The slate of matchups has something for everyone: Young stars like Ben Simmons, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joel Embiid; an NBA Finals rematch between the Cavs and Warriors; stars on new teams like Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony; and, of course, superstars like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant doing amazingly athletic things on the court.
Three of the games are rematches from last season's NBA playoffs—Cavs vs. Warriors, Rockets vs. Thunder, and Celtics vs. Wizards—but all five matchups feature teams playing against each other for the first time this season.
Here’s a look at the fittest players in each game, and everything you need to know about the Christmas Day matchups in the NBA.
Find out more about the Christmas Day NBA games and the latest league updates from NBA.com.
(All records, stats, and results are as of games through Wednesday, December 20)
Fit player to watch: Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks) - The young Latvian star has established himself as the Knicks' franchise cornerstone now that Carmelo Anthony is gone. This off-season, the 7’3”, 240-lb forward hit the gym hard, using boxing and some intense weightlifting workouts to help take his game to the next level. So far, it’s worked: Porzingis is averaging a career-best 25 points and 2.1 blocks per game.
The Knicks have played the most all-time games on Christmas Day, with 52, and they’re tied with the Lakers for most wins on the holiday, with 22. The Sixers, buoyed by their young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are playing on Christmas for the first time since 2001(!). Like Porzingis, Sixers star Embiid also trained with boxing this off-season, and it looks like it has paid off: Embiid is averaging 24.1 points, 11 rebounds, and nearly two blocks per game, and is likely closing in on his first All-Star appearance.
Find out more about this game and the latest league updates from NBA.com.
Fit player to watch: LeBron James (Cavaliers) - Even in his 15th NBA season, James continues to defy the physics of aging, seemingly getting better and better as he gets older. (It’s probably because of these “crazy” core and stability workouts that he does in his training.) James is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, averaging 28.2 points per game (third in the NBA) and 9.3 assists (second in the NBA) while helping the Cavs rebound from a rough start to the season. The team (as of 12/20) is 23-9 on the year and has won 18 of its last 20 games. It’s still good to be “The King”.
The Warriors and the Cavaliers have played against each other in the last three NBA Finals, so, naturally, they’ll battle for the third straight year on Christmas Day, too. The teams have split the last two matchups, with the Cavs storming back from 14 points down to win the 2016 holiday game. James and teammate Dwyane Wade are the active NBA leaders in scoring and assists on Christmas Day, while Warriors star Kevin Durant currently has the highest-scoring game by an active player on Christmas Day, with his 44-point performance against the Nuggets in 2010.
Fit player to watch: John Wall (Wizards) - The Wizards point guard has made four straight All-Star games—and while he might miss out this season, Wall has been as fit as ever on the court. Wall signed a four-year, $170 million contract last summer, but that didn’t make him complacent—it only made him more determined to get better. Wall used an intense training regimen of resistance-band running, cycling, and boxing, saying he wanted to “bring hell” for the 2017-18 season.
The Celtics are probably happy this game is at home—of Boston’s 30 previous games on Christmas, 28 were on the road and two were at a neutral site. This game will be a rematch of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals, which Boston won in seven games, and the first Christmas Day matchup for Kyrie Irving in a Celtics uniform. Washington’s Bradley Beal will look to have a strong game, continuing his push to a be a first-time All-Star. Beal is leading the Wizards in scoring, and recently scored a career-high 51 points in a game against Portland.
Fit player to watch: Russell Westbrook (Thunder) - The reigning NBA MVP has continued to play at an extremely high level, leading the NBA in assists with nearly 10 per game. Westbrook is still getting used to playing with All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but, as usual, he’s making explosive plays all over the court.
The Houston Rockets have been one of the most impressive teams in the league this season, leading the Western Conference for most of the year over the Golden State Warriors. James Harden is putting together a strong case for the league MVP, leading the NBA with 31.9 points per game and ranking third in assists with nine per contest. The Rockets are one of three teams to have a winning streak of at least 13 games this season, along with the Cavs and Celtics—marking the first time three teams have done this in their first 30 games of the same season.
Fit player to watch: Jimmy Butler (Timberwolves) - In his first season in Minnesota following a trade from the Chicago Bulls, Butler is making a big impact on young stars like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. While Butler’s scoring is down overall, he has the Wolves fourth in the Western Conference after missing the playoffs last season, and he’s averaging a career-best 1.9 steals per game. This summer, Butler used jump squats, med ball workouts, kettlebell workouts, stepups, and cable machine workouts to stay in shape. Clearly, it’s been paying off for the Wolves.
The Lakers are playing for the 19th straight time on Christmas Day, and they’re currently tied with the Knicks with the most wins on the holiday, with 22. The Lakers will need to watch out for Wiggins: The former No.1-overall pick averaged 37.8 points in four games against the Lakers last season, including dropping a career-high 47 points on Nov. 13, 2016. The telecast also features TNT’s four-person Inside the NBA team—Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal—calling the game, the first time all four have called a game together.