NBA returns on Christmas Day for 76th time

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Dec 21 – For the 16th straight season, the NBA will return on Christmas Day with five matchups, reaching fans in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, including South Africa.

This year marks the 76th edition of the NBA on Christmas Day, with three of the five games being first-time Christmas Day matchups: Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns.

All five games will air live on ESPN and NBA League Pass, while SABC will air a showdown between Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors and Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets at 21:30 CAT.

Milwaukee Bucks @ New York Knicks (Dec. 25, 19:00 CAT; ESPN and NBA League Pass)

The Bucks and Knicks renew their old-school Eastern Conference rivalry as New York plays its record 56th game on Christmas Day and Madison Square Garden hosts the first game on Christmas Day for the third consecutive season.

The 2020-21 NBA champion Bucks finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference in three of the last five seasons and have set the bar high for this season after acquiring seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard to play with a veteran core of two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, three-time All-Star Khris Middleton and 2022-23 NBA All-Defensive First Team selection Brook Lopez.

The Knicks, coming off their first playoff-series victory in a decade last season, are continuing to solidify themselves as Eastern Conference contenders with two-time All-Star Julius Randle, standout playmaker Jalen Brunson and on-the-rise RJ Barrett leading a deep, defensive-minded team under two-time NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau.

Golden State Warriors @ Denver Nuggets (Dec. 25, 21:30 CAT; ESPN, SABC, NBA League Pass)

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The two most recent recipients of the Larry O’Brien Trophy meet on Christmas Day for the first time as defending NBA champion Denver hosts 2021-22 champion Golden State, which defeated the Nuggets in a first-round playoff series en route to the title two seasons ago.

Two-time NBA MVPs and one-time NBA Finals MVPs Stephen Curry of Golden State and Nikola Jokić of Denver are viewed as perhaps the best shooter and passing big man of all time, respectively, and have become synonymous with their franchises due to long, distinguished tenures with one team.

Golden State and Denver have mirrored each other in building an NBA champion by drafting, developing and retaining a core trio: nine-time All-Star Stephen Curry, five-time All-Star Klay Thompson and four-time All-Star Draymond Green for the Warriors, and five-time All-Star Nikola Jokić, rising standout Jamal Murray and sharpshooter Michael Porter Jr. for the Nuggets. 

Boston Celtics @ Los Angeles Lakers (Dec. 26, 00:30 CAT; ESPN, NBA League Pass)

Celtics vs. Lakers is an iconic sports rivalry with two historic franchises that have met in the NBA Finals a record 12 times, share the league record of 17 championships and have their sights set on contention this season after both teams came close last season with Conference Finals appearances.

The first Celtics-Lakers showdown of the season is packed with excellence:  The game features the NBA all-time scoring leader (Los Angeles’ LeBron James), the reigning All-Star Game MVP (Boston’s Jayson Tatum), two “unicorn” big men who can do it all (Los Angeles’ Anthony Davis and Boston’s Kristaps Porziņģis), a first-time All-NBA Team selection from last season (Boston’s Jaylen Brown) and an All-Star and NBA All-Defensive First Team selection from last season (Boston’s Jrue Holiday).

All-time NBA and Christmas Day scoring leader LeBron James will play his 100th career game against the Celtics (regular season and playoffs combined), with his epic battles versus Boston – including seven playoff series – helping define his legendary career and shape the league over the last 20 years.

Philadelphia 76ers @ Miami Heat (Dec. 26, 3 a.m. CAT; ESPN, NBA League Pass)

Reigning Eastern Conference champion Miami and perennial contender Philadelphia meet on Christmas Day for the first time.  Reigning NBA MVP and two-time reigning NBA scoring champion Joel Embiid (Cameroon) of Philadelphia goes head-to-head against four-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection Bam Adebayo of Miami, who views himself as the best defensive player in the league and has generated early buzz for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.

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One of the best all-around players in the game and a playoff force with the Heat, Jimmy Butler faces the team that he helped lead within one victory of the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals during his one season with the 76ers.

The 76ers-Heat rivalry has intensified thanks to two playoff series in the previous six seasons, Jimmy Butler’s move from Philadelphia to Miami after a successful but brief pairing with Joel Embiid, and both teams’ status as consistent contenders in the Eastern Conference. 

Dallas Mavericks @ Phoenix Suns (Dec. 26, 5:30 a.m. CAT; ESPN, NBA League Pass)

The Mavericks-Suns rivalry has heated up in recent years, fueled by their dramatic seven-game series in the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals, spirited regular-season matchups last season and riveting head-to-head showdowns between premier guards Luka Dončić of Dallas and Devin Booker of Phoenix.

This matchup features an awesome display of bucket-getting greatness: four-time All-Star Luka Dončić and eight-time All-Star Kyrie Irving of Dallas and three-time All-Stars Bradley Beal and Devin Booker and 13-time All-Star Kevin Durant of Phoenix have each averaged at least 27 points per game in a season.

Two-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant is delivering another vintage season at age 35, putting himself in early contention to win the NBA scoring title for the fifth time – a feat accomplished by only two players, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain – and cracking the top 10 on the league’s all-time scoring list.  

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