It’s cold outside, which means that action on the basketball court is sizzling hot. Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors has finally gone past Ray Allen to become the all-time 3-point leader in league history, while his team and the Phoenix Suns are pacing the NBA in wins. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets are fighting with the Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
While the action on the court has been exciting, the drama off the court has only intensified due to the most recent COVID-19 surge. The Brooklyn Nets have had their last three games postponed as a number of players entered the league’s health and safety protocols — including stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (Harden has since been cleared to return).
But Brooklyn is far from the only Christmas Day team impacted by the pandemic. The Bucks, Hawks, Celtics, Lakers, Knicks and Warriors have all had major players go on the health and safety protocols list recently, with the Mavs on Wednesday announcing that star Luka Doncic is the latest big name to go down.
Even with some major stars out, the league has gone ahead with its highly anticipated slate of Christmas Day games. Here’s the remaining schedule, with all games airing nationally on ABC and/or ESPN.
- Golden State Warriors versus Phoenix Suns, 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. PT) on ABC
- Brooklyn Nets versus Los Angeles Lakers, 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT) on ABC and ESPN
- Dallas Mavericks versus Utah Jazz, 10:30 p.m. ET (7:30 p.m. PT) on ESPN
Although this is the lineup for Christmas Day, NBA fans looking to follow the drama and stream their team’s games throughout the rest of the season will need access to a few channels to catch every second of the season. ABC and ESPN will combine to televise 101 games, TNT will air 65 and NBA TV will have 107. All out-of-market games will continue to air on NBA League Pass, which is a great choice if you follow a team in a different city from where you live. Local fans won’t be able to able to watch their team play on League Pass, as broadcasts of local games air exclusively on regional sports networks.
While you absolutely don’t need cable to watch basketball this year, it still might be the easiest and cheapest choice depending on where you live.
Live TV streaming services vs. cable
Die-hard sports fans are beholden to regional sports networks, or RSNs, that carry the majority of the games for their local team. These RSNs are usually included in local cable packages, so most cable subscribers never have to worry about gaining access to the broadcasts on these channels: They can simply turn on the TV and watch the game.
Cord-cutting basketball fans have a tougher path. Because of rights agreements, most live TV streaming services like YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV don’t carry many RSNs. DirecTV Stream is the exception. It has nearly every RSN, particularly the Bally Sports channels (formerly Fox Sports) offered by Sinclair, but you’ll need to spring for its $85-a-month plan.
Ultimately, depending on your location, getting a cable subscription that includes ESPN, TNT and the local RSN might actually be cheaper and easier than streaming — especially if it’s bundled with the home internet you’ll likely be getting anyway.
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NBA League Pass, NBA TV and blackouts
For NBA fans looking to watch a ton of out-of-market basketball, a subscription to NBA League Pass has a lot to offer. You can get the whole NBA slate for $199 for the season, with commercials and one device, or $249 for the season with in-arena feeds instead of commercials, and the ability to watch on two devices at once. Those interested in following only a single team can buy a Team Pass for $119 for the season.
The key catch here is “out-of-market.” Most fans are in-market, meaning they follow the local team, and unfortunately for them RSNs have broadcast exclusivity in the region that they cover. That means local NBA games are blacked out on NBA League Pass.
If you’re living in Los Angeles, for example, you won’t be able to watch Lakers or Clippers games on NBA League Pass. The same goes for Knicks fans in New York, Bucks fans in Milwaukee and so on. The only way to watch most of those home team games in your home market is to get a service that has the local RSN, namely Spectrum SportsNet, Bally Sports SoCal, MSG Network or Bally Sports Wisconsin.
Services like NBA League Pass use IP addresses to block out games in viewers’ regions — you’ll just get a black screen if you try to watch those games. That’s why League Pass is ideal for those who want to follow one or more of the teams based in cities other than their own, aka out-of-market teams, but for local fans it’s not as useful.
In another twist, the NBA TV network will broadcast 107 games this season that will be considered national for those out-of-market. This means that you will still be able to watch your local team play on your RSN, but viewers around the country will need NBA TV in order to watch the game — it will be blacked out on League Pass.
Luckily, League Pass subscribers have the option of adding NBA TV to their package for an extra $60 a year or $7 a month. This is most likely one of the cheapest ways to get NBA TV for the out-of-market fan.
YouTube TV is the only live TV streaming service that includes NBA TV in its base channel lineup. DirecTV Stream, FuboTV and Sling offer the channel only on higher-priced tiers or in special add-ons; see below for details.
DirecTV Stream: Best for fans of the local team at $85
For those determined to watch their local basketball team without a cable or satellite TV subscription, a live TV streaming service is the best bet. While it is pricey, DirecTV Stream is the best option for most people, particularly those where the local games air on Bally Sports networks.
