Bad luck, bad play leave NBA weak Christmas slate

If the NBA had a Christmas wish, it might be for a different

holiday schedule.

The one that was drawn up seemed strong enough when it was

released, a potentially dynamite five-game treat from noon through

night, packed with superstar scorers and championship

contenders.

But like an old Christmas sweater, it doesn’t look nearly as

good now that time has passed.

Back luck and bad play have wrecked a number of teams the league

picked to showcase. Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Brook Lopez are

all sitting out, as are Indiana and Portland, who share the NBA’s

best record.

But hey, there’s two 9-18 teams and one that’s 10-16.

The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers got the late afternoon

marquee time slot, but it’s certainly no marquee attraction now

that it won’t feature a LeBron James-Bryant duel.

”That’s probably not the matchup they wanted,” Clippers coach

Doc Rivers said.

The schedule is such a letdown that not until the fourth game

will two winning teams meet, when Houston visits San Antonio.

Rivers’ team travels to Golden State in the nightcap.

Before that, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York all get TV time, all

chosen for the honor long before anyone could have known they would

sometimes look unwatchable.

”Those things are done way ahead of time. You just hope for the

best matchups. Unfortunately, the Derrick Rose injury puts Chicago

in a tough spot. Brooklyn and New York have not played particularly

well,” said Jeff Van Gundy, who will work the Heat-Lakers game on

ABC.

”But I still think people will watch. It’s Christmas Day, and

people still care deeply about the Bulls and about the Knicks, even

though they haven’t played particularly well of late.”

Christmas is something of a second opening day for the NBA,

often the first time a national audience begins paying attention as

football nears its conclusion. The league decided to capitalize a

few years back by increasing to a five-game schedule that begins at

noon EST.

The Christmas games have averaged more than 33 million U.S.

viewers over the last three years, so Van Gundy is probably right

about the fans still tuning in, even for a matchup that looks as

ugly as those sleeved jerseys the players will be wearing.

”On the NFL, I’ve seen plenty of weak Thanksgiving games, but

we still watch,” Rivers said. ”Now it’s becoming basketball on

Christmas. That’s the good part, that the NBA has found that

niche.”

After Chicago (10-16) and Brooklyn (9-18) meet in the opener,

Oklahoma City visits New York, matching the NBA’s top two scorers

in Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony – provided Anthony’s left ankle

is OK after he sprained it Monday at Orlando. The Knicks are a

Christmas tradition, making their league-high 49th appearance, and

the league hopes they’ll provide a big audience despite their 9-18

record.

Injuries have hit hard around the NBA and the Christmas lineup

is no exception. With Rose and the Lakers’ Steve Nash out, two of

the six players in the league’s holiday jingle ad touting the games

and the special uniforms won’t be playing.

With Bryant also injured and unable to extend his NBA record for

Christmas Day appearances to 16, it’s a chance for the lesser-known

Lakers to enjoy the spotlight during what’s shaping up as a rare

season of irrelevance for one of the league’s storied

franchises.

”Any time a team plays on the Christmas schedule, teams have an

opportunity to display their talent – whoever is suiting up for

you,” ESPN analyst Hubie Brown said. ”It just seems that teams

play, even though they might not be playing to a high won-loss

record, they will play to their maximum potential because of the

audience that is expected to watch the games on Christmas.”

So maybe Wednesday one of those lowly East teams finally plays

to its reputation – even if only to spare themselves embarrassment

in front of viewership they may not earn again this season.

”Christmas is a special day,” Brooklyn’s Jason Terry said.

”This is a great opportunity to come up in here against a team

like Chicago who is going to make you play hard each and every

possession.”

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