Winderman: NBA provides fans with Christmas feast

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Cavs vs. Lakers will be well worth watching on Christmas Day.

    The appetizer isn't particularly appealing.

    No, that is not the jumbo shrimp cocktail, but rather the "seafood-like, pre-formed product."

    In other words, feel free to skip Heat-Knicks, the first of five Christmas Day games being offered by ESPN/ABC.

    As for the just deserts, Clippers-Suns is sort of the cherries jubilee without the flame (Clippers on Christmas, what were they thinking? Why not just have the Lakers play twice?) and Nuggets-Blazers hardly is an intoxicating digestif (with Denver practically feeble on the road this season and Portland lacking Greg Oden).

    But the main courses?

    Well, they set up as sweet as honey-baked and mint jelly.

    No, Stan Van Gundy won't go full-beard and red suit, but Magic-Celtics offers the two most complete rosters in the Eastern Conference.

    And Lakers-Cavaliers follows up with arguably the two most talented players in the league.

    The matchup with the greatest marquee appeal is Kobe-LeBron. Yet it also is a game that could be a brutal dose of reality when it comes to supporting casts.

    While Bryant is enjoying the Lakers' luxury of riches that are Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, James again is standing somewhat alone on the shores of Lake Erie. Mo Williams won't be an All-Star again and Shaquille O'Neal hasn't deserved to be one for a while.

    It is why Kobe is in the process of completing an extension and why LeBron continues to have those change-of-address cards within comfortable reach.

    To understand why there will likely only be one more Lakers-Cavaliers meeting (Jan. 21 in Cleveland) between now and the crowning of the 2009-10 champion, one must look no further than the game that precedes Kobe-LeBron.

    With Jameer Nelson working his way back from the injured list, with Rashard Lewis long removed from his 10-game, season-opening suspension, the Magic features the most complete starting lineup in the Eastern Conference this side of the Celtics.

    That's because with the emergence of Rajon Rondo to bona fide All-Star and Kendrick Perkins' reliability in the middle, Boston features the East's ultimate five-man game.

    The Magic won the first meeting of the four-game season series 82-78 Nov. 20 in Boston, behind 26 points from Vince Carter. That, however, was before Kevin Garnett again turned into Kevin Garnett.

    With so much competition at the top of the Eastern Conference, the tiebreaker implications could be significant on Christmas afternoon, yes, even at this early juncture.

    That's what makes Celtics-Magic the day's most significant game, even as LeBron-Kobe stands as the most significant gift.

    So, to recap:

    • If you didn't make Midnight Mass a night earlier, don't fret a late morning in church when it comes to missing Knicks-Heat at noon Eastern. In fact, say a prayer for the teams' 2010 free-agent hopes.
    • Devote full attention to Celtics-Magic at 2:30 p.m., but don't expect much holiday cheer between these two. Recall, last season's playoff meeting at one point featured a call for Van Gundy's dismissal, and, at another point, stood as Doc Rivers' darkest hour.
    • Set up a flat screen at each end of the table for Kobe-LeBron at 5 p.m. Everything will taste better.
    • Go ahead, loosen that belt and take that nap on the couch at 8 p.m., it beats helping with the dishes and beats watching the Clippers, without Blake Griffin, try to keep pace with the Suns.
    • And then don't think twice about calling it a night before Nuggets-Blazers at 10:30 p.m. There is no need for five Christmas Day games, no need to make arena employees have to spend the day away from the family. Boycott this one as your own personal protest against gluttony.

    Besides, the Hawks and Mavericks are playing the following day, two teams that deserved placement on a Christmas buffet loaded with way too much filler.

     

    Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.