Updated: December 25, 2010, 7:50 AM ET
Getty Images, US Presswire Marc Stein gift wraps all the need-to-know info on the Christmas Day helping of NBA on ABC/ESPN.

1. Sizing Up Super-Sized Christmas Schedule

By Marc Stein

Maybe a five-course helping of Christmas Day games is too heavy for Phil Jackson to stomach.

Not a complaint you'll be hearing from us.

I have my own wish list for the NBA when it comes to the league's annual Dec. 25 lineup -- San Antonio versus Dallas one of these years sure would be nice if they're so intent on serving us a legit rivalry -- but I've also unreservedly looked forward to this occasion ever since the inimitable Bernard King hung a Christmas record 60 points on the New Jersey Nets to delight a certain geeky sophomore at faraway El Toro High School. Going back to when it wasn't so easy to find all these games on TV.

So I'll happily report to Staples Center for the Miami Heat's latest Hype Bowl and let Phil do the lobbying for time off ... which surely stems from the fact he pretty much never gets a Christmas off (See Box 4 below).

This is the third straight Christmas with five successive games broadcast on the ESPN/ABC family of networks … and this Weekend Dime has the matchup-by-matchup breakdown, with Bernard's Knicks getting us started in their green uniforms against Chicago, to get you ready:

Bulls at Knicks, noon ET, ESPN/ESPN 3D

Safe guess: As long as Tom Thibodeau shows up to coach the Bulls, Amare Stoudemire won't be making a run at King's 60. You figure that Thibodeau, even without the injured Joakim Noah to anchor Chicago's D, will come up with the various schemes required to hold Amare under 40.

Yet there should still be plenty to see here, starting with the new and unfettered Raymond Felton and some prime time in the national spotlight opposite Chicago's Derrick Rose.

Felton is bidding to become just the fourth Knicks point guard ever to average nine assists or more for a whole season -- joining Mark Jackson (10.6 apg in 1987-88), Micheal Ray Richardson (10.1 apg in 1979-80) and, yes, Stephon Marbury (9.3 apg in 2003-04) -- but he certainly still has many more skeptics to convince than Stoudemire. So stayed tuned for what Felton can do in these circumstances, going head-to-head with an All-Star automatic in the East's backcourt like Rose.

Celtics at Magic, 2:30 p.m., ABC

Never in NBA history, before this season, had four teams recorded winning streaks spanning at least 12 games before Christmas. But Boston has to be regarded as the headliner of the group -- which also features San Antonio, Dallas and Miami -- thanks to the 14 consecutive wins that the Celts will tote into this Eastern Conference finals rematch with overhauled Orlando.

I suspect that the Magic, meanwhile, will emerge from this reunion having left the distinct impression that management was (perilously) thinking way more about Miami than Boston when it swung those two big shakeup trades last weekend.

If the teams meet again in the postseason, Boston will potentially boast a four-man platoon (Shaquille O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O'Neal and Glen Davis) armed with 24 fouls to take on Dwight Howard. Orlando, by contrast, would no longer have a power forward with 3-point range and a proven ability to draw Kevin Garnett out of the paint like it had with Rashard Lewis.

Lewis has undeniably dropped off in a big and scary way since helping Orlando go all the way to the NBA Finals in 2009, but Hedo Turkoglu's reluctance to embrace playing time at the 4-spot for Alvin Gentry was one of the main reasons Phoenix was so eager to trade him. Playing Turkoglu at power forward against Boston for long stretches, furthermore, just doesn't sound feasible defensively. So you can make the case the Magic will miss Lewis against the Celts … even this Lewis.

Which prompts us, yet again, to ask whether Magic general manager Otis Smith should have stopped at making one massive trade. Routing San Antonio with the Spurs playing on the second night of a back-to-back, impressive as the Magic looked Thursday night, isn't nearly enough to change the view here that holding off on the Gilbert Arenas gamble and focusing on the additions of Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark from Phoenix was the wiser play.

Can Dwight's peerless one-man-gang defensive presence and Stan Van Gundy's famed prodding of his players prove us wrong and reduce the amount of Orlando slippage on D that's so widely expected post-trade? Wouldn't be the first time someone made us look bad. But I just don't see how these two dice rolls, creating as many questions as they potentially answer, are going to move Orlando higher than its previous standing of No. 3 in the East's title-chasing pecking order.

Can't shake the feeling that just doing the Phoenix deal would have reduced the potential for long-term damage.

Heat at Lakers, 5 p.m., ABC

NBA Finals preview?

History says no … since no two teams have ever squared off on Christmas Day and then later that same season in the championship series.

Biggest Christmas Day showdown ever between the Lakers and Heat?

