Top questions and bold predictions for the NBA’s Christmas Day games

Get ready for a full day of NBA rivalries, superstars and potential playoff previews as the league's five-game Christmas Day slate tips off on Monday.

The day begins with an Eastern Conference clash, with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks traveling to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks (noon ET on ESPN). That's followed by a pivotal Western Conference showdown, as Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Denver Nuggets host Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors (2:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN).

Then, one of the most historic rivalries in sports takes center stage with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Boston Celtics (5 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN).

Later, the Philadelphia 76ers -- who'll be missing reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid due to an ankle injury -- take on the Miami Heat (8 p.m. ET on ESPN). The Dallas Mavericks visit the Phoenix Suns (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) in the day's finale.

Which teams and stars will shine brightest? Will Christmas Day offer any postseason previews? What team not playing is likely to be on the holiday slate next year?

Our NBA insiders answer some of the biggest questions surrounding the day's action and what lies ahead for all 10 teams.

1. Of the 10 teams playing, the one with the biggest question mark is _____?

Kendra Andrews: The Warriors. It might be time to resurface their "two-timeline" plan of looking beyond their veteran core -- including Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green -- as it appears there is a legitimate group of young players ready to take the reins. Or, at least guide them through this season as the veterans have gone through their inconsistencies (or in Green's case, an indefinite suspension). Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. said this will be the most important stretch in deciding what moves need to be made, so it's quite possible this team could look different very soon.

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Tim Bontemps: The 76ers, and specifically what they do between now and February's trade deadline. Even though he'll sit out Monday's game with an ankle injury, Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career, and ESPN's first MVP straw poll of the season showed he's got a great shot at a second straight award. Tyrese Maxey has become a bonafide star, and this team is flush with over $100 million in expiring contracts and multiple first-round draft picks to improve the roster.

Jamal Collier: The Suns, who are still waiting to reach full strength. Bradley Beal remains out with an ankle injury and Devin Booker also missed time early on with various injuries. And in a crowded West, Phoenix has already put itself in a hole in the standings. Kevin Durant is off to yet another incredible start, but like his time with the Brooklyn Nets, he once again appears stuck on a Big 3 that never actually plays together.

Tim MacMahon: The Warriors. Has the window finally closed on this dynasty? Green's habit of getting himself suspended is the Warriors' most glaring problem, but it's far from the only one. The starting lineup that had been so dominant in recent years has struggled mightily, getting outscored by 9.8 points per 100 possessions. It's been such a rough stretch for Andrew Wiggins, a critical piece of the Warriors' last title team in 2022, that coach Steve Kerr decided to bring him off the bench.

Dave McMenamin: The Lakers. Will the back half of the season see L.A. looking more like the team that went 7-0 through in-season tournament play and generally crushed its opponents? Or, is this current Lakers slump -- 2-5 in their past seven games since winning the inaugural tourney in Las Vegas -- more telling when it comes to their future? And furthermore, the longer the skid persists, how much pressure will build on L.A.'s front office to find another midseason overhaul like it did at the last trade deadline?

2. Which player playing on Christmas will be on a new team before the trade deadline?

Bontemps: Multiple Lakers. Like last season, this team is going to need to make moves at the deadline to improve after its attempts to do so this summer fell flat. That'll mean multiple guys will be playing elsewhere come mid-February.

Andrews: Among those Lakers could be Gabe Vincent or Rui Hachimura. They are two of several players with tradable contracts, and the team will be active ahead of the trade deadline.

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Collier: Let's add another Laker -- D'Angelo Russell. Compared to the rest of the teams in action on Monday, the Lakers are the most likely to shake up its roster in some way over the next six weeks. If so, Russell seems likely to be on the move.

MacMahon: Marcus Morris or any other player on an expiring contract in Philadelphia, with Tobias Harris being the least likely to move due to his significant role. Sixers general manager Daryl Morey accomplished his goal of collecting enough assets in the James Harden deal in October to be positioned for a big swing in the trade market to boost Embiid's chances of winning a championship. The Sixers don't necessarily need a star with Maxey's ascension, but Morey will actively seek a way to upgrade the roster.

McMenamin: Evan Fournier, even if he's only appeared in just one game for the Knicks this season. With Mitchell Robinson's left ankle surgery likely sidelining him the rest of the regular season, the Knicks will be in the market for a big and Fournier's $18.9 million expiring contract will come in handy. The team still has the draft capital it thought it was going to trade for Donovan Mitchell (and still could) to facilitate a deal.


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3. Which Christmas Day game is most likely to become a playoff rematch?

Bontemps: Let's be spicy and say Mavericks-Suns -- in the play-in tournament. We've seen Phoenix have to deal with one absence after another early on this season, as the fears about the Suns' injury-prone stars have been realized. Luka Doncic, while playing a lot of minutes, is keeping Dallas afloat with Kyrie Irving out with a foot injury. And with the history between the various players involved (the Booker-Doncic rivalry and a potential Durant-Irving reunion), sign me up for a one-game elimination game.

Collier: Sixers-Heat seem primed to meet in the 3-6 matchup during the first round. Philly is once again in a three-team race with Boston and Milwaukee for the East's top seed. Miami is off to a better start to the regular season this year compared to last year and seems likely to snag an outright playoff spot rather than fighting through the play-in tournament. It could set up a fun and physical series.

