We’re being gifted with five great NBA Christmas Day games. Here are five things to look for while you’re watching hoops on Monday.

As Bill Belichick once said, the NBA season doesn’t start until Christmas. Or did he say that about the NFL season and Thanksgiving?

In any event, Christmas Day has always been about giving. And this Christmas the NBA is gifting us with five great matchups.

So, to continue this trend of spreading kindness and joy, we are giving you five things to look for while you’re watching NBA hoops this Christmas.

Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks (12:00 PM EST/ESPN)

We’ve already spent a good deal of time breaking down the Bucks. Instead, our one thing to watch for will be about the Knicks.

Early in the season, the Knicks looked like they were one move away from entering the inner circle of Eastern Conference contenders. However, on Wednesday, they received the tragic news that Mitchell Robinson would miss the remainder of the season. 

You never want to see a player go down with an injury. But this one hurt a little bit extra because Robinson was on his way to the best season of his career (52nd in DRIP). However, there’s a chance the Knicks can still remain one move away because backup big Isaiah Hartenstein may be as good as their starting one.

When he’s on the floor, the Knicks have a net rating of plus-7.0. They have just a +1.3 rating when he’s on the bench.

Some of those numbers are a byproduct of Hartenstein’s passing, screening, defense and rebounding. But on the flip side, some of those numbers are due to the fact that he primarily plays against weaker bench lineups. How good will he look when most of his minutes are against starters?

With Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton, the Bucks have some awesome starters. So, we may get an answer to our question about Hartenstein as early as Christmas morning at Madison Square Garden.

Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets (2:30 PM EST/ABC)

Few teams need a Christmas miracle more than the Warriors. After entering the season with title aspirations, Golden State has stumbled its way into a 13-14 record heading into Friday’s action (11th in the Western Conference) and only the 16th-best championship odds in the NBA (per our supercomputer).

On top of that, the team’s second-best player (Draymond Green) is currently suspended indefinitely. And their third and fourth-best players (Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins) are struggling mightily.

But there is still reason for hope behind Steph Curry. And this holiday season, it comes in the form of Trayce Jackson-Davis (Brandin Podziemski – as we predicted – has also been an incredibly pleasant development for them, but he’s dealing with a back injury right now and likely won’t play on Christmas Day).

After not being in the rotation to start the season, Jackson-Davis has hit his stride over the last two games. During that stretch, Jackson-Davis is playing 23.1 minutes per contest, and he’s averaging 12.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.0 blocks on 68.8% shooting from the floor.

On the season, the Warriors have a +19.0 net rating with Jackson-Davis on the floor and just a -1.6 rating with him off.

Jackson-Davis gives the Warriors the best of both worlds. If they want to leverage him as a trade chip to squeeze one last run out of their aging core, they can do that. And if they want to kiss the dynasty goodbye and start a rebuild with him as one of their centerpieces, they can also do that.

So, if you’re a Warriors fan feeling down this holiday season, just train your eyes on Jackson-Davis when they are on the screen, and all your troubles will be out of sight.

Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers (5:00 PM EST/ABC)

The Celtics look like legitimate title contenders (fourth in title odds). And as it stands, they roster six players (Kristaps Porzingis, Jayson Tatum, Derrick White, Jrue Holiday, Al Horford and Jaylen Brown) who rank in the top 100 in our DRIP metric.

By all accounts, they are an awesome team.

With that said, while it is a tad bit overblown, their biggest flaw as a team is their late-game offense. According to NBA.com clutch time data, the Celtics have just the 16th-best clutch time offense. That isn’t terrible, but it is a stark contrast to their overall offensive rating (fifth in the entire NBA). 

As a general rule, great teams win by a wide margin. They don’t rely on narrow victories to bolster their record. But in the playoffs, to win it all, you do need to win a few close games.

This Christmas, the Celtics are facing the in-season tournament champion Lakers. Coming off four straight losses to the San Antonio Spurs, Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves, you know that LeBron James will be motivated on (arguably) the biggest day of the regular season in a game (his last Christmas game?) against the Lakers’ most storied rival.

More than likely, the Celtics are going to find themselves in a clutch time situation on Dec. 25. Can their offense pull through for them? Or will they provide media pundits with bulletin board material for the following morning? 

Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat (8:00 PM EST/ESPN)

This game symbolizes a battle between two teams that were supposed to fall off big time in 2023-24.

The 76ers lost James Harden for a handful of role players (very good ones at that). And after reaching the NBA Finals last season, the Heat lost Max Strus to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Gabe Vincent to the Lakers in free agency and fumbled the Lillard sweepstakes in their talks with the Blazers.

However, both of these teams look much better than we originally thought. With MVP candidate (again) Joel Embiid leading the way, the 76ers currently have the fourth-best odds to win the NBA title. Meanwhile, the Heat are just a half game out of fourth in the East despite having the most minutes lost to injury this year.

nba title chances

We’ve already discussed a big reason why Philadelphia looks so good. And Embiid entered the weekend on a ridiculous hot stretch, averaging 41.4 points, 12.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists over his last eight games.

But what about Miami? Part of the reason for the team’s success (and someone you should keep an eye on this Christmas) has been the immediate impact of their 2023 first-round draft pick Jaime Jaquez Jr.

Very few rookies are positive contributors in their rookie year, but Jaquez is an exception to the rule. On the season, he’s averaging 12.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.0 steals on 59.4% true shooting (61st percentile in scoring efficiency).

Jaquez ranks third on NBA.com’s rookie ladder, behind only generational talents Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren. I’m not a betting man, but I’d wager a fair amount that all the Heat want this Christmas is for his fantastic play to continue.

Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns (10:30 PM EST/ESPN)

When we did a deep dive on them earlier this year, we outlined how the Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving-led Mavericks have a dynamic offense but a very flawed defense.

If the Mavs want to contend for a title, they need to find a way to improve their defense to slightly below average without hurting their elite offense. The thing that we failed to mention was that Dante Exum is on the Mavericks. We didn’t think his presence really moved the needle for them. And man, has he been making us eat our words lately.

Over the last eight games, Exum is averaging 16.1 points, 4.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.0 steals on traditional shooting splits of 62.0/53.3/78.9. The Mavericks are 5-3 in that stretch and have a net rating of +15.2 when he’s on the floor compared to a -3.3 rating with him off.

This version of Exum gives Dallas a credible option at the point of attack, who also provides enough spacing and secondary ball handling to not sink the offense when he’s on the floor.

If he keeps this up, Dallas may graduate from darkhorse (13th in title odds) to inner-circle title contender real quick. But they’ll face a stiff test against Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and the Suns on Christmas Day.

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