NBA Matchups For The Holiday

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers will headline this year's NBA Christmas Day lineup. It's one of five games in what has become an annual event for the league. Host Renee Montagne talks with sports commentator John Feinstein.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Christmas Day is one of the quietest days on the sports calendar, except in the NBA. The league has gone from one nationally televised game on the holiday to five, one right after the other. There are two glamour games on the schedule. The defending champion - the Los Angles Lakers - against the Cleveland Cavaliers. And the Boston Celtics against the Orlando Magic. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to discuss those games and the state of the league.

Good morning. Happy Holidays, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee. Merry Christmas to you and everybody.

MONTAGNE: Let's begin with those two feature games this afternoon. How important is this sort of regular season matchup?

FEINSTEIN: Well, within the context of an 82-game regular season, when you're not even at the halfway point, they're really not that important, except for the fact that a lot of people will be watching because it is Christmas Day and there aren't that many people out working.

But the other factor here is that these are teams that are probably going to meet in the playoffs in May and June. And they want to establish superiority over one another.

The other thing is, particularly in the case of the Orlando-Boston game, where unfortunately the Celtics' best player Paul Pierce won't play and Kevin Garnett may not play because of a relatively minor injury, they're jockeying for position in terms of home court advantage when they get to the playoffs. So in that sense and in the sense of establishing superiority, both games have significance.

MONTAGNE: And the Cavaliers made the most publicized off-season move of anyone by acquiring Shaquille O'Neal, and is it working out for them so far?

FEINSTEIN: Well, the good news is Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James are getting along well. And when you have two superstars of that magnitude, that doesn't always happen. Shaquille has had his usual early season injuries.

And really none of this will matter for the Cavaliers until they get to postseason. They bombed out last year in the Eastern Conference Finals, which was a huge disappointment for them against the Magic.

And it's sort of a one year window, Renee, because LeBron James's contract is up at the end of this year. And he may leave through free agency. O'Neal is clearly near the end of his career. So they're taking their big shot by making this move to give them some stability inside to go with what James does on the outside.

MONTAGNE: And the Celtics have Kevin Garnett back after he missed last year's playoffs.

FEINSTEIN: That's a big deal. I mean, they lost early in the playoffs as the defending champions without Garnett. Now, he did miss their last game. He may or may not play today. But he's been healthy throughout the seasons, and that's why they're 22-5. And they've got the second best record in the league. And clearly they're a contender to win the title again.

Garnett's getting older. He's 33. He's been in the league since he came out of high school, which is a long time. So whether his body can hold up each year through that long, grueling 100 game season is always the question for him.

MONTAGNE: And, John, let's step back and look around at the league. For you, are there any surprises?

FEINSTEIN: Yeah, there's a couple, actually. I mean, the Atlanta Hawks, who have been nowhere forever, it seems like, are right there with the big three -Boston, Orlando and Cleveland - in the Eastern Conference race at 20-8.

And they're a team with a guy named Joe Johnson, who's one of the unknown stars in the league. They picked up Jamal Crawford in a trade last year. And he's really helped them. And what's interesting is that nobody's talking about them. And they're going to get to the playoffs, and they're going to be dangerous for somebody to play against.

The other team that's really made progress is in Oklahoma City, the old Seattle Sonics. They've got a very good, young team, and they're playing .500 ball right now, which is a long way from the days when they were going 22-60.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein, whose most recent book is �Change-up: Mystery at the World Series.�

Thanks and nice to talk to you again, John.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Renee. Take care.

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