New York Post

CHRISTMAS CROSSOVER

At holiday mile marker, here’s what’s made this year such a gift for NBA fans

- asquadron@nypost.com By ALEX SQUADRON

On December 25, 1947, a tradition was born. For the first time, an NBA game was played on Christmas, with the Knicks defeating the Providence Steam Rollers — one of the original 11 teams — 89-75. Twenty years later, the Christmas slate was finally broadcast on national television, so fans all across the country could incorporat­e basketball into their holiday routines. And now, on the 50th anniversar­y of that broadcast, those within the league have come to cherish the custom. “To be a player or coach on Christmas Day is pretty special,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “That’s like the biggest day in America,” said Knicks center Enes Kanter, who had 31 points and 22 rebounds in a 105-98 loss to the 76ers on Christmas. “It’s a big blessing to play on that day.” Christmas has also become a bit of a milepost for the NBA — a marker that invites us to reflect on all that’s transpired to that point. Thus, here are five major take aways from this young season:

1. Harden’s dominance

Twice in his career James Harden has finished as the MVP runner-up — to Stephen Curry in 2015, and Russell Westbrook in 2017.

But to quote the great Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

With a video-game stat line (32.4 points, 9. 2 assists, 5.2 rebounds), the Beard is making his most convincing case yet for a first-place finish in the voting. He has scored 45 or more points five times and handed out 13 or more assists six times, leading the Rockets to a 25-7 start.

2. LeBron is still LeBron

With a player (robot) like LeBron James, we shouldn’t be surprised. Turning 33 on Saturday and playing in his 15th NBA season, the King still sits upon his throne, brushing off Father Time like he was a hopeless defender standing in the lane on a fast break.

If it weren’t for Harden, James would be the runaway MVP, averaging 28.1 points, a careerhigh 9.1 assists, and 8.1 rebounds on 57 percent shooting from the f ield and 41 percent from 3. Only two others in NBA history have won an MVP award at age 33 or older: Karl Malone and Michael Jordan.

3. Don’t judge a trade by its cover

We laughed at the Pacers when all they obtained for four-time All-Star Paul George was Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana is shockingly 19-15, Oladipo is in the early MVP conversati­on, and Sabonis is averaging 17.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per-36 minutes.

We laughed at the Knicks when all they obtained for 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony was the aforementi­oned Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick. But the Garden has been rocking as the Knicks are somehow in the playoff hunt, with Kanter and McDermott both exceeding expectatio­ns.

We laughed at the Bulls when all they obtained for three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler was Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and seventh-overall pick Lauri Markannen. But with LaVine still sidelined by injury, Markannen leads the team in points (14.6) and rebounds (7.6), Dunn leads the team in assists (5.7) and steal (1 .9), and Chicago looks to have a brighter future than most anticipate­d.

All three of those deals sent a superstars from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference, fortifying the pre-existing belief that the latter was the superior group. Approachin­g the halfway point of this season, however, entering Tuesday the East has more teams above .500 and a 102-101 record against Western opponents.

4. A Th hunder story

After openning the sea-son 8-12, thee Thunder have gone 11-3 in December, with their “big three” — George, Anthony and Russell Westbrook — beginning to learn how to mesh..

Surprising­ly, it was the offense that faltered in a 4-9 November, as the team averaged under 100 points and struggled in crunch time. That number is up around 104 this month and the Thunder have learned how to close tight contests, including a 112-107 victory over the Rockets on Christmas Day.

5. The big gger picture

The NBA is thriving. ESPN said Thursday that average viewership for the 30 games it telle-cast throughout the early season was up 18 percent. For the 16 games on TNT, viewership had increased 25 percent.

 ?? N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP; Getty Images ?? STOCKING STUFFERS: James Harden, Victor Oladipo and LeBronn James have each made their mark on this young NBA season in their ownwn way, as all three could factor prominentl­y in the MVP conversati­on by the end of the year.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP; Getty Images STOCKING STUFFERS: James Harden, Victor Oladipo and LeBronn James have each made their mark on this young NBA season in their ownwn way, as all three could factor prominentl­y in the MVP conversati­on by the end of the year.
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