The Christmas games have averaged more than 33 million U.S. viewers over the last three years, so Van Gundy is probably right about the fans still tuning in, even for a matchup that looks as ugly as those sleeved jerseys the players will be wearing.
“On the NFL, I’ve seen plenty of weak Thanksgiving games, but we still watch,” Rivers said. “Now it’s becoming basketball on Christmas. That’s the good part, that the NBA has found that niche.”
After Chicago (10-16) and Brooklyn (9-18) meet in the opener, Oklahoma City visits New York, matching the NBA’s top two scorers in Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony — provided Anthony’s left ankle is OK after he sprained it Monday at Orlando. The Knicks are a Christmas tradition, making their league-high 49th appearance, and the league hopes they’ll provide a big audience despite their 9-18 record.
Injuries have hit hard around the NBA and the Christmas lineup is no exception. With Rose and the Lakers’ Steve Nash out, two of the six players in the league’s holiday jingle ad touting the games and the special uniforms won’t be playing.
With Bryant also injured and unable to extend his NBA record for Christmas Day appearances to 16, it’s a chance for the lesser-known Lakers to enjoy the spotlight during what’s shaping up as a rare season of irrelevance for one of the league’s storied franchises.
“Any time a team plays on the Christmas schedule, teams have an opportunity to display their talent — whoever is suiting up for you,” ESPN analyst Hubie Brown said. “It just seems that teams play, even though they might not be playing to a high won-loss record, they will play to their maximum potential because of the audience that is expected to watch the games on Christmas.”