Regrettably have to submit an undeniable no to that one, too, because it would be an indefensible exaggeration to suggest that there's more anticipation surrounding this matchup than Christmas Day 2004, when Shaquille O'Neal returned to Staples Center to tangle with Kobe Bryant as an actual opponent for the very first time after Shaq's exile to Miami.

However …

There's still plenty of potential here for one of the games of the season, as long as Dwyane Wade is healthy enough to play. Two reasons: (A) LeBron James certainly hasn't disappointed in visits to Cleveland and New York in his last two Hype Bowls, and (B) Andrew Bynum's return and how much bigger that makes the Lakers doesn't change the fact that L.A. is suddenly almost as needy as the undersized Heat for a statement-game performance against elite opposition.

Although we obviously know what this group of Lakers can do on the game's biggest stage after a couple of championships -- which only lets us take the urgency angle so far -- Phil Jackson can't scoff at all about the Heat merely capitalizing on a favorable stretch of schedule when they won 12 games in a row. Not when the Lakers had played the easiest schedule in the league, through Wednesday's games, based on opponent winning percentage (.403). Nor when the Lakers have only one -- ONE -- win over a team with a winning record more than a third of the way through the season.

Surely those harsh statistical realities annoy Jackson far more than the fact he'll be coaching in a Christmas Day game for a record 18th time instead of spending the holiday with family.

Nuggets at Thunder, 8 p.m., ESPN

The loud and loyal NBA fans of Oklahoma City deserve a stage as big as the Christmas Day program to remind us all, as seen in the playoffs last spring against the Lakers, what kind of home-court advantage Kevin Durant and Co. have.

This divisional hookup with Denver also normally would have been an ideal opportunity for Russell Westbrook to announce to the nation -- if he hasn't already -- that the Thunder have their own Derrick Rose-esque source of explosion in the backcourt.

Truth is, though, that it'll be borderline impossible to give deep thought or appreciation to any of that stuff once you remember who won't be playing and why.

Engulfed by nonstop trade speculation since the summer, Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony has been confronted with true crisis and tragedy after the death Wednesday of sister Michelle, who succumbed to a pre-existing medical condition at 36 and left behind four children.

I honestly can't imagine thinking about much else once this game starts. Since this is supposed to the be the ultimate family season.

Blazers at Warriors, 10:30 p.m., ESPN

The Warriors haven't played on Christmas Day since 1984 at Portland. They've also never hosted a Christmas Day in their Oakland existence.

So it's a big deal in the Bay Area for another raucous fan base.

Yet there's no ducking the fact that two of the key names counted on to give this game some national traction are either out for sure (Brandon Roy) or no healthier than a maybe (Stephen Curry) ... and that the whole Roy situation and his concession this week that fears about never being pain-free are "sinking in" is about as somber as it gets on the floor.

It's basically up to Monta Ellis, then, to make this a spectacle with a few of those no-look, over-the-head flings off the glass in the lane.

(For the record: Ellis has three 40-point games this season -- in a league with just 13 overall to date -- and is one of just two players, along with Memphis' Rudy Gay, to average at least 40 minutes per game. But Portland, at 14-2, has the winningest Christmas record of any NBA franchise.)

Dimes past: Dec. 4-5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17-19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23

2. Marc's Quote


"We have much bigger aspirations than just shuttin' everybody up."

That was Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, in a Nov. 27 pregame session with reporters, about an hour before Miami got throttled in Dallas and wound up holding a team meeting that lasted nearly 45 minutes.

And he wasn't exaggerating.

Spoelstra knows, maybe more than anyone on South Beach, that every season for the Heat is championship or bust, even though you'd struggle to find a single so-called expert now who thinks Miami's roster is championship-ready.

Yet you also have to believe that Spoelstra, deep down, feels some certifiable satisfaction about what the Heat have achieved in the past month, because he's hushed a lot of critics faster than you would have thought possible after a 9-8 start and this story about player discontent from from ESPN The Magazine colleague Chris Broussard two days after the defeat in Big D.

Give Spoelstra some props as he prepares to step into the visitors coaching box at Staples Center just down the sideline from Phil Jackson and his 11 rings. Quality wins remain scarce for Miami so far, but the NBA's second-youngest coach at 40 has the Heat running and responding at levels that have impressed his peers no matter how soft their schedule has seemed since the stop in Dallas.

As uncomfortably (and unfairly) warm as his seat was when Miami was flirting with .500, as detailed here, Spoelstra never flinched after LeBump and the over-the-top furor that followed LeBron James' grazing his shoulder in apparent frustration as he stormed back to the bench for a timeout against the Mavs.


Spoelstra took a few key steps of his own to get the hushing underway:

1. He had a sitdown with James immediately after Broussard's story ran and never backed down publicly about how he planned to coach the team, giving the distinct impression that Spoelstra is going to keep preaching what he believes in no matter how hot his seat gets.

