NBA takes center stage with Christmas showcase

JON KRAWCZYNSKI AP Basketball Writer Published:

For years, the NBA has made its mark on Christmas Day.

The season may start at the end of October, but everything is geared toward ramping up for an extravaganza of bright stars and big markets on Christmas, just as the NFL regular season is coming to a close and a pecking order among teams in the East and West is starting to crystalize.

"I was fortunate to play on Christmas a few times, especially the second half of my career during my time at Phoenix and Los Angeles," former All-Star Grant Hill said. "It's fun. You know everyone is watching at home and there is an excitement in the arena. As a player, whether you are on the road or at home, you enjoy it and look forward to it."

One of the showcase days of the regular season has taken a couple of hits this time around.

Chicago guard Derrick Rose is out for the season with another knee injury and Kobe Bryant, who has played in more games and scored more points on Christmas Day than any other player, fractured his left knee last week.

The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks have been massive disappointments early this season, but maybe a little Christmas magic is just what they need to turn things around.

There is plenty of star power left to carry the day. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul will all be in action in a five-game slate that figures to finish strong with two compelling matchups.

"We love good matchups and good basketball," Hill said. "So to have that opportunity to watch and to really be a fan, it couldn't be any better on Christmas Day. We all look forward to watching."

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Here are five things to watch on the big day.

CHICAGO BULLS AT BROOKLYN NETS: Not nearly as sexy as when it was scheduled. The teams are a combined 19-33. No Rose. Brook Lopez is out with broken right foot. Kevin Garnett isn't the KG he was. Could be ugly.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER AT NEW YORK KNICKS: Durant and Russell Westbrook in the Big Apple, soaking up the spotlight in the "world's most famous arena?" Look out, Carmelo Anthony. Look out.

MIAMI HEAT AT LOS ANGELES LAKERS: The two-time champions can't be too pleased with being on the road for Christmas. The schedulers could've given them a home game. LeBron James just might take his frustrations out on the Lakers.

HOUSTON ROCKETS AT SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Interesting matchup because the Spurs never get sentimental about the regular season. But a Christmas Day game might be a little more motivating for the new-look Rockets.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS AT GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Has the potential to be the most entertaining game of the day. Chris Paul throwing lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan while Steph Curry and Klay Thompson pull up for 3-pointers. First to 120 wins.

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STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: When the San Antonio Spurs played the Phoenix Suns last week, the Suns media relations department delivered a stunning stat. Spurs F Tim Duncan entered the game having played 42,064 career minutes. That was more than all 13 active Suns on the roster that night, who had played a combined 42,027 minutes. The old man had 17 points and 13 boards to help the Spurs snap the Suns' five-game winning streak.