Christ­mas lineup head­lined by LeBron vs. War­riors

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY TIM REYNOLDS

There’s no NBA Fi­nals re­match this year on Christ­mas. Not tech­ni­cally, any­way. It’s LeBron James vs. the Golden State War­riors for the fourth con­sec­u­tive year on Dec. 25, though James will be wear­ing a Los An­ge­les Lak­ers uni­form this time.

It was a pre­dictable matchup. It isn’t, how­ever, a break from tra­di­tion.

That’s one of the big­gest mis­nomers about the NBA and the sched­ule. An NBA Fi­nals re­match is not com­mon, not the norm, not a guar­an­tee for the last two teams that were stand­ing the pre­vi­ous sea­son. The league has crowned a cham­pion ev­ery year since 1947, and the tra­di­tion of Christ­mas Day games started later that same year. (They’ve been an an­nual fix­ture since, with the ex­cep­tion of 1998, when a lock­out didn’t al­low that sea­son to be­gin un­til Feb­ru­ary.)

But there have been only nine NBA Fi­nals re­matches on Dec. 25. The re­cent Golden State-Cleve­land his­tory may make it seem like more.

James has been in five Fi­nals re­matches on Christ­mas, all since 2011: Mi­ami vs. Dal­las that year, Ok­la­homa City vs. Mi­ami the fol­low­ing year, and Cleve­land vs. Golden State in each of the last three years.

The other four re­matches on the hol­i­day: Or­lando vs. Hous­ton in 1995, Philadel­phia vs. the Lak­ers in 2001, San An­to­nio vs. Detroit in 2005 and Bos­ton vs. the Lak­ers in 2008.

So in­stead of a Cavs-War­riors re­match, get­ting Lak­ers vs. War­riors – for the first time in the LeBron L.A. era – makes per­fect sense.

“Bron is Bron,” War­riors for­ward Dray­mond Green said. “They’re go­ing to be tough, a tough matchup on Christ­mas Day, but we’re look­ing for­ward to it.”

In­evitably, so will James. Even with the Lak­ers hav­ing lost four of their last six games, they’re off to a 19-14 start – their best since the 2011-12 sea­son.

“We’ve got a long way to go to get to Golden State,” James said in Septem­ber.

He’s about to get his first look at how the Lak­ers mea­sure up with the champs.

CHRIST­MAS LINEUP

Tues­day’s slate starts with Mil­wau­kee at New York, fol­lowed by Ok­la­homa City at Hous­ton, Philadel­phia at Bos­ton, the Lak­ers at the War­riors and then Port­land at Utah. It’s Mil­wau­kee’s first Christ­mas game since 1977, which will end what was by far the league’s long­est Dec. 25 drought. Utah hasn’t played on Christ­mas since 1997.

A look at each of the five games:

BUCKS AT KNICKS: Con­grat­u­la­tions to the sched­ule-mak­ers, be­cause there’s no way they could have known this Christ­mas game would be wrapped in an­i­mus. Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo was peeved at New York for­ward Mario He­zonja – who dunked on him, stared at him and then stepped over him when the teams last met on Dec. 1.

THUN­DER AT ROCK­ETS: A re­match of a game from Christ­mas 2017, which the Thun­der won 112-107. Ok­la­homa City is 6-2 on Christ­mas since the

team moved there; when the fran­chise was in Seat­tle, it was 0-11 on the hol­i­day. Rock­ets star Chris Paul will miss Christ­mas for the third straight year – with the Clip­pers, he had a left ham­string strain and missed their game with the Lak­ers in 2016, sat out last year’s Hous­ton-OKC game with a groin strain and this year, it’s an­other left ham­string is­sue that will keep him out.

76ERS AT CELTICS: These are heated, his­toric ri­vals, but they’ve met on Christ­mas only once be­fore – in 1961, when the 76ers were the Syra­cuse Na­tion­als. Bos­ton, which fa­mously avoided home Christ­mas games for­ever (the Celtics played their first 30 such games away from Bos­ton), will be at home on the hol­i­day for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive sea­son.

LAK­ERS AT WAR­RIORS: It’s the 20th con­sec­u­tive Christ­mas ap­pear­ance for the Lak­ers, and with LeBron James there now don’t ex­pect that streak to end any­time soon. War­riors star Kevin Du­rant ap­par­ently loves play­ing on the hol­i­day; he’s av­er­ag­ing 31.1 points in his eight pre­vi­ous Christ­mas games.

TRAIL BLAZ­ERS AT JAZZ: Port­land is 14-3 all-time on Christ­mas, and could tie Mi­ami (10-2) for the best win­ning per­cent­age on the hol­i­day if it tops the Jazz. Mean­while, for Utah, it’s a chance for Jazz star guard Dono­van Mitchell to get his first – but al­most cer­tainly not his last – look at play­ing on Christ­mas.

CHRIST­MAS HIS­TORY

The NBA’s five-game Christ­mas lineup is back for an 11th con­sec­u­tive year, and that may seem like a lot of matchups but has been ex­ceeded plenty of times in the past. There were seven games on the hol­i­day in 1949, 1971 and 1977, as well as six in 1970 and 1976.

And there were some years where ev­ery­body played on Christ­mas.

In 1952, the league had 10 teams so that meant five Christ­mas games. In 1956, the league’s eight teams got to­gether for two Christ­mas dou­ble­head­ers – two games at Madi­son Square Gar­den, two oth­ers at the War Me­mo­rial in Rochester, New York. And in 1959, eight teams meant four games on the hol­i­day again.

With Mil­wau­kee play­ing, the league’s long­est Christ­mas drought will be­long to the At­lanta Hawks, who haven’t ap­peared on the hol­i­day since 1989. Af­ter the Hawks, the long­est droughts will be held by Char­lotte (no ap­pear­ances in 29 sea­sons), Mem­phis (no ap­pear­ances in 24 sea­sons), Toronto (2001), Sacramento (2003), In­di­ana (2004) and Detroit (2005).

AL DRAGO AP

It’s not an NBA Fi­nals re­match, but hav­ing a matchup be­tween LeBron James and the Lak­ers and War­riors head­line Christ­mas makes sense.

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