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NBA Christmas features rematches, showdowns — and no Kevin Durant

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/15/2022 Ben Golliver
Kevin Durant has requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. © Frank Franklin II/AP Kevin Durant has requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

This is an excerpt from Ben Golliver’s NBA Post Up weekly newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news and commentary and the best high jinks from #NBATwitter and R/NBA delivered to your inbox every Monday.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have been mainstays on the NBA’s Christmas Day schedule for the past decade, but that holiday tradition is set to change barring a blockbuster trade.

While James’s Los Angeles Lakers and Curry’s Golden State Warriors were included in this year’s five-game slate, which was first reported Sunday by the Athletic, Durant’s Brooklyn Nets were snubbed. That history-bucking development marks the latest twist in the Nets’ ongoing standoff with their franchise player, who has repeatedly requested a trade this summer.

Adam Silver displeased by trade requests from NBA star players

For context, James’s teams have played on Christmas every season since 2007-08 and Curry’s Golden State Warriors have appeared every season since 2013-14. Durant’s teams have been included every season since 2010-11 with the exception of 2019-20, when he was sidelined for the entire campaign with an Achilles’ injury.

The Lakers, who missed the playoffs last season, will visit the Dallas Mavericks for a star-studded faceoff between James and Luka Doncic. The Mavericks, who are fresh off an unexpected Western Conference finals trip, will be holiday hosts for the first time since 2011-12, while the Lakers will hit the road on Christmas for the first time since 2018-19.

Meanwhile, Curry and the defending champion Warriors will host Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies in a rematch of their entertaining and tense second-round playoff series. Morant, who missed the final three games of the series with a knee injury, had publicly lobbied for the rematch.

“We got what we wanted,” Morant tweeted Saturday.

The other three games will see the Milwaukee Bucks face the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers take on the New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets host the Phoenix Suns in intraconference matchups.

Jayson Tatum’s Celtics outlasted Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals series, setting up an enticing rematch between the early East favorites. After adding free agent guard Jalen Brunson this summer, the Knicks will host Joel Embiid and James Harden at Madison Square Garden. Finally, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic will get another shot at the Suns, who posted a league-best 64 wins last season following their 2021 second-round series win over the Nuggets.

With Christmas landing on a Sunday this year, the NBA will be forced to compete with an NFL triple-header featuring the Green Bay Packers against the Miami Dolphins, the Denver Broncos against the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Arizona Cardinals. However, the two leagues won’t go head-to-head in the same markets; the NBA didn’t include the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers while sending the Lakers and Suns on the road.

Indeed, Durant and the Nets are hardly alone in the snub department. Miami made the 2020 NBA Finals and finished with the East’s best record last season, while the Clippers are expected to rejoin the title hunt with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back healthy. Two of this offseason’s biggest buyers, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks, were left off despite adding Rudy Gobert and Dejounte Murray, respectively.

The Heat, Clippers, Timberwolves and Hawks all have cases, but they haven’t established themselves as bankable television darlings like Durant and Nets guard Kyrie Irving. Omitting Brooklyn, then, feels like a purposeful move by the league to sidestep the uncertainty around Durant’s future in favor of East teams that are more deserving (Milwaukee and Boston) and safer bets (Philadelphia and New York).

If Durant gets traded, the remaining Nets wouldn’t be worthy of center stage. Even if no trade materializes, it’s hard to bank on Durant, Irving and Ben Simmons hitting on all cylinders after all three have been consumed by off-court distractions and missed significant time over the past two seasons.

The NBA did set up a tantalizing backdoor possibility for its holiday lineup, given that Boston and Phoenix have both been mentioned as Durant suitors. Imagine Durant and the new-look Celtics welcoming Antetokounmpo to the TD Garden parquet for a superstar showdown that would trump James vs. Doncic and Curry vs. Morant. Christmas wishes don’t get much bigger and bolder than that.

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