CHRISTMAS IS IN NBA’S GIFT

It’s a tradition that dates back to just after the Second World War – and Christmas Day will see five battles on the NBA’s seasonal slate (BT Sport 1, from 5pm).

Some – like current Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy – like it as much as toothache and an under-cooked turkey.

Others roll with the inconvenience. The rest recognise it as a stage to exploit in a land where the boats aren’t pushed out quite as far as the UK on Yuletide TV specials as a follow-up to pudding and the Queen’s Speech.

“It’s important for the NBA, it’s a great day for the NBA,” declared Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team visits the Cleveland Cavaliers in a re-match of the 2016 NBA Finals.

“The NBA has kind of come to own Christmas Day, just like the NFL owns Thanksgiving. It’s not ideal for the players and coaches and families involved, but that’s part of the deal. We’re bringing a lot of entertainment and joy to a lot of people around the country. It’s a price to pay for being in the NBA. I don’t think anyone is complaining too much. We have a pretty good gig.”

Anyone might be stretching it. Perhaps the Chicago Bulls, who travelled to San Antonio on Christmas Eve and even with the perk of a post-game charter won’t make it home for a mince pie much before midnight.

At least, the LA Clippers and Lakers can wake up in their own beds before a late afternoon duel at Staples Center. Kids’ presents can be opened, the magic enjoyed, rather than in a hotel room or cross-country.

“Time goes by so fast and it’s like, man, you want to have those little moments with your family because those are the moments you can’t get back,” Hawks centre Dwight Howard told MVP. “Even with basketball, you know you can’t get it back.

“But those moments where you get to spend Christmas together, you never know what can happen in the course of life. Next year, somebody might not be there, little things like that. As you get older, you realise it more that these holidays are really special.”

For one team, it’s a first in 2016. The Minnesota Timberwolves travel to Oklahoma City, a showcase for two of the NBA’s young stars but also – one suspects – a sign that league officials expected them to be riding high in the West rather than stumbling near the foot.

We’ll enjoy the flattery, Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau signalled.

“It’s a honour and a privilege to be playing on that day,” he said. “It’s a big thing for the league. We’re excited to be part of it and we’re looking forward to it.

“Any time the league asks you to play on that day, I think it’s an honour. Hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come.”

 

CHRISTMAS DAY BY THE NUMBERS

1947 The NBA on Christmas Day tradition began in 1947, when the New York Knicks beat the Providence Steamrollers, 89-75, at the old Madison Square Garden. After this year’s slate of games, the NBA will have played 242 games on Christmas Day since 1947.

 625  Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs have won 625 regular-season games together, by far the most among active duos.  Only four duos in NBA history have won more games as teammates than Ginobili and Parker, who are in their 15th season together in San Antonio.

 399  Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson is on track to make Christmas Day his 399th consecutive regular-season game appearance, the longest active streak in the NBA and the longest in Cavaliers history.  Thompson has played in every game since Feb. 10, 2012.

277  Chicago’s Dwyane Wade is the active scoring leader on Christmas Day with 277 points, the third-highest total all time behind Kobe Bryant (395 points) and Oscar Robertson (377).  Wade is also the active leader in games played on Christmas (11 entering this year).

51 The New York Knicks will play on Christmas Day for the 51st time, the most in NBA history, when they host the Boston Celtics (30th appearance).  The Los Angeles Lakers will be making their 43rd appearance, second on the all-time list, when they face the LA Clippers.

44 Golden State’s Kevin Durant owns the highest-scoring game on Christmas Day among active players, recording 44 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Denver Nuggets in 2010.  (Bernard King holds the all-time single-game Christmas Day record with 60 points for the Knicks against the New Jersey Nets in 1984.)

34.3     New York’s Carmelo Anthony has averaged 34.3 points per game on Christmas Day, the highest mark among all players with at least four appearances.  Anthony will play in his fifth Christmas game this year.

 31.3 The Warriors are averaging a league-best 31.3 assists per game this season.  The NBA single-season record is 31.4, set by the 1984-85 Lakers.

30 This year marks the 30th anniversary of Patrick Ewing hitting a buzzer beater to give the Knicks an 86-85 victory over the Bulls in one of the NBA’s most memorable Christmas Day games.  In that same game, Chicago’s Michael Jordan scored 30 points in the first of his six Christmas Day appearances.

21 The Lakers have won 21 games on Christmas Day, the second-most victories all time behind the Knicks’ 22.  Los Angeles has a 21-21 record on the holiday.

8 DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers holds the NBA record for most blocks in a Christmas Day game, rejecting eight shots against Golden State in 2011.

5 Five players have recorded a triple-double on Christmas Day, including two who will be in action this year: Cleveland’s LeBron James and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who has an NBA-high 13 triple-doubles this season.  The other three players with triple-doubles on Christmas are Billy Cunningham, John Havlicek and Oscar Robertson.

 4 The four 21-year-old players who are currently averaging at least 20 points per game will make their Christmas Day debuts: Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and New York’s Kristaps Porzingis.

 2  The two players who have scored the most points in a quarter in NBA history will square off on Christmas Day.  Golden State’s Klay Thompson set the NBA record by scoring 37 points in the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 23, 2015.  Cleveland’s Kevin Love is second on the list after scoring 34 points in the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 23, 2016.

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