NBA prepares for Christmas coming-out party
NEW YORK (AP) Nearly two months have passed since the San Antonio Spurs collected their championship rings and began their title defense.
The NBA season may have opened Oct. 28, but Christmas is the real coming-out party.
Football's popularity leaves little room for other sports in the fall. It's enough to make some believe the unofficial opener should be the real opening day, as it was in 2011 following the lockout.
''There could be an argument, and a strong argument, to starting our season later and do it on Christmas Day and go into the summer,'' ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. ''I think there could be a strong argument to do that and avoid a lot of the NFL and college football season.''
Football is quiet on Christmas, so the NBA loads up with a five-game schedule, highlighted by LeBron James' return to Miami. That game follows on ABC after San Antonio hosts Oklahoma City.
Washington visits New York in the ESPN opener, and because Christmas falls on a Thursday, TNT has its usual night doubleheader and ''Inside the NBA'' studio show. Then Chicago hosts the Los Angeles Lakers before Golden State takes on the Los Angeles Clippers.
Van Gundy preferred the Christmas schedule when it was just a couple of games. But Mark Jackson, working the Cavaliers-Heat game with Van Gundy and Mike Breen, is all for five.
''If it was watered down and you're trying to stretch five, that's different,'' he said. ''But I think we've got good teams with quality matchups, and if I'm a fan I like the idea of basketball being played all day.''
The challenge of the basketball marathon for Breen is to inform the new audience without insulting fans who have been watching since around Halloween.
''I don't go in thinking all right, I've got to broadcast toward these people who haven't watched a single NBA game,'' he said. ''But at the same time you can't ignore the fact that some people might not be up to speed on certain things.''
Here are some things to know about the five Christmas games:
WIZARDS AT KNICKS: Jackson coached Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State, and Washington's John Wall and Bradley Beal are in that class. ''They complement one another extremely well,'' he said. ''Beal's shooting ability, Wall's ability to create, to score and to play with great pace. They won't have a problem worrying about their backcourt for a long time.''
THUNDER AT SPURS: Van Gundy coached an eighth-seeded Knicks team to the NBA Finals, and Oklahoma City could be forced to make a similar run after injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. ''Oklahoma City, no matter where you start them, if they're in the tournament, they have a chance,'' Van Gundy said.
CAVALIERS AT HEAT: The Cavs have had some of the same struggles Miami did in James' first season in Florida, mostly because of Cleveland's defense. ''You want to win big in this league, you're going to commit to that end, the defensive end of the floor,'' Van Gundy said, ''and some games they have and other games they've really struggled.''
LAKERS AT BULLS: Kobe Bryant remains must-see TV in his record 16th Christmas appearance. ''Kobe Bryant is as compelling as an NBA player who's ever played. ... you just never know in any given game when he steps on the floor what he's capable of doing,'' Breen said.''
WARRIORS AT CLIPPERS: Their nasty Christmas matchup last year was followed by a seven-game playoff series. ''I think it's two tough teams, two very successful teams, two teams that don't like each other and two teams that's extremely exciting to watch,'' Jackson said. ''So obviously it's a developing rivalry, but I wouldn't call it a rivalry.''
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Tim Duncan, Spurs: 48 minutes, then 43 in consecutive triple-overtime games. The 38-year-old forward hadn't logged 40-plus minutes in consecutive games since Dec. 25-27, 2008, according to STATS.