Unwrap the NBA this Christmas

Football is to Thanksgiving as basketball is to Christmas. And even though the pigskin tradition on Turkey Day gets more attention, the Christmas day lineup from the NBA this season promises much better entertainment than watching woeful Detroit give up against Tennessee and Seattle forget to show up against Big D. I won’t make a reference to the night cap between Philadelphia and Arizona, since anyone without the NFL Network couldn’t watch it (I guess that qualified as a statement, but I digress…).

This year the NBA, to which I personally have paid little attention the past several years since my Knickerbockers have been, well…sort of like the Lions, offers up a very promising slate of games. There are five matchups, and only one is a likely snoozer (The only saving grace is getting to watch King James do his thing all over, around, and to the Wizards’ D).

So in the Spirit of Christmas, here is my Holiday wish list, focusing on the NBA Christmas schedule counted down in order of how badly I would like to watch each game.

5. Washington Wizards (4-21) @ Cleveland Cavaliers (22-4)

The Primetime game on TNT (8:00 pm) holds but one attraction; and it is NOT  Zydrunas Ilgauskas. LeBron is averaging a ridiculous 27/7/7, and it is scary to think that even though he is in his 6th year, he is only 23, meaning he likely is still 3 or 4 years away from his prime. He makes any game exciting, so even this game against the lowly Wizards isn’t a total loss even though it shouldn’t be close. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are a very good 1-2 tandem for Washington; unfortunately there is little to be excited about beyond them.

4. San Antonio Spurs (16-10) @ Phoenix Suns (16-11)

This game could actually turn out to be less entertaining than my number 5 game, depending on the fan. Because of the Spurs defense, and the methodical way they run their offense, it may not be intriguing for those who cherish high scoring shootouts. The Suns will try to run as they always do, so this could end up being an intriguing matchup. Besides, any game with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shaq holds so much star power, it almost can’t be too bad. Plus these teams are both right in the thick of the yearly Western conference cage match for playoff berths. Catch this game while you play with your new toys at 2:30 pm on ABC.

3. Dallas Mavericks (15-11) @ Portland Trailblazers (17-10)

The nightcap (10:30 pm on TNT) showcases a team that may be a little beyond its peak in Dallas, against what may be the next giant in the West in Portland. 3rd year 2-guard Brandon Roy looks poised to become a star (if he isn’t already), and now has help from 2007 #1 overall pick Greg Oden, who in his first real season has steadily been improving, and is averaging 8 and 8, respectable for a 2nd year center who missed his rookie year due to injury. The Mavericks have likely missed their best opportunities to contend for the NBA Title, but they are still a strong team. Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, and Jason Kidd all have strong stats, but the team as a whole still does not play physically enough to contend with some of the other Western Conference teams deep in the playoffs.

2. New Orleans Hornets (16-7) @ Orlando Magic (21-6)

Point Guard Chris Paul is averaging 20 points, nearly 12 assists, and 3 steals per game, and is a treat to watch. His supporting cast is strong, but not spectacular. David West is having a second straight strong season, although his rebounding is slightly down. The Magic have won 20 of their first 26 games for the first time since the 1995-96 team led by Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and Dennis Scott – that team ended up winning 60 games, and this team could win even more. Their entire starting 5 averages 12 or more ppg, and Dwight Howard is a freak, averaging 14 boards along with 20 points and almost 4 blocks. This game offers a great selection of young talent to watch on ESPN while you’re going through your stocking at 12:00 pm.

1. Boston Celtics (26-2) @ Los Angeles Lakers (21-5)

My top game… the “Official Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time,” if you will, of the NBA Christmas lineup showcases a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals. This years Celtics, on an 18 game winning streak, may be even better than last year’s championship squad. The Big 3 has become the Big 4, as Rajon Rondo has turned into one of the game’s top point guards. And while they have no run-away star, they have a number of players who can beat you on any given night. The Lakers remain Kobe’s team, and he is again turning in an MVP-caliber season, to the tune of 26/5/4. But now he has Pau Gasol to defer to, along with Andrew Bynum to man the paint. Catch this sure-to-be thriller on ABC while you indulge in the Christmas roast at 5:00 pm.

So, as you go about your day of opening gifts, playing with new toys, eating, visiting, and whatever else may apply, hopefully you can catch some of the NBA action. Even if you’re not an NBA fan, the competition is sure to be more entertaining that the blowouts on Turkey Day.

The holidays are always a busy time, and for many a difficult time. Family issues, past and present wrongs, and painful memories abound for many. If this applies to you, maybe getting wrapped up in an afternoon of basketball can help take your mind off of it all at least for a little while. For everyone else, maybe this is an opportunity to reach out to someone you know for whom the holidays are a less than festive time. A simple invitation to come over and watch the game may mean more to them than you could ever know. And this is what Christmas is supposed to be about, right? Peace on Earth and goodwill for all?

So no matter what your situation, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Article images by: Sanja Gjenero, SXC and RAWKU5, SXC

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