of 91–89 and the game-winning shot is like, an Al Horford baseline jumper or something not cool. Don’t let the basketball nerds bully you into believing this is the runaway game of the day. Giannis, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid can obviously provide some theatrics. And Horford acting as an Antetokounmpo stopper adds a new level of spice to this matchup. But the long-term implications of this conflict don’t outweigh how much slog potential this game has if both teams force the other to execute in the halfcourt. It’s Christmas, all right. As much as I’m personally interested in seeing what the Sixers’ late-game offense looks like without Jimmy Butler, I want more pure popcorn thrill on this day than chess match. That doesn’t mean this game won’t be good—I have it No. 2 for a reason—but for me, who holds the top spot is obvious…
1. Lakers vs. Clippers
As the 21st century poet Rihanna once said, “Baby, this is what you came for.” Lakers vs. Clippers will have everything. Four of the best seven or eight players in the world. Celebrities all over the crowd. An iconic franchise and an upstart one. Two brand new superstar duos each hoping to send a message to the other. The only thing that can sink this game is some load management nonsense, which can’t be ruled out. There’s like a 65% chance Kawhi Leonard sits this game out and goes to watch a movie or something instead. But if both squads are at full strength, we will see two completely remade rosters clash, and perhaps get our first sense of which LA team truly has the upper hand. This game has the potential to kickstart an exciting rivalry between organizations that share the same building, and features both established legends (LeBron James and Kawhi) stars looking to enhance their own legacy (Paul George and Anthony Davis.) The Lakers and Clippers will basically be combining on-court excellence with all the narrative mumbo jumbo that make sports fun. This matchup is an easy choice for No. 1.