Below is a chart of all of the NBA teams in the US and their corresponding RSNs.
Note: None of the (US-based) services carry the RSN for the Toronto Raptors. Fans looking to watch Fred VanVleet and co. need to use NBA League Pass to get all the games that are not either on your local RSN or on a US national broadcast.
RSN availability by team and streaming service
|Team||Network name||DirecTV Stream||FuboTV||YouTube TV||Hulu Plus Live TV||Sling Blue|
|Atlanta Hawks||Bally Sports Southeast||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Boston Celtics||NBC Sports Boston||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Brooklyn Nets||YES Network||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Charlotte Hornets||Bally Sports Southeast||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Chicago Bulls||NBC Sports Chicago||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Cleveland Cavaliers||Bally Sports Ohio||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Dallas Mavericks||Bally Sports Southwest||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Detroit Pistons||Bally Sports Detroit||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Golden State Warriors||NBC Sports Bay Area||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Houston Rockets||AT&T SportsNet Southwest||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Indiana Pacers||Bally Sports Indiana||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Los Angeles Clippers||Bally Sports SoCal||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Los Angeles Lakers||Spectrum SportsNet||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Memphis Grizzlies||Bally Sports Southeast||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Miami Heat||Bally Sports Sun||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Milwaukee Bucks||Bally Sports Wisconsin||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Bally Sports North||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|New Orleans Pelicans||Bally Sports New Orleans||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|New York Knicks||MSG||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Bally Sports Oklahoma||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Orlando Magic||Bally Sports Florida||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Philadelphia 76ers||NBC Sports Philadelphia||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Phoenix Suns||Bally Sports Arizona||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Portland Trail Blazers||Root Sports Northwest||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Sacramento Kings||NBC Sports California||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|San Antonio Spurs||Bally Sports Southwest||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Utah Jazz||AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Washington Wizards||NBC Sports Washington||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
Some key takeaways:
- The RSNs above are typically only available to local subscribers. Refer to the individual service’s details below to find out if you live in a place where you can receive a particular RSN.
- DirecTV Stream’s $85-a-month Choice package includes NBA TV and all of the RSNs for basketball, with the exception of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Sixers fans hoping to watch Joel Embiid pulverize the competition will have to look elsewhere.
- They could jump over to FuboTV, Hulu Plus Live TV or YouTube TV, which all carry NBC Sports Philadelphia, but fans of other teams will mostly be out of luck. FuboTV only offers 10 RSNs for basketball, while Hulu Plus Live TV and YouTube TV only have six. Sling TV doesn’t offer a single RSN.
One other note: If you don’t recognize the name of some of these channels, don’t worry. As mentioned, the Fox Sports RSNs have been rebranded as Bally Sports, because the channels are no longer owned by Fox but Sinclair, which has since partnered with casino group Bally’s to rename them.
DirecTV Stream is expensive. It’s the priciest of the five major live TV streaming services, but it’s also the one with the most RSNs. Its cheapest, $70-a-month Plus package includes ESPN, ABC, TNT and TBS. You’ll need to move up to the $85-a-month Choice plan to get any available RSN as well as NBA TV. You can use its channel lookup tool to see which local channels and RSNs are available in your area.
Best options for nationally broadcast games
Aside from DirecTV Stream, the odds are long that a live TV streaming service carries the RSN for your local team’s games, which makes the other four services better bets for watching nationally televised games.
FuboTV costs $65 per month and offers 10 RSNs for basketball. It also includes ESPN, but not TBS — which might be a problem for some basketball fans. But you can add NBA TV for an extra $7 a month with the Fubo Extra Package or pay for the $80-a-month Elite streaming tier, which includes Fubo Extra. Check out which local networks and RSNs it offers here.
YouTube TV costs $65 a month and offers six RSNs for basketball, along with all of the national broadcasts including NBA TV. Plug in your ZIP code on its welcome page to see which local networks and RSNs are available in your area.
Hulu Plus Live TV costs $70 a month and carries six RSNs for basketball, along with ESPN, ABC, TBS and TNT, but not NBA TV. Click the “View all channels in your area” link at the bottom of its welcome page to see which local networks and RSNs are available where you live.
Sling Blue currently lacks a single RSN to watch basketball. You can, however, use Sling to watch some national broadcasts. Sling TV’s Orange plan includes ESPN, and both plans offer TBS, but neither of them gives you access to ABC. NBA TV is available as part of the Sports Extra add-on, which costs $11 a month for either the Blue or Orange plan, or $15 for the combined Orange-and-Blue plan. The individual plans cost $35 a month each, and the Orange-and-Blue plan costs $50 a month. You can see which local channels you get here.
Each live TV streaming service offers a free trial, allows you to cancel anytime and requires a solid internet connection. Looking for more information? Check out our live TV streaming services guide.