How the NBA came to own Christmas Day

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How big is Christmas Day to the NBA?

Look at it this way: Last year’s Christmas Day game between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder drew more viewers (9.6 million people) than all but one playoff game prior to the NBA Finals (that was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Miami and Indiana).

On the whole in 2012, 33 million people tuned in to watch the NBA on Christmas Day.

For a lot of casual sports fans Christmas Day is the day the NBA tips off — they have followed their fantasy football team closely all fall, and while the NBA started playing a couple of months ago they have only been watching out of the corner of their eye.

That changes on Christmas Day because the NBA has worked over the years to own that day of the sports calendar — once you get your new 70-inch flat screen installed you turn on some hoop because the NBA has put forward showcase games.

“The NBA on Christmas is a tradition dating back almost 70 years,” said Michael Bass, the NBA’s Senior Vice President, Marketing Communications. “Each year, our goal is to provide fans with the most compelling contests based on storylines, rivalries, player matchups, and the history and tradition of the teams and the players. Christmas Day is always one of the most watched days on the NBA calendar.”

Yes, 70 years.

The NBA had its first NBA Christmas games in 1947. Three games were played that day and it worked so well there were four the next year. Then six in 1949. Since then the number of games has fluctuated but the NBA has been consistent in making its presence felt on that day. While the NFL and college football have had some games, the NBA makes sure on showcase matchups.

It is the day that ABC starts its broadcast of NBA games, taking advantage of those matchups.

For the past six years the NBA has settled on five games — a full late that tips off at noon Eastern and features the biggest names in the sport. This year you get to see LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony (if healthy after tweaking his ankle Monday), Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and more. (The games are Bulls at the Nets, Thunder at Knicks, Heat at Lakers, Rockets at Spurs, and Clippers at Warriors.)

“The players love it,” said former NBA coach and current NBC analyst Stan Van Gundy. “The are big games with big audiences and they want to be in those games.

“I never liked the Christmas Day games and wish the NBA would stop playing them. I got fined for my opposition to the games. Christmas should be a day for family. For the players and coaches, even though I don’t like it, at least we benefit financially from the NBA TV contracts. But for the ushers, security people, ticket takers, concession workers etc. they are paid low wages, but have to work on Christmas because the NBA cares about little other than how much money they can make.”

Like Christmas itself, the NBA on Christmas Day can come off as all about the marketing and commercialism. For example you have the shoe brands breaking out special Christmas Day editions of players’ signature shoes.

In addition, this year for Christmas Adidas has designed and the players will wear a special edition sleeved NBA jerseys with an oversized logo — which are available for purchase online, not so coincidentally. LeBron has already said the Heat’s shooters don’t like them, but the reality remains the league thinks it can sell more jerseys with sleeves so you are going to see a lot of those.

Still, just like all things Christmas, if you look past the commercialism you see something good. Something pure.

In this case great basketball played by the best in the world.

Like the time more than 50 years ago Jerry West dropped 47 on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden to lead the Lakers to a win. Or in 1984 when Bernard King had 60 points (but the Knicks still lost). Or LeBron’s first Christmas Day game when he had 34 points but was outdone by Tracy McGrady who had 41 points and 11 assists.

“As a player, you know the whole world is watching,” said former player an NBA coach Byron Scott, while working for NBA TV. “The Christmas and New Year’s Eve [games] have the spirit of happiness. You just opened a bunch of gifts, the kids are running around, maybe they’ve gotten a jersey or two from their favorite player and everyone is watching. So [all the players] try and put on their best performance.”

And those performances are how the NBA really came to own Christmas.

Paul George says he knew James Harden/Russell Westbrook pairing would work

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When James Harden and Russell Westbrook share the court this season, the Rockets are +8.9 points per 100 possessions. That is fueled by a surprisingly good defensive rating that has them giving almost exactly a point per possession.

All of that is much better than many pundits predicted, as they questioned how to isolation players with questionable defensive chops would fit together.

Not Paul George. He thought this would work from the start, as he told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“I knew it was going to work,” George said at the morning shootaround before the Clippers face the Rockets on Friday night. “Russ is a winner. Russ wants to win, Russ does whatever it takes to win. My time playing with him, Russ doesn’t really have an ego. He puts his ego to the side.

“He allowed me to be myself, he allowed me to be comfortable. And I had one of the best career [years] I had while playing alongside him. Russ is a heckuva teammate.”

