Apparently nothing is sacred in sports. The NFL added a third game to Thanksgiving, eschewing decades of tradition built around the Lions and Cowboys. I’m ok with that change because it doesn’t suck. Adding a game is never a bad idea. What the NBA did, though, was a flat out slap in the face to the fans and to the defending Western Conference champions.
The Lakers -- that’s right, the Lakers -- will be Miami’s Christmas Day opponent. Not the Spurs, not the Thunder, not even a playoff team. The freaking Lakers. We’ve seen some shameless cash grabs from David Stern before, but knocking the runner up out of the marquee regular season game of the season in favor of a team that won’t even make the playoffs? It’s practically unforgivable.
What’s worse is that the game will be played in Los Angeles. Yes, you heard right: the defending champion Heat don’t get to play on their home court on Christmas. It’s BS. I wish I could put it more eloquently than that, but that’s all it is. It’s a cash grab by David Stern.
And that’s just the marquee game. The No. 2 slot is being filled by the classic rivalry of the Knicks and Thunder. The Nets are playing the Bulls in a rematch in name only; the entire Chicago lineup will be different from the one Brooklyn played in the playoffs. Clippers-Warriors? They’re in the same division, we see them play enough.
So I’m going to fix the Christmas schedule. Well, not fix, because the NBA doesn’t believe in rationality, but at least offer a viable set of alternatives. Here’s the schedule we should be seeing on Christmas:
Game 1: Pacers at Bulls
I know this violates my “they’re in the same division” argument, but this is different. Derrick Rose missed all of last season, and when fully healthy, these two teams are pretty similar. They’re physical, they play defense, and they know how to get under Miami’s skin.
It’s the perfect appetizer for a full day of basketball, the type gritty, grind-it-out slugfest that diehards love. There are real stakes with Eastern Conference seeding on the line as well as division bragging rights. I’ll be watching the first Bulls-Pacers game no matter when it is. I want to see Derrick Rose play against Indy, but it should have been on Christmas.
Game 2: Nets at Knicks
It’s hard to really understand this unless you live in New York, but the Knicks and Nets hate each other. It’s become one giant pissing contest between the billboards, commercials, subway ads and stars. It’s a legitimate rivalry that goes beyond the fans; the players involved don’t like each other, either.
Would Kevin Garnett serve Carmelo some honey nut eggnog? Would Paul Pierce drive another dagger into the MSG crowd? Would Ron Artest punch someone? Everything is at play here.
There are real New York bragging rights on the line. Besides Miami, there’s no team Knicks fans like beating more than the Nets. I can only assume Nets fans feel the same way only without Miami (they have a massive inferiority complex. It’s one of the many reasons they suck).
Game 3: Spurs at Heat
This is the game we should be getting. The defending champs are supposed to host the runner up in the marquee Christmas game. It’s not supposed to be about ratings, it’s supposed to be about setting a stage for the league’s two best teams to showcase why basketball is so awesome.
There are occasionally exceptions to this. The Lakers played Miami on Christmas in 2010 because they had just signed LeBron. That was the game everyone wanted to see, so the NBA gave the Lakers and Celtics their rematch on a later date and gave the fans Kobe vs. LeBron.
The difference here is that nobody wants to watch the Lakers in this game. It’s being underplayed just how bad the Lakers are going to be this year. They barely made the playoffs last year and might come into this game without their two best players from last year. They’re going to lose by like 30.
I really hate saying this, but I’m probably going to root for Miami to destroy the LA. I hate the Heat, but I don’t want the NBA getting the satisfaction of high ratings. I’d rather see them get screwed by a blowout just to prove what a dumb decision they made. I don’t care how childish that last paragraph makes me look, it’s what I want and it’s what you should want, too.
What I don't understand is why the Lakers are hosting this game. The Heat are the defending champs. They have the league's marquee star, and even with their lackluster fan base, a game against the Lakers would surely fill up the arena. I just don't see a logical explanation for it.
This really feels like one last "eff you" from Stern to the Spurs. He’d never admit it, but I’m sure Gregg Popovich is mad about this, especially considering how much less likely it becomes every year that he’ll play in that game again. This game should be a Finals rematch, not a cash grab. Show some damn integrity.
Game 4: Lakers at Celtics
Now HERE’S a worthy opponent for the Lakers. Two rebuilding giants facing off for a slice of Christmas glory. I don’t care if this is the only time I watch either team all year, it’s just fun watching the Lakers play the Celtics. It’s fun for the same reason we always care about Yankees-Red Sox or Duke-North Carolina. Some rivalries will always just matter.
Even if it’s not Larry vs. Magic or Wilt vs. Russell or even Kobe vs. Pierce, I’m completely in favor of the Lakers playing the Celtics every year on Christmas. No matter who suits up for them, it’s just a fun game to watch. It reminds of what basketball can be. Heat-Lakers is too sobering a reminder of what basketball really is.
Game 5: Rockets at Thunder
Enough nostalgia, let’s give the last game to two teams who really deserve to play on Christmas. Aside from San Antonio, these are probably the two best teams in the Western Conference, and whenever they do play, people are going to watch.
Basketball aside, there are real storylines here. How will Dwight Howard handle a limelight game against a contender? James Harden playing against his former team is always fun. If we’re lucky, we might even see Nick Collison hitting Patrick Beverley with a folding chair for knocking out Russell Westbrook last year.
Christmas has become for basketball what Thanksgiving is for football. It’s the showcase holiday for the sport, the best day on its regular season schedule. If ever there were a day for the NBA to value the fans over their bottom line, it’d be Christmas.
But no, our marquee game is turd with a purple and gold ribbon on top just so the owners can line their pockets. Thanks guys, you really know the meaning of Christmas.
By: Sam Quinn