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NBA Christmas Day games, ranked

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What’s your favorite Christmas matchup in the NBA?

A collage of Kemba Walker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and LeBron James
The NBA’s Christmas day scheduled is loaded once again.

Christmas Day is usually the best holiday NBA event of the year, with all of the league’s best talent and a team from New York playing a five-game slate that lasts from 12 p.m. ET until bedtime. The formula is typically the same. There’s a warmup game or two (that’s made for the Knicks or Nets), followed by the two main event games of the day, then a nightcap if you’re still awake and eager for more hoops.

For those who celebrate, by now, you’ve probably developed a pattern. The first game is usually the most skippable, where you compromise with family so by the third game you have no obligations except sitting your ass on that couch to watch Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.

I’m here with good news and bad news for you you about this year’s slate. We’ll start with the good — no Knicks or Nets! But here’s the bad. The 2019 slate isn’t nearly as formulaic as years prior because nobody could have predicted this injury-filled mess of a season.

Here are the games, in order of appearance:

Here they are, ranked by watchability.

5. Pelicans vs. Nuggets

Oh, man. The NBA really tried to give us one worth taping our eyes to stay open for late at night. But it failed.

The Pelicans totally stink. Their first quarter of their year has been defined by lengthy losing streaks and speculation over who’s getting traded by the deadline. (Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors are all possibilities.) Lonzo Ball’s recently been benched. And worst of all, Zion Williamson hasn’t played a game, and isn’t likely to by Christmas. He’s just started shooting and bearing weight on the knee he had meniscus surgery on before the season started. At least Brandon Ingram’s been a star, but this was supposed to be Zion’s introduction to mainstream NBA fans. Damn.

The Nuggets are a very good team, just in a different way from what we’re used to. Nikola Jokic hasn’t been nearly as good as the past two years, looking out of shape for most of the season. Instead, this has been Jamal Murray’s offense, along with Gary Harris, Will Barton and a bevy of shooters who make Denver roll. The Nuggets should roll all over the Pels.

At the least, we can all go to bed early.

4. Rockets vs. Warriors

Woof. This game should have been it. It’s probably the biggest active rivalry in the NBA. But for now, it’s in a coma.

The Warriors absolutely stink. This game won’t have Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston. The team is nearly unrecognizable, and not for the better.

With D’Angelo Russell and Draymond Green in and out of the lineup playing next to up-and-comer Eric Paschall and a couple of dudes you still have to Google for in December, the Warriors are debatably the worst team in the entire league. They’re just so bad.

They’ll be playing a Rockets team that you might hate even more than usual, too. James Harden is at his most James Harden, shooting a career-high amount of free throws. The team has Russell Westbrook now, which needs no further explaining. The Rockets have already tried to protest a loss into a win. They’re the most.

At the very least, Harden is having an unbelievable season where he’s averaging close to 40 points per game. Whatever you think of him, that’s something that hasn’t been seen since Wilt Chamberlain. Seeing Harden’s final stats will be worth taking a look at. But that might be it.

3. Celtics vs. Raptors

Yep, that’s right. We’re still not up to the second primetime game. Two early day games look more exciting than that one.

Celtics-Raptors could be really fun, though it’s one you might be able to just hang around the second half for considering the injury bug has just hit Toronto. Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol are all out indefinitely. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka will still compete against a good Boston team, though.

Without Kyrie Irving, the Celtics are less flashy, but still fun. Any of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can take over a game, and should give the Raptors a run. This game could go to the wire!

The good times stop rolling here.

2. Bucks vs. Sixers

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most must-see player in the NBA right now, because he’s producing stat-lines nobody’s ever seen before while maintaining a super-human stature doing unreasonably cool things with a basketball. He’s averaging 32 points per game with 13 rebounds and five assists while doing things like this:

The quickest-rising star in all of hoops against Joel Embiid, the league’s biggest and baddest center, will make for a fascinating matchup. The Sixers are finally starting to find a groove fitting three of the biggest All-Stars in the league on one floor. Ben Simmons, Embiid and Al Horford make for a tough trio. Maybe even tough enough to keep Giannis away from the rim.

And if not, Embiid’s going to Instagram something good anyway.

1. Clippers vs. Lakers*

The best game of the night will undoubtedly* be the second primetime slot as the battle for LA continues. The Clippers and Lakers are probably two of the best three teams in the league (Bucks) with four of the best ten or so players in the league. And we haven’t seen them play at full strength yet.

The NBA’s opening day saw both teams play in a game without Paul George, who was nursing an injured shoulder, while Kawhi Leonard tore apart the Lakers. The Clippers won, 112-102, but a lot has changed. Since that day, almost two full months ago, the Lakers have lost just three more games. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both in the MVP conversation, and Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and all the other bizarre fits are thriving. The Clippers are a few games behind the Lakers in the standings, but that’s come while resting Leonard periodically. They’re just as good.

Both of these teams are elite. If we get all four superstars on the floor, this game will rule, and could be a conference finals preview.

*depending on load management