Now the real sea­son starts

Christmas Day slate head­lined by Lak­ers-Clippers

Orlando Sentinel - - SCOREBOARD - By Tim Reynolds

The MVP is play­ing. So are the reign­ing cham­pi­ons, north of the bor­der.

And in LA, the NBA’s new­est dy­namic duos will square off as well.

On the 65th day of the sea­son, with 454 games — more than one-third of the sched­ule — al­ready in the books, the NBA’s un­of­fi­cial start date has ar­rived. The an­nual Christmas Day quin­tu­ple­header of games is Wed­nes­day, the day where the ca­sual fan typ­i­cally turns their at­ten­tion to­ward the NBA.

“It’s go­ing to be cool, man,” said Rap­tors guard Kyle Lowry, who’ll be mak­ing his Christmas de­but. “I’ve al­ways watched it on TV ever since I was a young child. And it’s go­ing to be awe­some to step foot on that floor on Christmas Day, have my fam­ily and friends around and have the whole world watch­ing.”

The good news from a rat­ings per­spec­tive: Four of the Eastern Con­fer­ence’s five best teams so far are on the sched­ule, all play­ing each other. The bad news: The two worst teams in the Western Con­fer­ence so far are also on the sched­ule. But LeBron James and An­thony Davis’ first Christmas as Los An­ge­les Lak­ers team­mates — fac­ing off against the crosstown ri­val Clippers — should cer­tainly draw plenty of eye­balls.

The other matchups: the Celtics visit the Rap­tors in the NBA’s first Christmas game in Canada, fol­lowed by the Bucks at the 76ers. , the Rock­ets trav­el­ing to face the War­riors, the Lak­ers-Clippers con­test and then a night­cap be­tween the Pel­i­cans and a Nuggets team led by Nikola Jo­kic and off to the best start in fran­chise his­tory (20-8) and re­sult­ing in coach Michael Malone hav­ing his con­tract ex­tended on Tues­day.

“You’re al­ways told that the best teams play on Christmas, the All-Star play­ers play on Christmas and the whole world is watch­ing this game,” said Mil­wau­kee’s Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo, the league’s reign­ing MVP.

The po­ten­tial cer­tainly ex­ists for some play­off­pre­view matchups. It’s not a stretch to think that the Rap­tors and Celtics or 76ers and Bucks will wind up meet­ing in a best-of­seven this spring . And the same holds true in Los An­ge­les, where the Clippers and Lak­ers might be the best of the West.

The Lak­ers have Davis and James. The Clippers now have Paul Ge­orge and two-time NBA Fi­nals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Those two pair­ings shook up the league’s land­scape con­sid­er­ably when they came to­gether this past sum­mer, and so far with the Lak­ers are 24-6 and the Clippers at 22-10 nei­ther side has much to com­plain about.

“I think we’re good,” Ge­orge said.

The Clippers are 10-3 in games where both Leonard and Ge­orge start. Davis and James are one of two duos where both are av­er­ag­ing more than 25 points per game; the Tim­ber­wolves’ Karl-An­thony Towns and An­drew Wiggins are the other.

If there was any con­fu­sion about whether James and Davis could work to­gether, those ques­tions have been an­swered.

“We know what the end goal is,” Davis said. “And when you have guys like that, with vet­eran lead­er­ship, when every­one is locked in to our goal, it’s easy for us to jell to­gether.”

HARRY HOW/GETTY

LeBron James (23) and An­thony Davis will play on Christmas Day as team­mates for the first time.

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