The Christmas season is upon us. Once the calendar flips to December, we all start counting down the days until the holidays. While Santa’s cookies and stocking stuffers are normal traditions, so is the Christmas day schedule of basketball games. These games are set aside for some of the most popular and competitive teams in the league.
Not all the teams get an invite. After all, two teams have never played on Christmas. Some teams will be making their first appearance in years, while others have been on the rotation consecutively for quite some time. Take a look at every team’s last Christmas game.
*-signified that the team is playing this Christmas
Atlanta Hawks - 1989*
It’s been over 30 years since the Hawks have found a way to be on the televisions at Christmas. The Hawks defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 115-104 on Christmas Eve. Spud Webb, Dominique Wilkins, and Moses Malone all scored at least 20 points. Webb had a double-double of 26 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hawks to a victory.
With the Hawks making their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks have returned to relevance. Trae Young and John Collins are expected to make a big splash as the Hawks will shine bright for the first time in over three decades.
Boston Celtics - 2020*
Last year, the Celtics were thumped by the Brooklyn Nets. At halftime, Boston trailed Brooklyn just 54-51, but then the Nets outscored the Celtics 35-23 and 37-18 in the final two quarters. Jaylen Brown led the team with 27 points, while Jayson Tatum added 20 points.
Tatum and Brown continue to lead the Celtics, but it feels like the Celtics are more likely to be included based on history. The team has struggled the last year and a half, which has included a coaching change. With that said, both Tatum and Brown are stars, so the team isn’t going in with a lackluster team.
Brooklyn Nets - 2020*
As previously mentioned, the Nets defeated the Celtics by a score of 123-95 with a second-half outpour. Kyrie Irving had one of his best games of the season with 37 points and eight assists. Kevin Durant added 29 points. It was the third game of the season due to the delayed start, so even Spencer Dinwiddie even played. At the time, James Harden was not on the team.
Now, it’s Irving that is now tight with the team due to his beliefs about the vaccine. Still, both Harden and Durant lead a team that is the No. 1 team in the East. Even with Harden having a down year, Durant is in consideration for MVP and a scoring title. Don’t expect Durant to have a silent night.
Charlotte Hornets - Never
The Hornets are one of two teams to have never played on Christmas. Despite having some talent individually, the team has never been able to piece it together. After all, the team has never made the Conference Finals, nor the NBA Finals.
With a future including LaMelo Ball, there is hope that Charlotte could be inserted. With that said, Kemba Walker was a star at one point too and the team had little to show for. If the Hornets can make the postseason and Ball can make an All-Star appearance, it might be enough to get a spot.
Chicago Bulls - 2016
It’s been five years since the storied franchise last played on Christmas. At the time, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo formed the big three in Chicago. However, the Spurs, led by 58 combined points by Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, came out victorious with a 119-110 win. Wade led the Bulls with 24 points.
The Bulls should be back in the rotation next year. With Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic brought to the team in 2021, the Bulls are back to competing at a high level. As long as Zach LaVine is in a Bulls uniform next year, expect to see the team on Christmas again.
Cleveland Cavaliers - 2017
The final year of LeBron James in Cleveland was enough for the league to take the Cavaliers off the Christmas schedule. Given how the team finished that season, it wasn’t the worst move. Christmas was a rematch of the 2017 NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Like the Finals, the Warriors came out on top with a 99-92 victory in a game where Steph Curry didn’t even play.
The Cavaliers have a long way to go before they make an appearance again. There’s a reason the team hasn’t performed once LeBron left in 2018. If LeBron decides to close out his career in Cleveland, maybe he alone can bring the team back.
Dallas Mavericks - 2020*
The last time the Mavericks played on Christmas, virtually no defense was played. The Mavericks allowed 138 points to the Lakers. Luka Doncic scored 27 points but the Mavericks were embarrassed on national television. Kristaps Porzingis was out, so maybe this time around the team can play more competitively.
Luka Doncic is one of the best players in the league. As long as he plays like an MVP and contends for triple-double numbers, the NBA is going to include Doncic on Christmas day. After a five-year extension, the Mavericks could be on Christmas no matter the good or the bad.
