Christmas Day is always a good check-in point for NBA fans. Those of us who have paid attention since the first day of the season get to recalibrate and take stock of what's happened so far, and casual NBA fans can start slowly making the transition from NFL and college football with a jam-packed slate of interesting games.
If you're taking a hard look at the NBA this holiday season, you'll notice a few changes. The schedule for Christmas looks quite a bit different than when we first ranked the games back in August when the slate was released. Key injuries to Stephen Curry and Zion Williamson play a major role, but some of the teams we expected to be mediocre have also made an unexpected leap.
Here's the full slate for Dec. 25:
- Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors -- 12 p.m. ET, Scotiabank Arena in Toronto -- TV: ESPN
- Milwaukee Bucks vs. Philadelphia 76ers -- 2:30 p.m. ET, Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia -- TV: ABC
- Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors -- 5 p.m. ET, Chase Center in San Francisco -- TV: ABC
- Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers -- 8 p.m. ET, Staples Center in Los Angeles -- TV: ABC/ESPN
- New Orleans Pelicans vs. Denver Nuggets -- 10:30 p.m. ET, Pepsi Center in Denver -- TV: ESPN
To see just how different things are from the summer, here is a re-ranking of the Christmas Day games based on watchability.
1. Lakers vs. Clippers (Previous ranking: 1)
Watchability: 10 out of 10
OK, so not everything has changed. The Lakers and Clippers are still the odds-on favorites to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, and they'll meet for the first time on Christmas Day. The major concern from a viewing standpoint is the Lakers' recent injury bug, which caused both LeBron James and Anthony Davis to miss a game in the past week. If either of them is out for Wednesday's game, the appeal plummets considerably.
If they're healthy, however, going up against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the rest of the Clippers' deep, talented team will make for appointment viewing, no matter where you are this holiday season. This could be a legitimate preview of the Western Conference finals.
2. Bucks at 76ers (Previous rank: 2)
Watchability: 9 out of 10
Most expected the Bucks and 76ers to be the two best teams in the East at this point in the season. The Bucks have held up their end of the bargain, but the Sixers ... not so much. It's not that the Sixers have been bad -- they've actually been very good -- but they haven't quite fired on all cylinders yet this season, and the emergence of the Heat, Raptors and Celtics has pushed them to the background for most of the early going.
That being said, this is still a tremendous matchup. Giannis Antetokounmpo is on his way to a second straight MVP award, while 76ers big man Joel Embiid has a tendency to get up for big games. It will be a good test for both teams, as each plays a style that could disrupt the other. For all the drama, both on and off the court, this game is still second on the list.
3. Celtics at Raptors (Previous rank: 5)
Watchability: 7 out of 10
Well, well, well. Two teams that we thought would be in the mix for the mid-to-back end of the playoffs have emerged as legitimate Eastern Conference contenders. This game takes a slight hit for the various injuries that the Raptors have recently suffered -- Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol likely won't play on Christmas -- but Gordon Hayward is expected to suit up for the Celtics.
Both teams are in the top-six in the NBA in net rating, and play an entertaining brand of basketball, making their matchup ideal to tip off the Christmas Day slate. The battle between Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry at the point guard position is one to watch, while emerging wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will face a revolving rotation of scrappy defenders from Toronto.
4. Rockets at Warriors (Previous rank: 3)
Watchability: 5 out of 10
The Warriors were expected to at least contend for a playoff spot this season, and maybe even have Klay Thompson available for their Christmas matchup with the Rockets. Neither is the case, as Golden State has the worst record in the NBA after losing Stephen Curry to a broken hand, among other injuries.
That doesn't mean, however, that this matchup isn't worth watching. You still get to see James Harden, who's averaging close to 40 points per game this season on insane efficiency. Not everyone is a fan of the way he plays, but seeing someone drop 50-plus points is always exciting, and he's done it more than anyone in the NBA over the past few seasons. You also get to see Russell Westbrook, who is starting to play like his old OKC stat-stuffing self during a recent Rockets winning streak.
On the Warriors side, Draymond Green and D'Angelo Russell have made the team competitive this season, even if they don't win much. You also get to take a look at the brand-new Chase Center, which isn't exactly having the debut season its benefactors hoped for. It may not be the battle we expected, but it's still worth watching for the star power, if nothing else.
5. Pelicans at Nuggets (Previous rank: 4)
Watchability: 3 out of 10
No offense to the Nuggets, who are playing extremely well of late, but this 10:30 ET tip might just put you to sleep. The big draw was supposed to be rookie sensation Zion Williamson, who was expected to lead a frisky Pelicans squad with designs on a playoff berth. Instead Williamson has yet to play a game due to a knee injury, and the Pelicans are one of the worst teams in the NBA.
Nikola Jokic is a wizard with the basketball and always fun to watch, and Brandon Ingram is in the midst of a breakout season, but given where both of these teams are right now, this one has blowout written all over it -- particularly since it's in Denver. Add that to the late start time, and you have the least entertaining matchup of the Christmas Day slate. My, how things have changed.