What gets you into the Christmas spirit? Is it time spent with family you rarely see? A much-needed vacation from work? How about all the delicious food? Or maybe it’s the pure joy of watching kids rush downstairs to tear into the presents left under the tree? Those are all wonderful reasons to love Christmastime, but how about some hoops?
The NBA and Christmas go hand-in-hand, and it’s been that way for three-quarters of a century. This year marks the 74th Christmas Day slate for the Association, and to pay homage, I’m highlighting some notable numbers, interesting facts, and all-time records. Merry Christmas, and thanks for reading!
Hawks at Knicks: A rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference first-round matchup. Atlanta won 4-1 in a gentleman’s sweep.
Celtics at Bucks: If he clears health and safety protocols, Giannis Antetokounmpo will play on Christmas as the reigning NBA Champ and Finals MVP for the first time in his career.
Warriors at Suns: The rubber match. These two teams faced off twice in the same week earlier in the season, and Phoenix won the first game 104-96 with both teams at full strength. Golden State won the second game 118-96 against a Devin Booker-less Suns team that was playing its third game in four nights. This is sure to be the marquee matchup of the day between the top-2 seeds in the West.
Nets at Lakers: Brooklyn has been decimated by COVID-19 health and safety protocols as of late, but there’s hope that Kevin Durant and James Harden will be good to go on Christmas. The Lakers will be without Anthony Davis (MCL) and have dealt with plenty of absences due to health and safety protocols as well. Harden, Durant, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook are all former MVPs who could be in action in this one.
Mavericks at Jazz: Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have led the 3-seed Jazz with strong play this season, while Dallas is currently outside the playoff picture. Luka Doncic has missed six straight due to an ankle injury at the time of this writing, and it’s unclear if he’ll be back Saturday.
Facts to Feliz your Navidad
Memphis and Charlotte are the only two teams to have never played on Christmas Day.
Of the teams that have played on Christmas, the longest drought since the last appearance is the Atlanta Hawks, who haven’t played since 1989. Next up are the Kings (’03), Pacers (’04), and Pistons (’05).
Toronto has played twice on Christmas and is the only winless team among teams with at least one appearance.
Los Angeles has the most wins (24) and the second-most appearances (47).
New York has the most appearances (53), the most losses (31), and the second-most wins (22).
Miami has the highest win percentage (.846) with an 11-2 record.
Denver has the worst win percentage (.146) at 1-6.
The most frequent matchup is between the Knicks and 76ers with 12 Christmas matchups. The 76ers lead the all-time series with a 7-5 record.
Phil Jackson won his 1,000th career game on Christmas Day, 2008, becoming the fastest player to do so in NBA history.
Billy Cunningham, Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Draymond Green are the only six players to record a triple-double on Christmas.
Rebounds: Wilt Chamberlain (36) in a double-OT loss to the Knicks in 1961. He also scored 59 points in that one, a record that stood for over 20 years.
Points: Bernard King (60) in a loss to the Nets in 1984. This remained the highest-scoring game of King’s career and the most points scored at Madison Square Garden for 30 years until Carmelo Anthony scored 62 at the Garden in 2014.
- Two others have scored at least 50 points: Wilt Chamberlain (59) in 1961, and Rick Barry (50) in 1966.
- LeBron James has scored 383 points, just 12 points behind Kobe Bryant for most ever (395). James needs 13 points to pass Bryant and 17 to become the first player in NBA history to score 400 total points on Christmas Day.
- Kevin Durant (299) needs just 16 points to pass Dwyane Wade for fourth-most points all time.
- Russell Westbrook (241) needs 32 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth-most points all time.
Assists: Nate “Tiny” Archibold recorded 18 assists in 1972 against the Kings, and Guy Rodgers recorded 18 in 1966 against the Knicks.
Most Games: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant with 16 each. If LeBron plays this Christmas, he’ll own the record outright.
Most Wins as a Player: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with 10 each. If the Lakers beat the Nets, James will move ahead of Wade.
Most 3-pointers: LeBron James and Kevin Durant with 25 each. Interestingly enough, they face each other this Christmas. Durant is knocking down 1.9 triples per game this season, while James is hitting a career-high 2.7.
Highest Scoring Average: Tracy McGrady at 43.3 PPG. He scored at least 40 points in all three Christmas appearances
Most 3-pointers in a half: Duncan Robinson (6) in 2020.
Most 3-pointers in a game: Brandon Ingram and Kyrie Irving with seven each in 2020.