Denver Nuggets - 2020*
Nikola Jokic won the MVP last year and we got an early taste of what his season would become. The center nearly averaged a triple-double. On Christmas, he gave the world a gift with a line of 24 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Jamal Murray added 23 points.
For similar reasons as Doncic, Nikola Jokic is one of the most exciting players in the league. Jokic is the league’s reigning MVP, but more importantly, the Nuggets are good. Jamal Murray, Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., and Aaron Gordon are with the team for the near future. As long as Denver fields a solid team, Denver will have a spot on the rotation.
Detroit Pistons - 2005
Only two games were played on Christmas and the Pistons secured one of the four spots. A close, defensive battle came out with the Pistons on top. Tim Duncan was held to 18 points, while Ben Wallace won the battle of the boards with 10 points and 21 rebounds. Chauncey Billups led the team in scoring with 20 points, while Antonio McDyess added a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds.
The Pistons might not cut 2025 or later, which means it would be 20 years before the team plays on national television on Christmas. Cade Cunningham was the 2021 No. 1 overall pick, but he is going to need time to develop. The Pistons will be in contention for another lottery pick this year and then the team will need to start finding role players.
Golden State Warriors - 2020*
The Warriors were in a tough spot. No Klay Thompson and no Draymond Green meant it was going to be the Steph Curry show on Christmas. Curry barely led the team in scoring 19 points as the team was blown away by the Milwaukee Bucks. Eric Paschall and Kelly Oubre Jr. were both in the starting lineup, while James Wiseman played his third ever game.
With Steph Curry tied to the team for the foreseeable future, the Warriors probably have five more years of playing on Christmas. As long as he keeps shooting deep threes and the Warriors keep winning, why wouldn’t they be included?
Houston Rockets - 2019
Houston was hoping for a revenge victory over the Warriors for their woes against the team in the playoffs. Instead, the Rockets fell completely on their face. Despite having James Harden and Russell Westbrook and playing a Warriors team without Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant (left in free agency), the team lost 116-104. Houston entered the game 21-9, while Golden State was 7-24, but Damion Lee scored 22 points and added 15 rebounds to lead the Warriors.
It’s going to be a long time before Houston makes it back. The only way the team does is if Jalen Green turns out to be anything like Harden. The team is going to be in contention for multiple lottery picks over the next few years.
Indiana Pacers - 2004
Both the Pistons and the Pacers were .500 teams at this point in the season, but both teams had high hopes entering the season. Detroit came out on top with a 98-93 victory. The Pistons were led by 25 points from Richard Hamilton, while Reggie Miller gave his last performance on Christmas with 24 points. Consequently, since Miller left the league, the Pacers haven’t returned to play a game on Christmas.
The Pacers probably should have cut in 2013 and 2014. Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert were a competitive team that made the Conference Finals. There’s no reason that the league snubbed these guys, especially after their first appearance in the Conference Finals. Now, it’s going to be over 20 years before this team makes it back too.
Los Angeles Clippers - 2020
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard decked the halls by combining for 48 points in a 121-108 victory over the Nuggets. Nicolas Batum started his comeback tour with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The Clippers looked like the chemistry between Leonard and George developed over the offseason.
The Clippers have a window to make the rotation with Leonard and George in the fold. The team would have made it this year had Leonard not gotten hurt. Once Leonard is back and healthy, the Clippers will be back.
Los Angeles Lakers - 2020*
The Lakers won 138-115 over the Mavericks in a game all about offense. Anthony Davis led the way with 28 points, while LeBron James nearly scored a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Montrezl Harrell scored 22 points, while Dennis Schroder added 18. It was one of the few times the former Sixth Man of the Year candidates looked the part.
This year could be the last time the Lakers make the cut. While LeBron James getting snubbed is unlikely, you have to consider that the Lakers are a .500 team. If that trend continues, the Lakers could be bounced. Then again, as long as LeBron is on the team, it’s hard to see him not playing on Christmas.
Memphis Grizzlies - Never
The Grizzlies had Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol led the team to their first Conference Finals appearance in franchise history in 2013. The core returned the following year, but apparently, it still wasn’t enough to get Memphis a nod on Christmas. While Memphis is not a big market, it still should have been good enough, especially after seeing the Hawks make it this year.
With Ja Morant approaching borderline stardom, the Grizzlies could break the curse one day. If Zion Williamson can make an appearance on Christmas, there’s no reason that Morant can’t make it himself.
