The last couple days it’s been hard to watch ESPN for more than 15 minutes and not see a commercial for the NBA Christmas Day games. It’s become an annual tradition. The first game starts at 12 noon and by the time the fifth and final game ends it’s no longer Christmas Day. While Christmas and the NBA will never be as popular or the NFL and Thanksgiving, I don’t fault the NBA for trying to have a holiday of their own.
In having five games, one following the other, the NBA gives its fans the opportunity to see some of the best players and best teams in the Association and not miss a beat since none of the games overlap. When you think about it, Christmas is good timing for the NBA to try and showcase its best talent during the winter. Thanksgiving is for the NFL and New Year’s Day belongs to college football, though that has recently been rivaled by the NHL in the last five years with the inception of the Winter Classic. So that leaves Christmas for the NBA. The hard part is forecasting the prospects of the selected teams for Christmas Day.
The Brooklyn Nets host the Chicago Bulls in the first game at noon. Both these teams have severely underachieved. The Bulls lost their superstar point guard Derrick Rose again, and the Nets just lost their center Brook Lopez for the rest of the season. But make no excuse, the Bulls made the playoffs without Rose last season and the Nets were thought to have improved in the offseason which ought to lessen the blow that was delivered when Lopez went down. Here we are on Christmas Eve and the Nets are 9-18, and the Bulls 10-16. I’m sure two sub-500 teams wasn’t the plan for a Christmas Day game.
The second game has the Oklahoma City Thunder traveling to the Big Apple to play the New York Knicks. Much like the Bulls and the Nets, the Knicks are struggling mightily after making the playoffs as the second seed in the East last season. The Knicks have the same 9-18 record as the rival Nets do and an uncertain future looms over the franchise as Mike Woodson may be on the hot seat and Carmelo Anthony may leave after this season. No such underachieving for Oklahoma City as they sit at 22-5 and second in the West.
The third game has the two-time defending champions, the Miami Heat, traveling cross country to play the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m sure schedule makers were relying on Kobe Bryant being back for the Lakers for this game and while he made his season debut earlier this month, he is now sidelined again by injury. At 13-15 and 10th in the West the Lakers are going to have a hard time winning games without Bryant and the fact that their hovering around .500 without him for most of the season is probably their ceiling. You would think Miami would handle the Kobe-less Lakers with ease tomorrow.
The two night games are the best on the schedule tomorrow. The defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs host the Houston Rockets and the last game features the upstart Golden State Warriors home to the Los Angeles Clippers. All four of these teams figure to be right in the thick of things the talent-rife Western conference throughout the spring.
So in running through the schedule what am I really saying? It’s hard to guarantee good games when teams are almost 30 games into their season by now. Injuries and underachievers are bound to happen making the scheduled games not as compelling. On the other side of the coin there are the overachievers and breakout players that make their presence felt in the first two months of the season that aren’t scheduled for Christmas Day. Case in point this year would be the Portland Trail Blazers. They lead the West and LaMarcus Aldridge is an early candidate for NBA MVP. The Indiana Pacers are another team that has come out of the gate strong. What’s confusing though is that Indiana’s early surge isn’t as surprising after seeing them take Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. So Indiana would have been a good team to schedule for Christmas Day and for whatever reason they won’t see action tomorrow.
I give the NBA credit for making the annual effort to draw attention nationwide to the Association. But unlike the other sports on the winter holidays, I’m not sure there’s enough of a wow factor. Thanksgiving and NFL Football have been synonymous for years. The history behind the tradition makes football a part of most Americans’ Thanksgivings regardless of the quality of the teams featured. There’s also a lot of history behind New Year’s Day college football as a lot of the bigger bowl games, most notably the Rose Bowl, are played on New Year’s Day. While the Winter Classic has only been going on since 2008, the spectacle it creates gives the NHL some well-deserved attention on New Year’s Day as well.
The underachieving teams are the unknown about NBA Christmas Day games. It’s so hard to know when scheduling what you think are the premier teams in the NBA, which ones aren’t going to live up to expectations. I’m not sure they’ll ever try and call a surprise team either. I think the person who suggested Portland for Christmas Day three months ago would have been laughed at…a lot. So it comes down to a matter of luck. Maybe one year the ten teams will all be contenders, and the five games will all be great. The only thing to do is to keep trying.