James Harden — averaging 38.4 points, 7.5 assists, and 5.8 rebounds a game — would likely agree with George.

George, however, surveyed the situation with Westbrook and OKC — after Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers knocked them out in the first round — and decided to move on and team up with Kawhi Leonard with the Lakers. He may have liked Westbrook as a teammate, but the two of them (with that talent around them and few ways to make real upgrades) had limits on how far they could go.

That remains the question about these Rockets, one that is not going to be answered until next April at the earliest.

Report: Hornets interested in Pistons center Andre Drummond

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Andre Drummond is thriving.

The Pistons are not.

With Drummond headed toward free agency, that leaves major questions for Detroit. Should the 4-10 Pistons hope better health – especially for Blake Griffin – allows them to get back on track this season? Should they keep Drummond and attempt to re-sign him as a key player future seasons? Should they trade him to get value now?

Drummond’s market – both for a trade or in free agency – is somewhat limited. The NBA is overstocked with capable centers. His game, built mostly on rebounding, trends toward old-school. Drummond is better than most players of his ilk. The question is about cost.

But at least one team outside Detroit is apparently interested – Charlotte.

Sean Deveney of Heavy:

The target, according to league sources: Pistons big man Andre Drummond, a player in whom the Hornets have had an interest for at least a year.

Charlotte projects to have about $27 million in cap space next summer. That might be enough to lure Drummond with a multi-year deal.

But Drummond’s player option for next season he said he plans to decline is worth $28,751,774.

So, it might make sense to trade for Drummond now to secure his Bird Rights. That way, the Hornets could exceed the cap to re-sign him.

They’d also get an upgrade at center over Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo this season. Charlotte (6-9) is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Even with Drummond, I wouldn’t pick the Hornets as likely to make the postseason, but that’s the type of low-level goal they often prioritize.

Charlotte has expiring contracts to facilitate a trade – Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Hornets would also have to surrender assets that tempt Detroit (draft picks and/or young players).

There’s a path to a satisfactory trade… if the Pistons are open to dealing Drummond.

Harassment charges against Lakers’ DeMarcus Cousins reportedly dropped

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DeMarcus Cousins got married this past summer, but his 7-year-old son didn’t attend the wedding due to a dispute with the boy’s mother and Cousin’s ex-girlfriend, Christy West. That blew up into an ugly situation where Cousins was ultimately charged in Alabama with a third-degree harassing communications misdemeanor, tied to the domestic situation.

Now, those charges have been dismissed, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Cousins remains out for the Lakers after tearing his ACL this past summer, and he is not expected to return. Because of the surprisingly good play of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee — particularly as mobile defenders who can show out on the perimeter and recover — the Lakers have not missed Cousins’ presence.

I have no specific knowledge of this case or the truth of what happened between Cousins and his ex. As far as I know, there was nothing to this and should have been dismissed.

However, as someone who spent a chunk of years on a police/courts beat as a young reporter, I feel the need to add this: Domestic violence/harassment cases are exceedingly difficult to prosecute. It can be a he said/she said situation, and unfortunately, often the abused women recant their testimony (whether it was true or not). The situations are a complex mix of emotions and fear, ones that make getting justice difficult. Talk to any prosecutor (or long-time police beat officer) about domestic violence cases and they will tell you horrifying stories. It is a situation that, as a nation, we need to address.

High schoolers Bronny James, Zaire Wade have more national TV games than many NBA teams

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The Wizards are entertaining in their own special way.

Washington games have averaged 241 points this season (120 for the Wizards, 121 for their opponents). That’s the highest mark in nearly two decades. The 1990-91 Nuggets scored 120 while allowing 131 points per game.

But Washington rarely gets nationally televised games.

On the other hand, Sierra Canyon School – which features Bronny James (son of LeBron James) and Zaire Wade (son of Dwyane Wade) – will have plenty of nationally televised games. That drew the attention of at least one Wizard.

Isaiah Thomas:

Of course, the Wizards aren’t alone in getting less national exposure than Bronny and Zaire. On the latest, “Off the Dribble,” Jacques Slade gets into all the NBA teams and stars on national television less often than Sierra Canyon. (For more, watch the video above where Slade also gets into Carmelo Anthony’s Blazers debut.)

The good news: Wizards games can still be found on NBC Sports Washington.