Miami Heat - 2020
Jimmy Butler played one of his worst games of the season. Butler played just 16 minutes and had four points, but the Heat as a whole played exceptionally to beat the Pelicans. Duncan Robinson led the team with 23 points, while Goran Dragic added 18 points off the bench. Bam Adebayo added 17 points and Precious Achiuwa scored 11 points in the third NBA game of his career.
The Heat upgraded over the offseason, but their down year last season bumped the team. Surprisingly, the team isn’t on the slate, especially with Tyler Herro looking like his former self from the 2020 NBA Finals.
Milwaukee Bucks - 2020*
The Bucks blew away the Warriors and looked like a championship contender. While Giannis Antetokounmpo gave a 15 point, 13 rebound line, it was Khris Middleton and his 31 points that gave the fans in Wisconsin joy on the holidays. The Bucks outscored the Warriors 38 to 23 in the final frame to run away with the easy victory.
The Bucks have to return this year after winning the championship. While Giannis is the reigning Finals MVP, it’s Middleton who has historically had the better games. Could Middleton one up Giannis once again this year?
Minnesota Timberwolves - 2017
For the first time since Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves had hype surrounding their team going into the season. Jimmy Butler was acquired to make a big three with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The hype continued into the holidays as Butler, Towns, and Taj Gibson all scored at least 20 points to lead Minnesota to a 121-104 victory over the Lakers despite 31 points from Kyle Kuzma.
The Timberwolves have been a doormat franchise for a long time. Realistically, the team doesn’t have a chance in the near future. Towns could be traded the next few years and then the team will be back to rebuilding like usual.
New Orleans Pelicans - 2020
Because Zion Williamson was healthy, it was enough for the Pelicans to make a splash on national television. Williamson played his part as he recorded a line of 32 points and 14 rebounds. Brandon Ingram added 28 points, but the supporting cast fell flat as the Heat took the 111-98 contest.
The Pelicans have one of the worst records in the league. Despite making upgrades this offseason, the team is on the trajectory towards getting another lottery pick. Williamson’s injury has decimated the team’s chances of competing this year.
New York Knicks - 2018*
Why the Knicks cut is still up in the air. The Knicks entered the game with an 8-22 record and then were pummeled by the Bucks 109-95. A 36-22 third-quarter advantage by Milwaukee proved to be the key in what was a close game in the first half. Kevin Knox led the team with 21 points in one of his few shining moments as a Knick, while Giannis had 30 points and 14 rebounds.
The Knicks are back and should be a Christmas day favorite each year for the next four years. With the big market, New York is, the Knicks will be relevant on Christmas with Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, and Derrick Rose tied to the team the next few years.
Oklahoma City Thunder - 2018
The era for OKC playing on Christmas came to a close when Russell Westbrook and Paul George left the team at the end of the season. During the season, the two gave a spectacular performance for OKC in a 113-109 loss to the Rockets. Westbrook nearly had a triple-double with 21 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists, while George led the team with 28 points and 14 rebounds.
It’s going to be a while before the small market Thunder makes a splash back into the spotlight. With Durant, Westbrook, and Harden all gone, the Thunder are not the same icon they were in the mid-2010s. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has a lot of promise, but OKC remains on the rebuilding side.
Orlando Magic - 2011
Primetime Dwight Howard kept the Magic in the national spotlight. In his final season in Orlando, it was a door shut on the franchise playing in December. Christmas was the first time each team played because the 2011-2012 season had a delayed start to the season. Durant scored 30 points to lead the Thunder to a 97-89 win, where Ryan Anderson shined with a 25-point, 10 rebound night.
The Magic have the worst record in the league and are playing lottery picks these days. It will take a player like Shaq or Howard’s prominence to win the hearts of the NBA to put the Magic back on the Christmas schedule.
Philadelphia 76ers - 2019
Giannis vs. Joel Embiid is some serious must-watch television. Embiid led the 76ers to a 121-109 victory over the Bucks with 31 points and 11 rebounds. Giannis scored 18 points to go with 14 rebounds, but the combination of Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, and Furkan Kormaz was able to get over the 31-point effort from Khris Middleton.
