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NBA Christmas schedule: Your guide to watching the NBA’s signature showcase

There are games all day and it’s hard to keep up with them all while spending time with your family. Here’s what you should prioritize.

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Four Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The NBA makes Christmas the best basketball holiday, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Especially for those who celebrate and have young children. Five marquee games means about 13 hours of basketball in 16 non-sleep hours. In some cases, it’s too much. We’re here to help you balance time with your basketball family and your real family.

(Apologies in advance for the U.S.-centricism with regards to time zones.)


Warriors at Cavaliers, 2:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Why you have to watch this: Best two teams in the league, hated rivals with lots of personal beef, the last two champions who each beat the other in the other’s gym to win the title, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson ... I mean, seriously. This is just layers of great entertainment.

Why you can skip it: I do not recommend skipping this, but if you must: these two teams have played each other 17 times in the past two years and are due for 4-7 more battles this June. This is more like a Game of Thrones episode than a feature film.

How to work it: In the East and Central Time Zones, we’re looking at an early afternoon tip extending to the cusp of evening. This is prime appetizer time. This is also prime “go ride your new bikes, kids” time. Or: “Sure, you can go ride the neighbor’s new hoverboard.” Even: “Video games for three hours in the back room? Good idea!” In the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones you might be in a good spot for that traditional Kids Crash Hard Because They Slept So Little nap. Nice work.

Key obstacles: If you’re responsible for preparing dinner or helping out in the kitchen, this might be trouble. Plan accordingly. Also, some children like their parents to actually play with them. Here’s to halftime.


Timberwolves at Thunder, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Why you have to watch this: The Timberpups are starting to put it together on defense, and have the electric Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine to drop jaws. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook is putting up absurd, historic numbers almost every night. Put all this on national TV in a primetime Christmas game and we’re going to see some fireworks.

Why you can skip it: These teams are in the same division and play four times a year. Westbrook is spectacular every night and on TV a lot. The Wolves are 9-19.

How to work it: This is probably post-dinner (or at least late dinner) in the East and Central Time Zones. Depending on their ages, the kids might be getting to bed near the tip or around halftime. Are you a board game or cards family? Set that table up in the room with the TV and claim a chair with a clear view. Are you getting blitzed with friends over? Take it easy until the third quarter.

Key obstacles: In the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones, this is probably a dinner overlap issue. Do your best! Vine isn’t dead yet! This game is gonna end around 10:30 or 11 Eastern time, so if you didn’t get a nap in, this is also trouble.


Celtics at Knicks, Noon ET, ESPN

Why you have to watch this: The Knicks and Celtics are both good! This game actually has real playoff tiebreaker ramifications. Plus we have Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Isaiah Thomas to provide some sweet, sweet highlights.

Why you can skip it: These early games — on Christmas or otherwise — are usually fairly sloppy. (When you’re used to working at 7 every night and you have to work at noon one day — on a holiday, nonetheless — things get wonky.) Plus, both teams are on national TV a lot, so you have plenty of opportunities to see the exciting players if you miss this one.

How to work it: In the East and Central regions, the adrenaline rush of the morning has worn off and the kids might be sleeping or in a zombie state. In the West, this might cut into fun-with-kids time. It might be too early a wake-up if you party hard Christmas Eve. Or, it might work beautifully.

Key obstacles: If you will be around football people, the NFL schedule might be a source of conflict. You should be able to convince even hardcore football fans that Cavs-Warriors is unmissable. Celtics-Knicks will be a tougher debate.

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images


Bulls at Spurs, 5 p.m. ET, ABC

Why you have to watch this: Jimmy Butler vs. Kawhi Leonard. That is all.

Why you can skip it: The Bulls are strange and often disorienting to watch. The Spurs do not have a compelling play style right now. San Antonio is much better than Chicago. This game has 88-81 written all over it.

How to work it: This is going to hit traditional dinner hours in the East and Central regions and the afternoon swoon out West. If you really care about this game you’re probably a Bulls or Spurs fans, in which case you can rally the crowd you’re with to tune in. Otherwise, pick your spots.

Key obstacles: Rajon Rondo, frankly. He is personally making this game less than compelling.


Clippers at Lakers, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Why you must watch this: The weirdo nightcap is a Christmas tradition, and what’s more important than tradition? Plus, the Lakers are the most exciting terrible team in the NBA and the Clippers are just so pretty to watch.

Why you can skip it: No one will judge you if you miss it. No one. Especially in the East and Central regions. If Chris Paul doesn’t play due to a hamstring injury, this game becomes less compelling because Blake Griffin is already hurt. Also, you will have seen plenty of Paul via the insurance ads during games all day.

How to work it: Kids should be asleep and visitors should be gone.

Key obstacles: You should be asleep and/or gone.

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images


I have young kids and host family on Christmas. I love the NBA, but family is the reason I can’t wait for Christmas. So here’s my plan:

  • Watch Warriors-Cavs, because come on.
  • Flip to ABC or ESPN during downtimes (kids fall asleep, guests go searching for an open store when they realize I forgot to buy beer on Saturday).
  • Activate text notifications from @SBNationNBA so you know when something crazy is happening and/or we get a screenshot of a player’s magical holiday shoes.
  • Make memories building Lego sets, destroying all opponents at Hungry Hungry Hippos and/or Spades, and drinking beer my guests tracked down after 45 minutes of searching and 45 minutes of waiting in line.
  • Fight against my weak, pathetic eyelids during the second half of Clippers-Lakers.

Best of luck in your quest to balance basketball and Christmas this year.