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It's a Holiday Tradition

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Like rewatching “The Year Without a Santa Claus” or drinking eggnog, ABC has decided that the Lakers playing the Miami Heat is a holiday tradition. That’s seriously how they’ve been promoting today’s Christmas Day match up (11:30 on ABC 7) for the past couple of weeks — “a game that has become a holiday tradition.”

What this match up really seems is sad — more than three years after Shaquille O’Neal left the Los Angeles Lakers, the best possible game the highly-paid marketing suits at NBA headquarters could come up with for its premiere time slot on Christmas was the worn out Shaq/Kobe rivalry. Two years ago this game created a buzz (Shaq facing his old team, with plenty of Scrooge-like ill will to go around), but by last year’s sequel basketball fans had moved on, as had the two key players who were at least cordial with each other. This year’s number three in the series would be straight to video — and if Shaq is even at the game he will be wearing a $3,000 suit, because he is injured.

Ironically, a league that should be promoting its exciting crop of young stars (see: James, LeBron) ends up doing that inadvertently because the Heat are Dwyane Wade’s team now. While last spring pundits said Shaq won a ring without Kobe, he did it by deferring to the dynamic Wade in the NBA finals in a way Shaq’s ego never let him do with Kobe. Wade is the best player on the Heat, and so far this season he may be the best in the NBA.

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While the general perception is the Lakers are Kobe and the Kobeettes, the Heat this season are truly Wade against the world. Shaq is injured, his backup (Alonzo Mourning) had to come out of retirement and can’t handle a starters minutes. The rest of the Heat have gotten old, save for guys like Dorel Wright who are young but look lost in the offense. All that has led to a Heat team that is 12-14 and out of the playoffs if they started today.

If the Lakers are going to win this one, their goal is really pretty simple: slow Dwyane Wade. Wade is classic slasher guard who can get to the rim seemingly at will. Like Kobe, you’re not going to stop him, but if you can make him work hard for his shots — make him less efficient — then you have taken a big step toward the win. And by the way, the scouting report on Wade is you do that by forcing him to go to his left (he is almost unstoppable going right, human going left) and make him pull up and take jump shots, he’s shooing just 39.4% on jumpers this season. Also, look for the Laker bench — Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum, Mo Evans and Vladamir Radmanovic — to play a big role, they have been hot while the Heat subs don’t live up to the team name.

Those are a few things to look for, if you are one of the few in the general public that cares enough about this “rivalry” to watch on Christmas.

AP Photo by Bill Kostroun