Now this year, according to an early draft of the unreleased NBA schedule, they will face a potentially healthy Denver Nuggets for the first time in a year and a half.
The schedule is not yet finalized and might have some tweaks between now and release day, which could be later this week. As I wrote a few days ago, the schedule is being held up for unknown reasons this year, possibly because the league is hoping for a resolution on potential trade destinations for some of the league’s biggest stars.
Christmas Day games are special for the NBA, kind of the first opportunity to grab the nation by the ears and turn them to into NBA fans again for a few months. Pre-holiday viewership is so challenging the league is even considering a ratings-grabbing tournament in November or early December.
Christmas is the first day that casual fans generally tune back in. By then, the NFL’s regular season is winding down and half the fans are looking for something to do while baseball fans having finally had a chance to recover from a grueling summer-long season.
However this year, the ratings war might be tough to win. Maybe impossible. Christmas lands on a Sunday this year, meaning the NFL will broadcast three games of their own, opposite the NBA slate. Usually, the NBA has this day to themselves.
The NBA schedules five games every Christmas, featuring what they believe are expected to be the 10 most interesting teams — ratings or talent or both — and the Suns are finally back into that group.
Sources: NBA’s 2022 Christmas Day schedule:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 14, 2022
Bucks at Celtics
76ers at Knicks
Suns at Nuggets
Lakers at Mavericks
Grizzlies at Warriors
The first thing you might ask is: why the Denver Nuggets?
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it seems to me the headliner game — for the West anyway — is the Grizzlies at the Warriors. They faced off these past playoffs, feature two of the three most exciting guards in the league in Stephen Curry and Ja Morant, and had two of the three best conference records last year. The league can sell viewers on Steph vs. Ja in a potential Conference Finals preview.
Then the next-biggest ratings draw, I think, is Luka vs. LeBron. I think a Suns-Lakers matchup would have been fun, especially since Anthony Davis and Lakers fans still think they would have beaten the Suns two years ago if AD were healthy the whole series. Then again, if if’s were a fifth, we’d all be drunk.
I also think a Suns-Mavericks game would have been fun. Would the Suns fold again, or would they get their ‘revenge’? Would Luka match the Suns first half scoring all by himself again, or would the Suns play like a real NBA team? Yet it appears the NBA wants to forget that playoff series as much as Suns fans do. They don’t want to ruin everyone’s Christmas by reminding us constantly what the Suns did that afternoon.
Instead, we get two-time defending league MVP Nikola Jokic, hopefully surrounded by a healthy Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., both max-money players who have missed one or both of the last two Nuggets playoff attempts.
This should be a fun game, and as a nationally televised road game I’ll be able to watch it with family no matter where we’re celebrating the holiday.
But I can’t help by fall into a bit of FOMO here. While I’m excited that the Suns are still considered one of the best ratings draws in the West, I’m darting sideways glances at Warriors-Grizzlies almost certainly getting a better viewing slot and I’m shaking my head at a missed opportunity to face LeBron or Luka.
What about the Nets? Despite currently having a strangehold of offseason attention, sitting in a top-three metro viewing market, still employing one of the greatest players in league history (Kevin Durant) along with one of the most exciting players to watch (Kyrie Irving), the Brooklyn Nets are nowhere to be seen on the Christmas Day slate. Methinks the league does not expect Durant and/or Kyrie to be wearing BKN jerseys by Christmas.