Lakers have recent history with Miami on Christmas Day
They're appealing to history.
"It's hard to make it a rivalry right now," Lakers forward Ron Artest said. "It's like an instant one, but the only way it can be a rivalry is if we go to the championship against each other. The Boston Celtics? That's a rivalry."
They're saying it's only one matchup in an 82-game season.
"It’s a big game in terms of excitement and anticipation and the marquee matchup in terms of the star power," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "That’s what makes it a big game. I don’t know if it’s about using it as a measuring stick. It may be different in their locker room, but in my opinion, for us, no."
And they're pointing to the potential distractions Christmas Day brings as another reason not to read too much into the game.
"You have kids putting batteries in toys and putting their Christmas toys together," said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who has coached in 17 Christmas Day games, including 10 with the Lakers. "There was all kinds of crazy stuff going on and now you have to focus on a game in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day. It's real hard to measure how to bring focus to it."
Still, the Lakers, which have played 36 Christmas games in the organization's history and trail only the New York Knicks (45) for most games played on the holiday, have to play the game whether they feel it's important or not. I argued earlier this morning that the real importance of the matchup between the Lakers (21-8) and Heat (21-9) is that the game marks the beginning of the tougher portion of the Lakers' schedule. Whether the Lakers show the right mindset won't be answered until Saturday. Their recent Christmas Day history with Miami, however, isn't pleasant. Surely those were different times, what with the Lakers either missing the postseason or failing to escape the first round, but perhaps these games detailed below the jump will provide some sort of incentive for them.
Dec. 25, 2004, Lakers' 104-102 overtime loss
The attention was on the first meeting between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal since his trade to the Heat, and the Staples Center crowd greeted O'Neal with a standing ovation.
But in the end, it came down to a game-winning shot that didn't go in. Bryant scored 42 points, but he shot 12 of 30, committed nine turnovers and missed his last five shots. That included a three-point attempt over Dwyane Wade at the buzzer in overtime. The shot hit the left side of the rim and bounced away, giving the Heat its 11th consecutive victory.
"I had a pretty good look," Bryant told reporters. His 305 points on Christmas is among the league's active scoring leaders and his 12 Christmas appearances ties O'Neal and trails only the 13 games Dolph Schayes and Earl Monroe played on Christmas. "But I didn't get the balance I would have liked on the shot."
"I knew that it wasn't going to go in," O'Neal told reporters after posting 24 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. "It's called Shaq O'Neal fate."
O'Neal's absence didn't matter. Wade had 29 points, but faded in the fourth quarter. He missed two chances in the last minute to break a 94-94 tie, including an 18-footer with 23 seconds left and a 20-footer at the buzzer. Nonetheless, Wade had four points in overtime.
Dec. 25, 2005, Lakers' 97-92 loss
It was presumed to be another showdown between Bryant and O'Neal, this time played in Miami. The two avoided each other before tipoff and O'Neal did not attend the captains' meeting.
But another rivalry also formed.
This one featured the Heat's Gary Payton, a former Laker, and Lamar Odom, a former Heat player, nearly coming to blows. They jawed at each other during the second half, including an incident in which Odom nearly confronted Payton at halfcourt only to be pulled away.
"He's an extremely disrespectful young man," Odom told reporters, including The Times' Mike Bresnahan. "I'm not going to repeat anything he said, but it's extremely disrespectful. It's dudes like that, that's why things happen off the court between players and their friends and things like that. He needs to watch how he talks to other men. There's a difference between competing and how you talk to another man."
Payton's take appeared much different; he told reporters they were just "having fun on the court" with "everybody jabbing and jabbing." Payton had the last word, after scoring 21 points, hitting nine of 11 shots and making a key three-pointer that gave Miami a 94-92 lead. Meanwhile, the Lakers folded in critical stretches. Odom's three-point attempt on the right side fell short with 41.9 seconds left, while Bryant's shot from deep three-point range barely hit the rim with 2.9 seconds remaining.
"We played poorly and still found ourselves in the ballgame," Bryant told reporters afterward, referring to the team's 38.8% shooting clip and three-of-21 mark from three-point range. "We had the opportunity to make a three-point basket and put the dagger in them and it just didn't quite go in."
December 25, 2006, Lakers' 101-85 loss
Bresnahan summed up the Lakers' loss, again in Miami, this way: "And on the 12th day of Christmas, the Lakers received the same thing they got last year, and the year before that, a gift they'd just as soon return if they could ever beat the Miami Heat on Dec. 25."
There weren't many reasons for the Lakers to share any holiday cheer. They trailed by as many as 19 points, shot only 21.7% from three-point range and had Bryant making only four of 17 shots for 16 points. Meanwhile, Wade torched the Lakers with 40 points, many of them coming off beating Bryant on high screen-and-rolls.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant scrambles for the ball as Miami's Shaquille O'Neal applies pressure during the third quarter on Christmas Day in 2005. Credit: Steve Mitchell / Associated Press