DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It has become one big Christmas tradition, plopping down with a big glass of eggnog or something else of your choice in front of a big screen TV to indulge in a big dose of NBA basketball. The New York Knicks actually kicked off this tradition in 1948, beating the Providence Steamrollers at Madison Square Garden. Today's matchups don't involve the Steamrollers. There are five games in all and they promise to be just as exhilarating. And here with a preview is the always exhilarating Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: The Steamrollers were 12-48 that season, building on their 6-42 season the year before. See, that's that problem when you name a team the Steamrollers and they always get steamrolled.
GREENE: Yeah, they always get steamrolled.
PESCA: Yeah, the headline writers got it. They could've named the team the Shellacs or the Just Not Good At Basketball and have the same effect.
GREENE: Well, hopefully there'll be some teams that have better records going into the excitement today.
PESCA: Yes. They are actually good matchups today.
GREENE: Yeah. Well, Brooklyn, which didn't even have a team until this year. And they're hosting - who are they hosting?
PESCA: The Celtics. And so Brooklyn's an exciting team. They've gone on a few winning streaks, but they've really come down to earth. So Brooklyn may be in the house, but as of late the house seems to have fallen on them. The Celtics, we know what we're getting from the Celtics. An old team who every once in a while can muster up the fortitude to beat a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder. But really they're kind of aging, so this might be called the undercard - intriguing and yet not. Well, take me to the next matchup.
GREENE: OK. We've got the New York Knicks and the L.A. Lakers. And there's some coaching intrigue here. Remind us what's going on.
PESCA: Well, yes. There's a lot of storylines going on here. First of all, the Knicks are good and that's a little bit surprising. Carmelo Anthony is proving to be one of the best players in the NBA, not just the selfish guy who takes a lot of shots.
PESCA: Speaking of selfish guy who takes a lot of shots, you have Kobe Bryant on the other team. Both of these guys are selfish because they're great. But now Kobe Bryant is surrounded by a cast of characters who can contribute if he or the coach would just let him. And the coach of the Lakers is Mike D'Antoni, who was the coach of the Knicks. They were pretty awful under D'Antoni. And the Lakers are now coached by him. They've not been doing well.
But here's what could be the big factor. I don't know if it'll be in this game, but it should be going forward. Steve Nash, the multiple MVP is back. He played his first game on Saturday, played 40 minutes, looked good. And now he's back to run points for the Lakers. This could turn their season around. If they don't, the Lakers will go down as one of the most disappointing teams in NBA history.
GREENE: Well, you know, the Lakers not the story in L.A. this year when it comes to basketball. It's the Clippers.
PESCA: Yeah. The Clippers are the best team in the NBA by, you know, most advanced metrics, by the eye test, by everything except the fact that they don't have the pedigree of, say, the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. And those two teams will be going on it in a rematch of the finals today also. That's definitely one of the marquis matchups. Clippers also playing today. They'll be taking on the Nuggets, a fine team. Let's watch to see this. So if you're up on the West Coast and it fits into your day, you might be falling asleep after all the eggnog and grog that we talked about, but let's just watch Chris Paul chuck it up for Blake Griffin and some monstrous slams.
GREENE: The Clippers players, you're talking about there.
GREENE: So, I mean, L.A. Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, could one of these teams you don't really think about as winning championships actually win one this year?
PESCA: Yeah. I mean, I think they're the best two teams in basketball. A lot of people agree with me. The Miami Heat in the east certainly stand in their way and many strange things can happen. That's why Christmas Day basketball is a good place to get a gauge of where we are.
GREENE: Do you think these players like playing on Christmas or wish this tradition never started?
PESCA: You know what they say? They say when they were growing up they liked watching the games, and so now they appreciate being part of it. I don't know if Kobe Bryant does. He's played in more Christmas games than anyone else. The Knicks almost always play on Christmas, too. But, you know, you go home and you unwrap the presents later.
GREENE: NPR's Mike Pesca, thanks as always. Merry Christmas.
PESCA: You're welcome, you too.
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