It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Once again, the NBA has a loaded Christmas Day schedule that features the league's best players and rising stars.
The action begins at 12:00 p.m. ET when the Miami Heat host the New Orleans Pelicans, followed by Golden State Warriors vs. Milwaukee Bucks at 2:30 p.m., Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics at 5:00 p.m., Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers at 8:00 p.m. and LA Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets at 10:30 p.m.
The #NBAXmas schedule! 🏀🎄- NBA (@NBA) December 2, 2020
12:00pm/et, ESPN: @PelicansNBA/@MiamiHEAT
2:30pm/et, ABC: @warriors/@Bucks
5:00pm/et, ABC: @BrooklynNets/@celtics
8:00pm/et, ABC/ESPN: @dallasmavs/@Lakers
10:30pm/et, ESPN: @LAClippers/@nuggets#KiaTipOff20 #OnlyHere pic.twitter.com/SdsOFr0vOh
To get you ready for all the action, here's one matchup to watch and one stat to know from each game.
Pelicans vs. Heat (12:00 p.m., ESPN/TSN 1/4)
Matchup to watch: Zion Williamson vs. Bam Adebayo.
One of the most unique bigs in the NBA matched up with one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA. Adebayo will likely spend a lot of his time matched up with Steven Adams, who is a monster on the offensive glass, but don't be surprised if he takes on the assignment of guarding Williamson if the 20-year-old is cooking.
Stat to know: Zion Williamson averaged 16.8 points per game in the paint last season. As noted by NBA.com's John Schuhmann, only six other players in the NBA have averaged 15 or more points per game in the paint over the last 24 seasons. Their names? Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal.
Golden State Warriors vs. Milwaukee Bucks (2:30 p.m., ABC/Sportsnet)
Matchup to watch: Stephen Curry vs. Jrue Holiday.
Holiday is widely regarded as being one of the best defenders at the guard position in the league. He'll have his hands full chasing around Curry, a two-time MVP, one-time scoring champion and Golden State's only hope of having a good enough offence to make the playoffs this season.
Stat to know: Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 0.92 points per post-up possession last season, ranking him in the 52nd percentile. Could an improved post-game be Antetokounmpo's answer to the problems he's faced in the last two postseasons? It might not be much of a factor in this game - the Warriors don't have any answer for the two-time MVP, especially if Draymond Green is out - but it's something to monitor throughout the season.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics (5:00 p.m., ABC/Sportsnet)
Matchup to watch: Kevin Durant vs. Jayson Tatum.
The old(er) vs. the new(er). Durant has long been one of the league's best scorers and Tatum made the leap to stardom last season, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals with averages of 25.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
Tatum told reporters in the offseason that he's studied parts of Durant's game in the hopes of becoming a more efficient scorer. He's about to get an in-person lesson on what makes Durant an all-time great.
Stat to know: Durant is averaging 27.0 points per game in his NBA career. That's the second-highest mark among active players, trailing only LeBron James, and the sixth-highest mark of all-time, trailing only Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and, of course, James.
Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Lakers (8:00 p.m., ABC/Sportsnet)
Matchup to watch: Luka Doncic vs. LeBron James.
What else were you expecting? Not only has Doncic made it well-known that James was his favourite player growing up, he has shades of the 16-time All-Star in his game, particularly when it comes to his passing ability. The first meeting between the two last season was a classic, with each of them making history in recording 30-15-10 triple-doubles.
Stat to know: The Mavericks were outscored by 10.4 points per 100 possessions in the clutch last season, ranking them 23rd in the league. They'll have to be much better than that this season in order to make some noise in the Western Conference.
LA Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets (10:30 p.m., ESPN/Sportsnet)
Matchup to watch: Kawhi Leonard vs. Nikola Jokic.
They won't spend much - if any - time guarding each other, but Leonard and Jokic are the straws that stir the drink for both of their teams. Leonard is arguably the best two-way player in the league today and Jokic has established himself as the best centre in the league with his play in the last two postseasons.
Stat to know: Jamal Murray made 43.2 percent of his pull-up 3s in last season's playoffs, up from 32.4 percent in the regular season. It'll be interesting to see whether or not his hot shooting in the bubble will carry into this season and propel him to All-Star status.
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