McMenamin: How about Knicks-Bucks as a second-round duel? Jalen Brunson and the Knicks got to the conference semifinals last season, and while they continue to be a tough out, it would be surprising to see them reach the postseason as a No. 4 or 5 seed. If Milwaukee finishes No. 1 (as it has three of the past five years) and doesn't suffer a historic first-round upset again like the debacle against Miami last season, we could see Antetokounmpo lacing them up for playoff basketball at the Garden. Tough to beat that.

MacMahon: Nuggets-Warriors would make for an entertaining first-round series. The Warriors have some work to do to even qualify for the play-in, but the odds are decent of these teams seeing each other in the 1-8 or 2-7 matchup. And as Mavs fans of an older era can attest, Golden State has a history of upsetting a team led by a European superstar, going back to the "We Believe" Warriors' days of 2007.

Andrews: Sixers-Heat. The Sixers will finish in at least third place in the East standings and the Heat can probably play well enough to avoid the play-in tournament. But in case Jimmy Butler & Co. struggle down the stretch, they are still good enough to finish as the seventh or eighth seed.

4. One team not playing on Christmas Day that will get the nod next season?

McMenamin: The LA Clippers. Team owner Steve Ballmer will have a new arena to show off to the national television audience and the Clips could be coming off a deep playoff run. Also, the league should really start making city rivalries such as Clippers-Lakers and Knicks-Nets an automatic Christmas Day game every year to cut down on holiday travel for these teams.

Monday, Dec. 25Bucks at Knicks, 12 p.m.Warriors at Nuggets, 2:30 p.m.Celtics at Lakers, 5 p.m.76ers at Heat, 8 p.m.Mavericks at Suns, 10 p.m.

All times Eastern

Andrews: The Oklahoma City Thunder. They were one of the brightest up-and-coming teams heading into this season and they have lived up to the hype. Chet Holmgren and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are becoming must-see TV, and if they can find playoff success, they could find their way onto the Christmas slate.

MacMahon: The Minnesota Timberwolves. If they keep winning and finish at or near the top of the West, the Wolves should be included in next year's Christmas showcase. Anthony Edwards can make a claim as the most talented young American star in the league.

Bontemps: The San Antonio Spurs. I'd say either the Thunder or the Timberwolves are more likely, but this season's top overall pick Victor Wembanyama will get the first of many Christmas Day appearances across his career.

Collier: Oklahoma City. Currently the No. 2 seed in the West, the Thunder will have a chance to show off their young talent on a national stage this postseason. Gilgeous-Alexander is a star that is already generating MVP buzz. Holmgren may win Rookie of the Year. The Thunder are going to start getting more exposure.

5. Which early season standings surprise is here to stay?

Andrews: The Warriors being a lower playoff/play-in team. This isn't to say the Warriors won't improve, however, it won't be to the level where it gets them all the way in the clear. Thompson is seemingly out of his funk and Green's eventual return from his suspension will help, but Wiggins and Kevon Looney are not producing at nearly as high a level as they need to. The West is stronger than ever and the Warriors can't rely on hoping everything will just click for them by April.

Bontemps: The Lakers remaining outside the top six in the West. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have missed a combined five games, and yet Los Angeles sits firmly in the play-in picture. It's likely one or both of those stars miss a significant chunk of time over the final two thirds of the season and the team remains in their current spot rather than making a sprint up the standings.


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McMenamin: The Orlando Magic in the playoff mix. Losing six out of eight has brought the young Magic down to earth just a bit, but so long as their coach, Jamal Mosley, has them playing the type of defense we've seen this season -- they're currently No. 5 in defensive rating, allowing 110.5 points per 100 possessions -- they'll be a threat come April.

Collier: Minnesota sitting atop the West. This is exactly what the Wolves envisioned when they traded for Rudy Gobert in July 2022. Their defense, tops in the league, is legit and will give Minnesota a chance every night. This is the best Wolves team in years, with a real opportunity to make noise in the playoffs.

MacMahon: Let's not pretend that we all expected the 76ers to stay in the East contender tier as the whole Harden saga was playing out. But Philadelphia is right there in the mix with the Celtics and Bucks, and that won't change as long as Embiid and Maxey stay healthy. Embiid has followed up his first MVP by elevating his game.

Bonus: What's one bold prediction for the NBA's five-game slate?

Collier: Someone breaks the Christmas Day scoring record. Bernard King scored 60 points for the Knicks on Christmas Day in 1984. It will be broken this year.

MacMahon: And if King's Christmas Day scoring record should fall, it will be Antetokounmpo who breaks it. The Knicks' rim protection took a terrible hit with Robinson's injury, and that's a pretty major problem against the Greek Freak. Should it happen, we get a fracas over the game ball at Madison Square Garden?!

Bontemps: We see at least one ejection in Mavs-Suns. This is an old-fashioned, old-school rivalry, and it's awesome these teams are playing on Christmas. There's no love lost between them, and someone will finish the game in the locker room early.

McMenamin: Erik Spoelstra's 8-0 record on Christmas Day will be spoiled. Embiid and the Sixers will beat the Heat.

Andrews: There will be at least two blowout games and one overtime game. There always seems to be a couple of games on Christmas that become uninteresting, but with this slate of matchups, there's a good chance for at least one of these contests to need extra time.


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