The Courtside Couch
NBA on Christmas: Mavericks vs. the Heat continues a Texas sports tradition
The weather has turned colder, the leaves are beginning to fall, and turkey may or may not be involved. It’s a veritable sports holiday in the Republic of Texas… just not the one that’s usually associated with the Lone Star State. In fact, a double-check of the calendar reveals that an entire month has already passed since Thanksgiving, and its customary day spent gorging on pumpkin pie while watching the Cowboys, Longhorns, and (at least for one last time) Aggies play on into the night.
Instead, we find ourselves on the eve of Christmas, anxiously waiting the sound of reindeer on rooftops, the gleeful tearing of wrapping paper, and the tip-off of the National Basketball Association.
With a lockout-shortened season delivering a grueling schedule to come this weekend, the Mavs vs. Heat game sets the pace for a frenzied campaign beginning with the sport’s unofficial high-holy day.
It’s true that we almost didn’t have a season this year, but it’s telling that the owners and players came together to start the season on Christmas day. Since the inception of the league, the NBA has been the only professional sport in America to regularly schedule games on Christmas, and as the years have progressed, modern television contracts have turned the day into the premier showcase for the greatest professional basketball on the planet.
While that usually means highlighting all the major media markets that you’d always expect (Knicks orange, Celtics green, and the Laker’s Sunday whites will all be on display this weekend), it’s also meant pitting the league’s best teams and hottest talents against one another on their grandest annual stage.
In the last decade, the dynasty Spurs made more than a few appearances on the Christmas schedule, and the NBA seemingly never missed a chance to put Yao Ming in front of as many TV viewing eyes as possible. This year, it's the reigning champion Mavericks who appear on the slate.
Dallas’ roster was re-formed this offseason in the wake of a sign-and-trade that moved Tyson Chandler to New York, netting them the sizeable trade exception and salary cap space necessary to bring aboard Vince Carter and Lamar Odom, shrewdly organizing the franchise to keep its winning ways while positioning them favorably for the 2012 free agency class (headlined by Dwight Howard and Deron Williams).
While it's unclear whether or not Dallas can approximate the same defensive cohesion they shared anchored by Chandler, it's hard to argue that a roster featuring no fewer than six (six!) recent All-Stars, and still lead by in-his-prime superstar and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, will have any trouble hanging tough in the top tier of NBA teams this season. And just to keep things dazzling, Dallas will begin the defense of their championship with maximum fanfare: In a rematch of the 2011 Finals against Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
It’s arguably the marquee pairing on the NBA’s marquee day, and with a lockout-shortened season delivering a grueling schedule to come, setting the pace for a frenzied campaign beginning with the sport’s unofficial high-holy day. The first game of the year has never mattered more, and that’s the greatest gift that any sports fan could ever hope for.