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, 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.
Bad luck and bad play have wrecked a number of teams the league picked to showcase. Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers are sitting out — as are Indiana and Portland, teams that share the NBA’s best record of 23-5.
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But hey, there are two 9-18 teams and one that is 10-16.
The two-time defending champion Miami Heat and the Lakers got the marquee time slot, but it is 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 Houston visits San Antonio (5 p.m. PST, ESPN). Rivers’ team travels to Golden State in the nightcap.
Before those games, Chicago (10-6), Brooklyn (9-18) and New York (9-18) each 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 analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who will work the Heat-Lakers game at 2 p.m. PST on Ch. 4.
“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 league decided to capitalize a few years back by expanding to a five-game schedule that begins at 9 a.m. PST.
The Christmas games have averaged more than 33 million U.S. viewers over the last three years, so Van Gundy is probably right about fans still tuning in, even for a matchup that looks as ugly as those sleeved jerseys players will be wearing.
“On the NFL, I’ve seen plenty of weak Thanksgiving games, but we still watch,” Rivers said. “Now it’s becoming basketball on Christmas. That’s the good part, that the NBA has found that niche.”
After Chicago and Brooklyn meet in the opener, Oklahoma City visits New York, 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 in Orlando. The Knicks are a Christmas tradition, making their league-high 49th appearance, and NBA officials hope they will provide a big audience despite their .333 winning rate this season.
Injuries have hit hard. 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, there is a chance for the lesser-known Lakers to enjoy the spotlight during what is shaping up as a rare season of irrelevance for one of the league’s storied franchises.