The NBA’s hottest team will be playing at home in Los Angeles, and it’s the Clippers, not the Lakers. There’s a finals rematch in Miami, a holiday matinee in Brooklyn, Kobe vs. the Knicks and the 20th anniversary of one of Michael Jordan’s most memorable games in Chicago.
Welcome to Christmas, NBA style.
A five-game slate makes up the NBA’s Christmas schedule, which this year comes with the additional bonus of not being the first day back after a lockout forced the cancellation of the opening portion of last season.
Schedule-makers set the matchups long ago, and the league always tries to get some marquee meetings.
This year, they pretty much struck gold.
The Clippers are riding a franchise-record 13-game winning streak. The New York Knicks will face their former coach, Mike D’Antoni, when they play the Lakers. Miami and Oklahoma City will be bringing the best records in their respective conferences into their first matchup since the Heat won the title. And Brooklyn and Boston face off, a few weeks after the teams started shoving one another and firing off some insults afterward.
“I don’t know how much bad blood is still there,” Nets guard Deron Williams told reporters Monday. “We beat them twice this year. I know they’re aware of that and they’ll come in ready to play.”
On Christmas, that’s the case with everybody.
“There’s nothing like playing on Christmas,” Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said.
Los Angeles will be the center of the league’s Christmas bash, with two games at Staples Center on the same day, including an opener that features two teams which got off to surprising starts in very different ways.
The Knicks — with an Eastern Conference-leading 20 wins so far — venture out to play Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, who reworked their roster over the summer and reworked their coaching staff after a slow early start, firing Mike Brown and bringing in D’Antoni.
It’s the 48th time playing on Christmas for the Knicks, but only the eighth time on the road.
“When we were younger, watching the Christmas Day games was always special,” Knicks forward Steve Novak said in a video posted to the team’s website. “We know we can’t play basketball forever, so for this time in our life, to be away from our families and be able to play on TV on Christmas Day is really special.”
Finish that game, clear the court, and basketball fans in Los Angeles then get a second present — the NBA’s best team of late.
The Clippers, winners of a franchise-record 13 straight, close the five-pack of games against the Denver Nuggets. For the Clippers, it will be only the fourth Christmas home game in franchise history. For comparison’s sake, Bryant will be playing on the holiday for the 15th time, and this will be his 12th time doing so at home.
“It will be a good challenge for us,” Denver forward Danilo Gallinari told reporters when asked about facing the Clippers. “And we’ll be ready for them.”
So after Boston-Brooklyn, Knicks-Lakers and Thunder-Heat comes the fourth game of the day when Houston goes to Chicago, exactly 20 years after Jordan put up a Christmas show of his own with a 42-point, eight-rebound effort to lift the Bulls over New York 89-77.
Derrick Rose remains out for the Bulls, of course, but there is one reunion to take note of — it’ll be Omer Asik’s first time playing in Chicago since he joined the Rockets this past offseason.
And that sets the table for the nightcap, when the Nuggets meet the Clippers.
Maybe the best matchup of all comes in Miami, where the Thunder meet the Heat in what’s sure to be an emotionally charged day. First, it’s a finals rematch. Secondly, the teams will also pay tribute to military families by handing out gifts to children on the court immediately before the game, and both clubs will wear ribbons to honor those who were killed in the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month.
Several Heat players, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, said that playing on Christmas is difficult because of their desire for family time.
At the same time, both also said it’s an honor — especially so as the league’s reigning champions.
“I think it’s great for the fans, having those games,” James said. “But for us, as family men, Christmas is a day that we would love to spend with our family and be home with our family. I have no problem with the game as scheduled. I love to play the game, I love to play basketball so I’m going to be out there and I’m going to be excited for it.”