The NBA has long owned the largest tract of land on the Christmas Day sports landscape.
Tuesday, the league announced their nationally televised game schedules for opening week as well as Christmas Day.
With this being the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Season, the league seeks to push the top-end talent forward.
Christmas Day usually sports a five-game slate that features the league’s biggest stars and top rivalries.
The matchups seem to signal what teams and players the league envisions as contenders for the 2021-2022 championship crown.
But there are three teams left off the list that should be part of the festivities.
— NBA (@NBA) August 17, 2021
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Last season, the Sixers held the top-seed in the Eastern Conference, finishing 49-23.
Philadelphia outpaced both the Brooklyn Nets and eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks in the standings.
Embiid, meanwhile, remains the face of Sixers basketball and enters the new season having finished second in last year’s MVP race.
He averaged 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 1.0 steals in 2020-21.
But missing out on this marquee event on the NBA’s calendar signals a lack of faith in the Philadelphia franchise.
The pall of Ben Simmons‘s uncertain standing with the Sixers likely pushed the club off the calendar date.
Rumors continue to swirl around Simmons and his possible relocation from Philadelphia.
If the Sixers move on from the polarizing young star, that might result in a slip in the standings.
And if the league wants to showcase its top teams on Christmas Day, then leaving the Sixers out indicates the NBA is hedging its bets.
Losing in seven games to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season didn’t help their case either.
2. Denver Nuggets
If Christmas Day really is the marquee showcase for the league, then the Denver Nuggets should be there.
Sure, Denver lands in the “small market” bucket, but they boast the reigning league MVP.
Nikola Jokic played all 72 games last season and averaged a career-high 26.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, a career-high 8.4 assists, and 1.32 steals per game.
He became the first Nugget and the lowest-drafted player to be named NBA MVP.
Denver sports a top-3 finish in the Western Conference each of the last three seasons, making it to at least the conference semifinals each year.
But beyond just the small market status, last season’s injury to Jamal Murray doesn’t help matters.
Murray provided the perimeter spark Denver needed to make their deep playoff run two seasons ago.
Considering the timeline for an ACL tear usually keeps a player out of action for 7-9 months, Murray’s absence likely factored into the NBA’s decision to leave Denver off the Christmas Day slate.
1. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat made a seismic move in free agency, acquiring the services of former Toronto Raptor point guard Kyle Lowry.
Although the Heat bowed out of the playoffs in the first round last season, coming off the league’s shortest offseason of all-time, Miami stands as one of the top teams in Eastern Conference heading into the 2021-22 season.
What’s more, the Heat remain the most successful team in league on Christmas Day.
Miami’s 11-2 record in Christmas Day contests, a .846 winning percentage, stands as the best mark in NBA history.
The additions of Lowry, Markieff Morris, and P.J. Tucker have the Heat poised to be the top threat to Brooklyn and Milwaukee, more so than the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics, who all have Christmas Day contests.
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) December 25, 2020
It would also have been nice to see Duncan Robinson get the opportunity to eclipse his Christmas Day record of seven made-threes, something he’s done four times in his career.