Christmas is an annual spectacle for the NBA, with a rich history of classic games played on this day since the league’s inception 75 years ago. This year’s slate of games had the potential for even more memorable moments, although the league’s COVID-19 outbreak has somewhat dampened expectations for the festivities with several players expected to be on the sidelines.
While each team’s first wish this Christmas is to have its entire roster free from the league’s health and safety protocols, this cherished holiday also gives them a chance to delve deeper into their wishes and what gifts they hope to receive during this merry season.
Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and Brooklyn Nets: A Smooth Road to the Title
The Warriors has already won their fair share of titles over the last decade, but they remain hungry for another one. With Klay Thompson’s return fast approaching, Steph Curry and Draymond Green once again playing at peak form, and a flourishing supporting cast, they have no reason to believe that they can’t win themselves another.
Meanwhile, the Suns and the Nets hope to get over the hump and win their first one as a group. Phoenix came within two wins of winning the title in last year’s finals and they have come back this season with the clear intent of finishing the job, as proven by their recent 18-game winning streak.
Brooklyn is hoping to do the same with Kevin Durant and James Harden leading the way. Some clarity on the Kyrie Irving situation would boost their cause, but their two vaccinated superstars are so talented and skillful that they can win it all if they can just play their best basketball.
LA Lakers, Indiana Pacers, and New York Knicks: A Big Trade
These three teams have fallen well below expectations this season and could benefit from a roster shake-up.
The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook, who was acquired in the offseason, has already been linked to trade talks barely three months into his first year with the team. The Pacers and the Knicks have floundered out of the gates and need to reevaluate the choices that they have made.
For Indiana, their two big men Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner have drawn considerable interest around the league and could be easy to move once their front office decides to pull the trigger. The Knicks, on the other hand, have a far more complex situation on their hands.
Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, and Atlanta Hawks: A Healthy Roster
The spate of injuries that has plagued the Bucks early this season has actually been a blessing in disguise for the defending champions. It softened the blow of their slow start and has allowed them to fly under the radar, free from media scrutiny.
Now, with most of their cast of characters finally back on the court, another championship looks like a legitimate possibility if they can remain healthy.
The Heat and the Hawks have also had their fair share of important pieces sidelined which has dampened their campaign so far. Miami has had it worse, with their stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo already missing considerable time, while the Hawks have had to make do without Bogdan Bogdanovic and DeAndre Hunter for several weeks now.
Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers: Refreshed Superstars
The Nuggets and the Clippers are expected to be without Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard, respectively, this year following devastating injuries last season. These two teams, who were title contenders last season, have understandably seen their performance dip this season.
Not much is expected from them in the meantime, but once their stars rejoin them next season, the quest for a title, and the pressure that comes with it, will be back on the table.
Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Charlotte Hornets: Continued Development
These teams have outperformed this season through the ahead-of-schedule maturity of their young prospects. This year’s lottery picks Scottie Barnes of the Raptors and Evan Mobley of the Cavaliers have been arguably the two most impressive rookies this season, playing with a veteran poise and putting up borderline All-Star numbers.
Sophomore LaMelo Ball, on the other hand, continues to thrive as the driving force behind the Hornets who have shifted their gaze from just making the playoffs to possibly making it to the second round.
Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Detroit Pistons: More Lottery Picks
These three teams have made an effort to tank this year for a chance at the top pick in next year’s draft. They have successfully sunk to the bottom of the standings, despite some flashes of brilliance from their rookies, and it looks like their goal is well insight.
While their short term goal is on track, the biggest risk here is if their continuous losing will become a hindrance in the development of a winning culture in their locker room to support their prospects.
Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers: An End to the Conflict
The Trail Blazers have been a middling team in the Western Conference this season and Damian Lillard has continued to struggle amidst constant trade rumors that picked up steam in the offseason. Change is needed in Portland and is almost certain to happen. The only remaining question that needs to be answered is whether it will be Lillard, his backcourt partner CJ McCollum, or another major piece of their roster that gets traded.
The Sixers have had similar troubles with their star point guard, Ben Simmons, who has yet to play this year following a traumatic free throw shooting experience in last season’s playoffs. Simmons has indicated that he does not want to play for Philadelphia ever again and it looks likely that a trade will be put together over the next few weeks.
These two teams have been linked with one another in the trade market for the past few months and a deal for at least one of these teams seems imminent.
Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics: A Bit More Depth
The Bulls need another wing defender to complete their roster in the absence of Pat Williams who tore ligaments in his wrist. The Celtics, on the other hand, need another playmaker to help orchestrate the many offensive weapons on their team.
While these two teams have their fair share of star power, these additional pieces, whom they can conceivably find on the buy-out market, will boost their ceiling come the postseason.
Sacramento Kings: An End to the Postseason Drought (15 years and counting)
The Kings have not made the playoffs in 15 years and they would like nothing more than to end that drought this season. That seems like a longshot at the moment, but if they can stay within striking distance of the play-in tournament, there will always be a chance for a Christmas miracle to happen.
New Orleans Pelicans: Brand New Ownership
The Pelicans need new leadership from the very top. Their on-court product has been disappointing, their front office has made questionable moves, and their medical staff has been one of the worst in the league over the past decade. The problem seems to stem from their ownership group and it is about time for change to come about.
Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Memphis Grizzlies:: A Deep Playoff Run
Out of this group, the Jazz are the hungriest for playoff success after several consecutive disappointing exits. If this isn’t the year that they finally make it out of the second round, this could be the end for this iteration of their team.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks and Grizzlies are looking to make the leap with their promising young core group of players. Dallas has had a couple of first round exits while the Grizzlies were eliminated last year by the Jazz in the first round. They are looking to finally breakthrough which will serve as the culmination of their respective rebuilding projects.
Washington Wizards, Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs: A Sense of Direction
The Wizards had a strong start to the season, but have slowed down over the past few weeks and Bradley Beal, now sidelined with health and safety protocols, continues to look like a shell of himself.
The Timberwolves have a bunch of young stars yet do not seem to be making any sort of progress as they remain towards the bottom of the standings.
The Spurs have some talented pieces though it looks like they still lack a superstar to lead them into the future.
There are more questions than answers for this franchise and the best way for them to go may be to take it one step at a time as they figure out what kind of team they need to be this decade.