Not much has been normal about 2020, but the NBA gave us the gift of the familiar on Christmas: five games, 10 teams and an abundance of storylines. The New Orleans Pelicans and Miami Heat got the action started, and it’ll keep going until the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets wrap things up late at night.
Our NBA experts are keeping a close eye on every game and sharing what stood out, including Miami’s impressive depth and some the Pelicans stars needing some help.
Stay here all day as we add our takeaways from Warriors-Bucks, Nets-Celtics, Mavericks-Lakers and Clippers-Nuggets.
Miami reloads its depth
While Miami’s starting five on Christmas Day featured five returning players from the team that reached the NBA Finals two months ago, the Heat’s bench had a different look with three newcomers: rookie Precious Achiuwa and free agents Avery Bradley and Maurice Harkless. That new group played a key role as Miami dug out from an early hole and cruised past the Pelicans.
The most important Heat reserve is a holdover: veteran point guard Goran Dragic, who started throughout Miami’s run to the Finals but has returned to the bench role he played during the 2019-20 regular season. Dragic was outstanding Friday, scoring 18 points and handing out nine assists in 27 minutes while adding four steals. The Heat outscored New Orleans by 24 points with Dragic on the court.
Dragic got plenty of help from his new teammates. Bradley played 28 minutes, scoring 12 points and dishing four assists in addition to coming up with a pair of steals. And Achiuwa, the No. 20 pick in last month’s NBA Draft, already looks like a steal because of his athleticism for his size. In his second game, Achiuwa had 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 19 minutes. Miami is so deep that Harkless, who started the season opener, barely got off the bench Friday.
“(Achiuwa and Bradley) were huge tonight, they’ll be huge going forward,” said Heat forward Duncan Robinson, who starred in his own right in the win with seven 3-pointers, tying the Christmas Day record. If the Miami bench keeps playing so well, the Heat will prove their run in the bubble was no fluke.
— Kevin Pelton
Zion Williamson powers through the lane on back-to-back possessions to cut into the Heat’s lead.
Zion, Ingram need more support
The 1-2 duo of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson did exactly what the Pelicans needed them to do. Williamson had 32 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double — matching his total from his injury-shortened rookie season. A year after he poured in 31 on Christmas (with Williamson sidelined), Ingram finished with 28 points, going 10-of-11 from the line and draining a big 3-pointer to cut the Heat’s lead to single digits heading into the fourth quarter. Ingram and Williamson combined to make 20 free throws.
Beyond those two however, New Orleans received very little help.
The starting backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe combined for 11 points, 11 assists, three steals… and eight turnovers. They shot a combined 4-of-16 from the field and 3-of-12 from deep. Neither one attempted a free throw.
The story with the bench was more of the same. New Orleans looks like it has two reliable reserves: Josh Hart and JJ Redick. Hart finished with 12 points, the only Pelican other than Ingram and Williamson to reach double figures. Redick struggled, going 1-for-7 overall, but that was more than anyone else provided. Nicolo Melli only played nine minutes and scored one point. Jaxson Hayes played three minutes and had just one rebound and one assist. No other Pelican got minutes.
For New Orleans to make its push to the playoffs this season, they’ll need to support their big two more like they did in their season opener against the Toronto Raptors when Bledsoe and Ball combined for 34 points and Redick poured in 23 of his own.
— Andrew Lopez
Live on ABC
This Bucks-Warriors showdown has the makings of a holiday classic. Both teams have something to prove after disappointing finishes to the 2019-20 season. Golden State missed the postseason for the first time since 2011-12, and the Bucks endured a disappointing second-round exit. Both groups will be looking to quickly find chemistry with new lineups.
Still to come
This game provides a Christmas Day stage for the Kyrie Irving–Kevin Durant pairing against a talented Celtics team that believes it can take the East. Young Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be looking to show just how much their respective games have developed since Irving left for Brooklyn.
The NBA pitting the Mavericks against the defending champion Lakers on a marquee day on the league’s calendar speaks to Luka Doncic‘s rapid rise. As compelling as it would be to see the Lakers engage in a Finals rematch with the Heat or face the former champion Warriors or add another chapter to the growing Lakers-Clippers intrigue, the NBA has always been about its star system, and there’s nothing in today’s game that can rival LeBron vs. Luka.
This tasty rematch features two teams that hope to unseat the Lakers atop the West. Last year’s epic seven-game series left a bad taste in the mouth of Paul George and the Clippers, who fell apart when it mattered most in the bubble.
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