With Simmons out, the 76ers have stumbled to a .500 team. While many want to point out the deficiencies of his offensive game, the team was a No. 1 seed last year. They should have been put on the schedule last year and this year, but there are only 10 teams and we expected to see Simmons traded. Instead, the team is stumbling out of the playoff picture.
Phoenix Suns - 2009*
It’s a little surprising that the Clippers played on Christmas during this time because the team was bad and the Suns were competitive. Led by Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Suns blasted the Clippers 124-93. Stoudemire had 26 points, Jason Richardson had 18, and Jared Dudley added 18 points off the bench.
The Suns make their appearance on the Christmas schedule after 12 years. It’s only fitting that it’s Chris Paul taking the team back given that the last great point guard they had on Christmas was Nash. The Suns are the hottest team in the league with 16 consecutive victories.
Portland Trail Blazers - 2018
It took only two years for Donovan Mitchell to break into the world as the sophomore guard at the time led a balanced Jazz attack with 19 points. Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Jae Crowder, Dante Exum, and Kyle Korver each added double figures in an embarrassing 117-96 loss to the Jazz. Damian Lillard scored 20 points, while CJ McCollum was limited to just 11 points.
Even with Lillard on the team, the TrailBlazers have lost their luster. They have consistently been a first-round playoff exit. They are mediocre this year. We might have seen Lillard’s last Christmas game playing for Portland in 2018.
Sacramento Kings - 2003
The 20-win Kings were given all they could handle. The Mavericks starting lineup did everything as the bench scored nine points. Dirk Nowitzki scored 31 points, Antoine Walker scored 23 points, and Antawn Jamison added 22. Josh Howard scored the lone nine points in the 111-103 win. Mike Biddy and Vlade Divac each scored over 20 points as the Kings were playing without Chris Webber due to injury.
The King's will surpass the 20-year mark once they make it back on the slate. The way the team consistently wastes draft capitals and money, it could be 30 years before we see the Kings. Is there zany hope for Sacramento in the future?
San Antonio Spurs - 2016
The last time the Bulls played on Christmas was also the last time that the Spurs played on Christmas. Part of that likely had to do with the fact that Leonard was hurt in the 2017 playoffs and then he missed the majority of the 2017-2018 season before he was traded to the Raptors. With Leonard out, it left the Spurs without a lot of star power.
The Spurs have one of the worst records in the league. Yes, you read that right. A team coached by Gregg Popovich is one of the worst teams in the league. Popovich could retire after this season, but who would have thought that five years ago was the last time we would watch “Pop” on Christmas television.
Toronto Raptors - 2019
The Raptors were given a chance to showcase their team after winning the 2019 title, but the team was without both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green after the offseason. The team still had Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. Both teams had 20 wins going into the matchup, but it was Fred VanVleet who stole the show with 27 points, but he was outplayed by Jaylen Brown’s 30 points.
With the Raptors in a weird spot, it could be a while before we see them back. The team is hovering around .500 but doesn’t appear to be a playoff team. With large contracts to Siakam and VanVleet strapping the team for the future, Toronto could be heading towards a rebuild in the future.
Utah Jazz - 2018*
As previously mentioned, the Jazz throttled the Trail Blazers. Rudy Gobert scored 18 points and added 14 rebounds. Joe Ingles and Dante Exum scored 15, Ricky Rubio scored 14, Jae Crowder scored 12, and Kyle Korver scored 10. The blanched attack was too much for Portland, who looked lost in the game.
The reigning No. 1 seed in the Western Conference has to make it back, right? The 76ers proved just because you are a one seed doesn’t always mean you get the invite. With that said, the Jazz have their entire core back from last year and are playing like a contender once again. This should be a great game to watch.
Washington Wizards - 2017
The last time John Wall was 100% was when the Wizards were seen on Christmas. Wall was playing like one of the best point guards in the league. He dazzled once again with 21 points and 14 assists, while Bradley Beal led the team with 25 points. Otto Porter Jr. added 20 points to lead the Wizards to a 111-103 win over the Celtics.
If the Wizards can sustain their early success, the team could make it back next year. The Wizards are a very entertaining team with Beal, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzman, and more. The team is contending for a top spot in the conference. The Wizards’ path back to December 25th’s nightcap will depend on their finish this season.