This is usually the time of presents and Christmas cheer for everyone. For NBA fans it’s the most wonderful time of the year because it means the opening of the trade market and the season being just old enough to determine which teams can dream of title contention versus which are looking at lottery tickets. Then come the Christmas Day games! The first big day where all the games seem to really matter. All the stars are featured and none are lying down for their opponents like they do in the All-Star Game.

The Lump of Coal that is COVID-19 is starting to spread its staining soot into 2022. It might even blackout most of Christmas Week 2021. A handful of games have already been canceled. The outbreak among the professional leagues might mean another hiatus to get through the holidays safely and preserve the back half of the regular season. Should the NBA get a handle on testing protocols and sign enough G-League talent to finish out the year, we can look forward to an interesting schedule once Santa drops off the bag and heads back up the chimney. Well, unless he gets a 10-day contract of course.

Replacement players from the G-League Las Vegas Showcase are filtering onto NBA rosters to keep the regular season soldiering on. It’s tough to get excited for the Christmas Day games because we don’t know who will be playing or even when. The 10 NBA teams scheduled to play on Christmas Day were told by NBA HQ there was a possibility of shifting some game times depending on team availability. That will mess with some family plans if the games are shuffled around. The league told the teams the priority is filling the ABC windows for Saturday’s games, which means the slots are at 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern. For now, those games, in order, would have Boston at Milwaukee, Golden State at Phoenix and Brooklyn at the Los Angeles Lakers.

In a memo distributed to the teams, the league called the notion of shifting game times – which may happen if a game is postponed – a contingency plan. The NBA has postponed seven games so far this season and there are currently about 75 players dealing with virus-related issues this week, with more than 100 having done so at least once this season. The Nets have put 10 players on that list which is the highest known figure for any team.

I’ll enjoy whatever highlights come from these games and count my blessings; I’ve made it this far through the pandemic with most of my immediate family safe and sound. From the rest of the MMH family, we hope all the best to you and yours. Still, I’ve got to be a bit of a Grinch when looking at what could have been this Christmas Day…

The Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz game was already marred with question marks. Will Luka Dončić even play? Would the Utah Jazz just be spinning their wheels until they make a trade for another playoff-caliber wing? Would this be a prelude to another first-round match-up, with the inevitable Mavs exit bringing Luka’s exit one day closer? The styles-make-fights theory and the lack of star power make this the one game to miss while spending time with family.

Same goes for a Brooklyn Nets/Los Angeles Lakers pairing that will be missing a full roster of All-Stars. Does this game really matter or are the Nets just toying around with the Eastern Conference? Is this just one big national beatdown that marks the beginning of the end for AD and the Lakers? Los Angeles might have LeBron James confident enough to carry a cigar into the gym but they’ve been tossed to the side of the Western playoff picture.

The Milwaukee Bucks versus Boston Celtics will be…green! Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed the last few games. So has Kris Middleton. The skeleton squad Bucks lost to Jrue Holiday’s old team even though he dropped a 40 ball on the Pelicans. And yet the story of the Bucks coming back together to defend their title is better than the Celtics falling apart like a dried out clover. Danny Ainge moved to Utah to not make another fantasy team-styled trade. Brad Stevens moved up to the offices and is biding time before breaking apart Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If you want to watch for history: This would be the Celtics’ 20th loss on Christmas Day. I’ll watch just to see Boogie Cousins continue his comeback.

The Atlanta Hawks return to Madison Square Garden is ruined if Trae Young has to bow out due to COVID. The New York Knicks know any victory over Atlanta without Trae is invalidated after last year’s playoff series. Likewise, the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors have already had one big regular-season square off. The league can only try to force this match-up so much before it’s just a gimmick.

First, these teams need to meet in the playoffs. Second, they need to meet at full-strength. Chris Paul had Steph and Klay on the ropes once years ago but pulled up short in the Rockets’ stretch run. It’s Christmas Day, sure, but it’s also the regular season. This pairing is getting too much play too early as this is the second big nationally televised game featuring these two teams. It’s like how the most favorite toy in the whole wide world is usually forgotten about by New Year’s but the slept on gift gets all the play in the park through Spring. I’ll watch Suns v. Warriors on Christmas Day, but I won’t put much stock in these results. Both teams have a move to make in the trade market before then.

From lack of star power to the anxiousness of the pandemic’s unknown turns, this NBA Christmas Day will look far different than what was planned when making the schedule. Let’s just hope it is the last under all these COVID-19 restrictions. As we mask up and move on to the New Year, it’s the best we or the NBA can hope for.