At the beginning of December, the San Antonio Spurs were fined $250,000 for their head coach Gregg Popovich’s decision to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home on the same day they were scheduled to square off against the Miami Heat.
A lot was made of Popovich’s controversial decision despite the fact that he’s been resting his best players periodically for years now, but his “strategy” was magnified due to the fact that the game was being nationally televised on TNT that night.
Essentially, the league wants Thursday nights on TNT to be a showcase of the league’s best talents, while Popovich viewed the game as a chance to rest his aging superstars in the fourth game on a five day road trip.
By fining the Spurs a quarter of a million dollars, the NBA made the distinction that not all regular season games are created equal.
Which brings us to the NBA’s full slate of Christmas games: the one time a year when professional basketball has a monopoly on every sport’s fans interest. This Christmas, the prime time games involve the Lakers and the Knicks followed by Oklahoma City and the Heat in an NBA Finals rematch.
Now naturally, we as fans, have circled those games on our collective calendars, with salivating matchups like that it’d be heartbreaking if Kobe, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or Kevin Durant were to sit out the Christmas games if they were capable of playing.
Rivalry games involving the league’s best players are what are most special about the NBA or else we could watch basketball anywhere else for a significant discount and in better seats.
So while some may accuse the commissioner’s fine as ludicrously undeserved, I believe it was justified.
As I write this the Lakers are currently 10-14. Or in Mike D’Antoni’s words “not very good right now.”
However I’m in the minority of Laker fans that still believe this is still a championship team.
My faith remains steadfast as Steve Nash has only played one and a half games and once he returns I think he’ll cure most if not all of the Lakers woes, a cohesive and balanced offense will lead to more effort defensively. Don’t believe me? Read our Editor in Chief, Daniel Buerge’s article arguing that exact point.
The other primary reason I haven’t lost faith in the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers is because they haven’t played enough of these Christmas atmosphere games. Out of the 24 games the Lakers have played, only five of them have been nationally televised (ESPN or TNT), or in other words games the casual NBA fans have watched. In those games the Lakers have been 1-4 with the lone win coming against Denver when Antawn Jamison went Rambo for 33 points.
Quick tangent: although the road game against New Orleans wasn’t nationally televised, I’d like to add it to the list of games a casual fan would watch as everyone not living under a rock knew Kobe was going to join the 30,000 point club that night.
What that means is while our Lakers have looked bad, most of the dreadful play has been sheltered. It’s akin to when you don’t want your ex-girlfriend to know how miserable you are without her; so you cut off communication with her, become a gym rat, and re-introduce yourself to the world better off than you were before you met her, until hopefully the trend reverses and she misses you more than you miss her.
That’s where the Lakers are at right now. Sulking in private like Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
When the NBA started its compressed schedule on Christmas day last year, pundits argued that is when the league should start every year as it’s when most people slowly beginning shifting their focus from the NFL to the NBA anyways.
Optimistically, as stupid as this may sound, the Lakers can and should use this Christmas day game as a second season opener, a reset button so to speak on what has otherwise been an average showing thus far. In effect, a chance to play their best when everyone will be watching.
As the signature franchise of the league, the Lakers have played on every Christmas day since 1999, that’s the good news. The bad news is that their record since 1999 is 4-9, which is a worst win percentage than the Lakers currently have. But to be fair, the Lakers are annually scheduled to play teams that the league expects them to have a close game with, or whichever new team Shaq was traded to.
In the long run, beating the Knicks on Christmas day will mean just as much as beating the lowly Washington Wizards two nights ago in determining where they’ll finish in the Western Conference standings.
But digging deeper, if the Lakers can successfully find a way to patch up
every some of the deficiencies that were exposed by the Knicks in their first matchup of the season by Christmas then that will be the ultimate gift.
A gift that David Stern wouldn’t be able to place a $250,000 price tag on.