When the NBA schedule was released last season, the primary suspense surrounding the Celtics was whether they would play on Christmas Day for the first time since 2012. Boston was ultimately matched up against the Knicks, which is either a terrible gift or a great one, depending on your perspective.
Next season’s schedule will be released this month, and the fact that the Celtics were the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season and then added the All-Star forward Gordon Hayward in free agency makes them a virtual lock to be a part of the NBA’s biggest day.
But their potential opponent remains a mystery. So here is our ranking of the eight most appealing options:
8. Nets. Fine, this game would not be appealing at all. But it would seem fitting, in the final year in which Boston will receive Brooklyn’s first-round draft pick, to recognize all the gifts the Nets have bestowed upon the Celtics in recent years. After essentially giving the Celtics Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston could at least offer up a fruitcake and some new socks for the holidays.
7. Rockets. In case you missed it, Chris Paul and James Harden are on the same team now.
6. Thunder. Russell Westbrook would make any Christmas game a can’t-miss event. But the subplot here is the presence of Paul George, the All-Star forward the Celtics had been trying to acquire for about a year before the Pacers shipped him to Oklahoma City in a seemingly lopsided deal.
5. 76ers. For a team that hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2005, there sure is a lot of buzz surrounding Philadelphia. But with the emergence of Joel Embiid, the arrival of No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and the looming debut of 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, the hype could be justified. With their intriguing young core and collection of future assets that can only be matched by the Celtics, Philadelphia and Boston are probably the two teams best positioned to rule the East over the next 10 years.
4. Jazz (in Utah). This one seems extremely unlikely, but if Gordon Hayward returned to Salt Lake City on Christmas, maybe the spirit of the season would spare him from some vitriol.
3. Warriors. Golden State will almost certainly face the Cavaliers in a rematch of the last three NBA finals. But if some strange schedule quirk doesn’t allow that, the Celtics would be one of the more intriguing possibilities in this prized slot. The Celtics are 2-0 in Oakland the past two seasons, after all.
2. Wizards. Last season’s playoffs, for the most part, were quite boring. But the Eastern Conference semifinals series between Washington and Boston was not. The teams carried their regular-season blood feud into the playoffs with Boston ultimately winning in seven gritty games. And, if nothing else, this would be a chance for Marcus Morris (Celtics) and his twin brother Markieff (Wizards) to spend the holiday together.
1. Cavaliers. Last year’s Eastern Conference finals showed that the gap between the Celtics and Cavs remains massive. But Kyrie Irving’s trade request has brought some tumult to Cleveland, and if he is dealt in a package centered on draft picks, this could be a chance for Boston to show that it will soon control the East. LeBron James can’t rule forever, can he?