(Eds: Updates.)By BRIAN MAHONEYAP Basketball Writer
Jeff Van Gundy will see both Los Angeles teams on Christmas, and for now he likes the Clippers much better.
Van Gundy also ranks New York ahead of Miami at this point, with everyone looking up at Oklahoma City as the NBA heads toward its marquee holiday schedule.
ESPN will show five games that day on its networks, and Van Gundy will call two of them with partner Mike Breen from Staples Center. The Lakers host the New York Knicks in ABC’s first broadcast of the season, and the Clippers will face Denver in the nightcap on ESPN.
The Clippers brought a nine-game winning streak and 17-6 record into their game at Detroit on Monday, and were seven games ahead of the disappointing third-place Lakers.
”Right now, the Clippers have played outstanding basketball. They have star power, they have terrific depth and they’re playing very well together, and the Lakers aren’t healthy and have undergone a lot of change and just haven’t played well, haven’t played with the enthusiasm of a team that’s truly tied together,” Van Gundy said.
Beyond injuries to Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, Van Gundy said it’s hard to tell without being around them every day what’s wrong with the Lakers.
”You can tell by their play that they’re just not totally tied together,” Van Gundy said. ”I think if their health improves that will obviously be a major step forward, but they certainly have to get to where they are really playing for each other and not just with each other.”
Brooklyn will host Boston at the new Barclays Center in the opening game of the day. After the Knicks-Lakers matchup, Oklahoma City will visit Miami in a rematch of the NBA Finals. Houston travels to Chicago in the opener of the night doubleheader.
The Heat beat the Thunder in five games last June, but Oklahoma City has raced to a league-best, 19-4 record while winning 10 in a row. Van Gundy said the Heat probably aren’t as happy with the way they’ve played so far, but that it’s good enough to win games and he expects they’ll get better as the year goes on.
The champs have been routed twice by the Knicks, who own the best record in the East. So at this point, Van Gundy puts the Knicks ahead of the Heat on his list of teams.
”I’m saying right now. It doesn’t imply that somebody is going to be better in a playoff series,” Van Gundy said. ”I’m saying just to date, there’s no way you can say the Knicks haven’t played better than Miami, because they have. They’ve beaten them easily twice and they’ve been very consistent.”
Van Gundy and Breen will be joined in the booth for a portion of the late game by actor Billy Crystal, a Clippers fan.