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NBA: Injuries, poor play leave NBA poor Christmas schedule

By Brian Mahoney
Associated Press

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NEW YORK: 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 the Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers, 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,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

The schedule is such a letdown that not until the fourth game will two winning teams meet, when the Houston Rockets visit the San Antonio Spurs. Rivers’ team travels to face the Golden State Warriors in the nightcap.

Before that, the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks 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 Christmas games have averaged more than 33 million U.S. viewers the past 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.

After the Bulls (10-16) and Nets (9-18) meet in the opener, the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Knicks, 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 the Orlando Magic. 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.”


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