James Harden at the free throw line vs the Knicks; photo by Austin Krell/The Painted Lines

In between summer hoop sessions with Rico Hines and Travis Scott concerts with Kevin Durant, James Harden is dabbling in the business of breaking news. On Sunday night, Harden tweeted “Christmas in the garden!”. That was quickly followed by confirmation from independent NBA insider Marc Stein: the Sixers will visit the Knicks on Christmas, at least according to the league’s preliminary schedule for the holiday.

The last time the Sixers drew a Christmas game, they rode a three-point heater to victory against the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks in Philly. That was the Horford year. After the disappointment that was that season and the Simmons absence that kept the Sixers in uncertainty until the trade deadline last season, they’ve rebuilt enough equity with the addition of James Harden, the rise of Tyrese Maxey, and the MVP-level leap by Joel Embiid for an invitation back to the league’s premier day.

If you’re looking for a sign of respect for your favorite team, look no further than the Christmas slate. Unless you’re the Knicks, you get an invitation if you’re elite or you have legitimate star power. The NFL is already a more popular league than the NBA is at a national level. The Packers, Broncos, Rams, and Buccaneers all have games on Christmas this year. So, do you think the NBA has any intention of putting anyone other than its most elite up to compete for the market on one of the few days of the year in which the vast majority of the population is at home?

As for those Knicks, it’s not exactly a shocker that they’re getting a showcase on the holiday. As long as they’re not an embarrassment to the sport, the Knicks commonly get a spot on December 25, at least in recent history. The NBA wants its mecca — with its bright lights and celebrity attendance — on display for all to see. 

There could be other motives in play, as well. The NBA wants its best teams competing with the NFL on Christmas, but it also wants competitive games. The Knicks have certainly improved with the addition of Jalen Brunson. Still, the Sixers win that matchup handily on paper.

So, perhaps the Knicks drawing the Sixers on Christmas is the league’s bet that Donovan Mitchell will be traded to New York by then. Most people would probably still lean towards the Sixers winning the game. But, it certainly makes the playing field more level. That same theory could apply to the Sixers, who sources confirm [Ian Begley’s report from last week] have piqued disgruntled star Kevin Durant’s interest. But, they’d ostensibly draw a Christmas game with their pre-existing talent anyway. The seemingly far likelier scenario is that the NBA thinks the Knicks will have Mitchell.

Galaxy brain theories aside, the NBA clearly views the Sixers as one of its marketing pillars for the 2022-23 season.


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