In a normal NBA season, Christmas Day marks the debut of the Association's network television schedule. This year it will double as Opening Day of the 2011-12 season. Here's a look at the matchups that will open this lockout-shortened season on December 25th.
1. Boston Celtics at New York Knicks: 12pm ET on TNT
Getty Images Sport - Doug Pensinger/Staff
The Celtics and Knicks will tip off the 2011-12 NBA season at Madison Square Garden at noon (ET) on Christmas Day. This is a fairly compelling matchup - the Knicks and Celtics are expected to compete for the top of the Atlantic Division this year, and as with all sporting events featuring New York and Boston teams, there's a fair amount of animosity involved. The Celtics swept New York 4-0 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring, but that Knick team was without both Amar'e Stoudemire (back) and Chauncey Billups (leg) for much of the series.
This game will serve as the regular-season debut of TNT's broadcast crew, which will feature newly-retired Shaquille O'Neal. The game was originally scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN, but was switched to TNT when it became the season-opener; TNT has the rights to broadcast the first game of the season. It will also be the first official NBA game played at newly-renovated MSG.
2. Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks: 2:30pm ET on ABC
Getty Images - Mike Ehrmann
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James will get to watch the Dallas Mavericks raise their championship banner in person... and on network television. That's sure to put 'em in the Christmas spirit. Of course, this year's Mavericks may have a very different look - starters Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson and key sub Jose Juan Barea are among the Mavericks set to hit free agency; Chandler has already told reporters he doesn't expect to return to the team this year.
3. Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers: 5pm ET on ABC
Getty Images Sport / Ronald Martinez
The Bulls and Lakers are fixtures in the NBA's annual Christmas Day showcase; might as well just pair 'em off. The Bulls had the NBA's best record last season but couldn't get past Miami and reach the NBA Finals; they enter this season looking to build upon last year's success. The Lakers were emphatically knocked out of the playoffs, swept 4-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals by eventual champion Dallas, and will be playing their first game under new coach Mike Brown.
4. Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder: 8pm ET on ABC
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The NBA added two night games to the slate to make for a more compelling season-opening schedule... and few teams are as compelling as OKC. Kevin Durant
, Russell Westbrook and company are my pick to make it out of the West and reach the Finals this year
. The Magic will make for great television so long as Dwight Howard
is suiting up in an Orlando uniform... and while that may not be for that much longer, I don't think he'll be changing teams before Christmas. For added fun: Magic coach Stan Van Gundy is known to hate playing on Christmas, which could make for highly entertaining pre and post-game interviews.
5. Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors: 10:30pm ET on ESPN
Getty Images - Stephen Dunn/Staff
Sure, you may be a bit sleepy after all the food and egg nog... especially if the kids wake you up at the crack of dawn to tear into presents. But this game will feature the regular season debut of Chris Paul in a Los Angeles Clipper uniform. Seems safe to assume he and Blake Griffin will combine for at least one eye-opener of an alley-oop.