Earning a spot in the NBA's Christmas Day primetime game is one of the league's great honors. Usually, it is a matchup between either the two previous Finals teams or the defending champion and an expected rival. The defending champions will take the floor in this one, but their opponent was something of a surprise. Rather than a rematch with the Miami Heat or a relaunch of the rivalry between LeBron James and either Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, the NBA gave the second slot in the marquee matchup to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
It was an unexpected move, but hardly an unwarranted one. Doncic finished fourth in MVP voting last season, pushed the Clippers to the brink in the first round of the postseason, and most importantly, has drawn endless praise from James himself, who wanted to launch his own "LeBron Brand" at Nike to rival the Jordan Brand with Doncic as his first signature athlete.
No young player has so closely matched LeBron's playing style since coming into the league, and with James nearing the end of his legendary career, the league is choosing to promote a possible successor in what should be one of the most exciting games on the regular-season schedule. Here's everything you need to know leading into Friday's showdown.
- Date: Friday, Dec. 25 | 8 p.m. ET
- Location: Staples Center -- Los Angeles, California
- TV: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (try free)
- Odds: Lakers -6 | Over/Under: 223
Lakers: We all knew the deal entering the season. The Lakers got a 73-day break after winning the championship before picking back up and playing basketball again. That's 58 fewer days than the 2019 champion Toronto Raptors got, and with LeBron James mere days away from his 36th birthday, the Lakers were never going to take the beginning of the regular season all that seriously. But that isn't going to slow down the news cycle if the Lakers start slowly enough.
They lost their opener to the Clippers after giving James only 28 minutes. They get a slight scheduling reprieve after the Dallas game as seven of their eight opponents afterward were in the lottery last season. But an 0-2 start against two Western Conference rivals is going to draw the inevitable batch of "what's wrong with the Lakers" stories. They won't be warranted, but dispatching Dallas will prevent the early-season distraction entirely.
Mavericks: James remains the NBA's king, but eventually, someone is going to unseat him. Doncic is one of the contenders to the throne, and he's the one that comes with LeBron's blessing. But he is going to turn 22 this season, and James made it all the way to the Finals in his age-22 season. Doncic doesn't need to get quite that far, but the grace period is over. It's no longer enough to lead a cute, low-seeded playoff team.
If Doncic is going to stake his claim, it has to start with winning, ideally against the NBA's best teams. There's no better regular-season showcase than a Christmas showdown with the champs, and the very player he's looking to replace atop the league's hierarchy.
If the Lakers were taking this game seriously, they'd be the bet here. It just isn't realistic to ask the Lakers to beat the Mavericks comfortably if the James-Anthony Davis duo isn't going to reach 60 combined minutes. The Lakers may still win, and if this is close in crunch time, James and Davis will surely fight for the win. But without knowing how invested the Lakers are in this game, it makes sense to take the six free points that come with the team that actually wants to win this game. Mavericks +6