Christmas is a time for merriment and good cheer, especially if you’re an NBA fan.
December 25 is unquestionably the biggest day of the NBA’s six-month regular season. In recent years, 10 teams have taken the court as part of a mega quintuple-header that features some of the biggest superstars in the sport.
As you can expect, there are a few teams who often end the holiday with a win underneath the tree. Yet for a few unlucky franchises, a lump of coal in the stocking would be preferred over the constant indignity of losing.
The NBA has played on Christmas as long as the league has existed
With MLB in its offseason, the NHL barred from scheduling games, and the NFL only playing occasional games, the NBA has a firm hold on Christmas. And the league has more or less made Christmas an annual date on the schedule since its inception.
In 1947, one year after the league was founded, the New York Knicks defeated the Providence Steamrollers 89-75. From that point on, the NBA held games on Christmas in all but one year. The lone exception came in 1998, when the lockout postponed the start of the season to January.
Unlike the NFL, which has the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions play every Thanksgiving, the NBA has spread cheer to nearly every franchise in the league. As of 2021, only the Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Hornets (both incarnations) have never traded in Christmas pajamas for basketball jerseys on 12/25.
That being said, some teams have certainly appeared far more than others. The Knicks, who won the first-ever Christmas NBA game, will be playing in their record 54th Christmas contest in 2021 against the Atlanta Hawks, who are playing in their 21st game but first since 1989. Older teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Golden State Warriors have plenty of Christmas experience, as well. Meanwhile, championship-winning franchises like the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks will only be playing in their eighth and fifth Christmas Day games on Saturday respectively.
The Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers are amongst the biggest Christmas winners
Perhaps playing in 75-degree temperatures has something to do with it. Whatever the reason is, the Miami Heat are nearly unbeatable on Christmas Day.
Miami’s 111-98 thrashing of the New Orleans Pelicans in 2020 brought the franchise’s Christmas record to an astounding 11-2. That comes out to a .846 winning percentage, the highest in NBA history.
For the rest of the top five, only two have a chance to move up (or down) the list in 2021. The Portland Trail Blazers are second to Miami with a 14-4 record, an impressive .778 winning percentage. The Utah Jazz, who play the Mavericks in the final game of the 2021 Christmas schedule, are 5-2 (.714) all-time. The Washington Wizards franchise and the Phoenix Suns (who play the Warriors in 2021) round out the top-five, sitting at 16-7 (.696) and 12-6 (.667) respectively.
Even though the Knicks have played the most Christmas games, they don’t have the most wins. That distinction belongs to the Lakers, who lead all franchises with 24 victories. New York is second with 22, followed by the Sacramento Kings franchise and Philadelphia 76ers with 18 apiece.
The Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons have had many poor holidays
Only one team, the Toronto Raptors, has gone winless on Christmas Day. But with only two appearances, we won’t consider them the biggest loser. Instead, we’ll look toward the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons as teams wishing to spend the holiday at home instead of losing on national television.
The Nuggets have lost six out of seven Christmas games, which includes a 121-108 defeat in 2020 to the Los Angeles Clippers. That gives Denver a league-worst .143 winning percentage, again not including Toronto. The New Orleans Pelicans also have one win but in just four total games.
Other big losers include the Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder have gone 6-14, good for a lousy .300 winning percentage. But that was mostly because of the Seattle SuperSonics era of the franchise that went a remarkable 0-11 on December 25. So instead we’ll knock the Pistons, who after their last Christmas game in 2005 boast a horrendous 10-22 record (.313).
Detroit’s 22 losses are the third-most in Christmas history. The Lakers have 23, but also have 15 more games played than the Pistons. But with 31 losses, the Knicks have felt the wintertime blues more than every other team.
In reality, all NBA fans are winners with so many great games on Christmas each year. But clearly, some fanbases have better holidays than others.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.