SportsPulse: For the majority of the American sports psyche the NBA season has always felt like it started on Christmas. Why not make that literal? Mackenzie Salmon lays out the pros of the NBA starting in late December.
It’s said the NBA season doesn’t truly start in earnest until Christmas. That’s almost literally true this year, with the 2020-21 campaign only a few days old as the league prepares for its annual holiday showcase.
The NBA is celebrating its 73rd year of Christmas Day games. The league began playing on Dec. 25 in 1947, its second season. There have been games every year since, with the only exception the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
While there unfortunately won’t be fans in the arenas Friday to take in the action, the NBA’s holiday festivities carry on with a five-game schedule that features some of the top teams in the league and the biggest stars in the game.
Here’s everything to know for this year’s Christmas Day matchups:
Pelicans at Heat (noon ET, ESPN)
The first game of the day features the Christmas debut of New Orleans phenom Zion Williamson. The Pelicans are making their second consecutive appearance on Christmas. Williamson missed last year’s game as Brandon Ingram hit a Christmas Day-record seven 3s to lead New Orleans to a win over Denver.
The Heat dropped their opener, but coach Erik Spoelstra is looking to remain unbeaten on Christmas Day. He’s 7-0 in his career, while Miami is an NBA-best 10-2 all-time.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steph Curry are both searching for their first win of the season.
 (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)
Warriors at Bucks (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the new-look Bucks are searching for their first win of the season after losing a heartbreaker in the opener on a last-second shot. Milwaukee is playing on Christmas for the third consecutive year but hosting for the first time since 1968.
Steph Curry and the Warriors are still adjusting to rotation changes of their own amid the continued absence of Klay Thompson, making this an intriguing matchup of teams trying to build chemistry early.
Nets at Celtics (5 p.m. ET, ABC)
If a game ever needed fans, it’s this one. A year after leaving Boston, Kyrie Irving makes his long-awaited regular-season return. Fresh off a statement win on opening night, Irving and Kevin Durant are back on the big stage against a fellow Eastern Conference contender.
The Celtics also got a big win in their opener, topping the Bucks on Jayson Tatum’s game-winning 3-pointer. Boston’s young star duo of Tatum and Jaylen Brown will get an early test against a pair of stars with championship experience in Durant and Irving.
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Mark Medina and Jeff Zillgitt make some bold predictions for what should be an unprecedented and unpredictable 2020-21 season.
Mavericks at Lakers (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN)
LeBron James takes on Luka Doncic in the marquee game of the day. James, the four-time MVP and four-time champion, will play his 15th career Christmas Day game, second-most ever behind Kobe Bryant (16). Doncic, a presumed future MVP and champion, is making his Christmas debut.
While fans hope their generational matchup takes center stage, James and Doncic are just hoping to get a win after the Lakers and Mavericks both dropped their season opener.
Clippers at Nuggets (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The schedule concludes with perhaps the juiciest matchup of the day. Three months after their embarrassing 3-1 playoff meltdown, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clippers meet Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and the Nuggets again in an early-season rematch.
The Clippers got a tough win over the Lakers in the opener as they continue to try to smooth out any lingering chemistry issues. The Nuggets lost a wild one in their opener on a buzzer-beating tip-in. 
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.
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