2. He started making a concerted effort to get James private time on the floor at the end of the first and third quarters without Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh flanking him, giving LeBron confidence-boosting game conditions reminiscent of his Cleveland days.

3. And he started playing Mario Chalmers ahead of Eddie House, which put a better perimeter defender on the floor, brought more movement to an often stagnant offense and ignited James and Wade by allowing them to attack from more customary angles than when they were both masquerading as point guards.

Even Phil might have something nice to say when he's inevitably asked to rate Spoelstra in his pregame session with reporters on Christmas Day.

3. Latest Melo-Drama


The Nuggets, according to sources briefed on the teams' discussions to date, have greeted the Mavericks' inquiries with "nothing but pushback" every time they've called to check on the status of Carmelo Anthony's availability.

Reason being: Dallas can't come close to the package New Jersey can assemble, which includes two probable lottery picks in addition to prized rookie Derrick Favors.

One source close to the process says Denver remains "heavily" focused on trying to complete a deal with New Jersey, while New York obviously continues to rank as the other standout team in the Melo chase because the Knicks are overwhelmingly regarded around the league as Anthony's favored destination.

To read the full ESPN Dallas blog post, click here

4. Western Conference

Kings co-owner Joe Maloof is trying as hard as he can to hush rising speculation about the job security of his coach and his general manager, insisting to both AOL FanHouse and CBSSports.com in the early hours of Friday that Paul Westphal and Geoff Petrie are not on the verge of being fired with Sacramento mired in a 2-21 nosedive.

Sources with knowledge of Sacramento's thinking, however, counter with the claim that the fact Westphal and Petrie are both under contract beyond this season and the money owed them as a result is largely what's saving the pair.

One source maintains that Petrie -- architect of the Kings' glory-days teams in the early 2000s but whose ongoing inability to successfully reload the roster led to a steep pay cut in December 2009 -- is actually in greater jeopardy than Westphal, despite the increasing tension between Westy and some of his players.

Petrie is pushing for another coaching change now, sources said, but that stance has likewise endangered the GM since it was Petrie who convinced Joe and brother Gavin Maloof to extend Westphal's contract through 2011-12. The Kings have been through a string of coaches since Rick Adelman's ouster in 2006 and Petrie's most recent trade acquisitions -- most notably Carl Landry and Samuel Dalembert -- have also failed to pan out. Which has only further soured his bosses.

Teams that have been calling in hopes of pilfering rookie forward DeMarcus Cousins via trade, meanwhile, continue to be told that Cousins isn't available, no matter how many times he clashes with Westphal. Yet it remains to be seen how long the Kings' historically deliberate (too patient?) nature holds up before the changes do start.

The Cousins-Westphal relationship has become a daily distraction, Tyreke Evans hardly resembles last season's Rookie of the Year -- with no one quite sure if it's an injury issue (plantar fasciitis) or something bigger -- and the losses just keep piling up at a haunting rate.

How frightening? Sacramento is (yikes) 17-65 since a 13-14 start last season that seemed to signal the start of a resurrection Petrie has been pursuing for years.

Some numbers of note in the West this week:

27.5: If the season ended today, Kevin Durant's current scoring average of 27.5 points per game would be the lowest to lead the league since Allen Iverson's 26.8 points per game in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

6: Grant Hill is bidding to become just the sixth player in history to average better than 14 points per game over a full season at the age of 38, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and Robert Parish.

0: The Spurs have not allowed an opposing center to score 30 points in a game this season, but did surrender 29 to Dwight Howard in Thursday's heavy loss in Orlando. Over the past six seasons, Howard remains the only starting center to reach the 30-point mark against San Antonio more than once. Howard has done it twice; Pau Gasol and Al Jefferson once each.

13: Kobe Bryant will play in his 13th Christmas Day game Saturday, as will former Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal, tying Kobe and Shaq with Dolph Schayes and Earl Monroe for the league record.

10: In addition to the record 18 Christmas Day games he will have coached after the Lakers play host to Miami, Phil Jackson also played in 10 games on Christmas in an 11-year span from 1967 through 1977.

Look for Blazers coach Nate McMillan to draw interest from Bobcats owner Michael Jordan as a potential long-term replacement for Larry Brown should McMillan and the Blazers part ways after his contract expires at season's end. The respected Paul Silas was a natural interim choice for Jordan -- given that Silas lives in Charlotte, had been attending many Bobcats games and badly wanted the job when it went to Brown's predecessor, Sam Vincent -- and badly wants to win Jordan over to score the job permanently. McMillan, though, has a strong advocate in the organization in Bobcats president Fred Whitfield. … Sources with knowledge of the Clippers' thinking insist that Chris Kaman, contrary to one report, has not been made available to interested teams. Offering the center as a means to convince someone out there to take on Baron Davis, one source insisted, does not appeal to L.A because centers are too hard to replace.


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