Thu, Dec 25, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Christmas is rite of passage for Wizards

AP, MIAMI

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce, front, dribbles the ball beside Chicago Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy during the second half of their NBA game at the Verizon Center in Washington on Tuesday.

Photo: EPA

For the third straight year, Paul Pierce will awaken to Christmas in New York.

The feeling never gets old.

Playing on Christmas Day, when fans seem to begin paying more attention to the NBA as football winds down, is still a big deal to players. Pierce is trying to make sure that the Washington Wizards understand the significance.

Of the 14 players in the Washington squad, eight have never played in a Christmas game. Pierce has played in five, not including two others that he missed because of injury.

“By Christmas, you should know what type of team you are,” Pierce said. “You should have an identity. Around Christmas, this is the time you should be showing everybody: ‘This is who we are.’ You’re in it or you’re out of it. This the time for the rest of the league, the rest of the world to find out, this is who we are.”

This is who the Wizards are: A contender in the Eastern Conference.

Off to a 19-7 start, the Wizards are proving Pierce made the right decision when he raised eyebrows this past summer by deciding to move to Washington. They are on pace for their best season in 30 years, are led by a point guard worthy of some MVP buzz in John Wall and have no one among the league’s top 25 scorers, yet have six players averaging double figures.

And now for the first time since 2008, the Wizards get to play on the league’s showcase day.

“A lot of times, I’m opening presents with my kids the day before because I’m gone on Christmas,” said Pierce, who visited New York on Dec. 25, 2012, and was part of a home game with Brooklyn on the holiday last year. “Out of six or seven Christmas games, I’ve played at home one time. We’ve been on the road pretty much the whole time. Sometimes you get to be there and open presents with your kids, and enjoy the day with them, but they get to watch Daddy on TV and know I will be coming home that night, so it’s fun.”

Other players who also changed addresses this past off-season will also be playing on Christmas, including LeBron James and Kevin Love with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Pau Gasol with the Chicago Bulls. And for the league’s biggest stars, playing is as annual a US rite as caroling and egg nog.

If he plays today, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers will be taking the court on Christmas for the 16th time — just 17 points shy of getting to 400 on the holiday. Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade is No. 2 on the active Christmas-scoring list, with 227 points in nine appearances.

Wade insists that playing on Christmas is still a very big deal.

“It’s the game you grew up watching,” Wade said. “Christmas, it’s the game that you watched every year, and dreamed about being in one day, the day that you knew everybody was watching whatever game was on.”

The Wizards visit the Knicks to start the NBA block of five Christmas games.

Wall has never played on Christmas, nor has Washington’s other young guard, Bradley Beal. And while every game on the NBA schedule is televised somewhere, Pierce knows that the exposure his young backcourt teammates will get today might be like none other they have experienced.

“You remember as a kid, oh, man, we get to watch Michael Jordan on Christmas, Magic Johnson, all your favorite players, all the key matchups,” Pierce said. “And now being a part of it six, seven, eight times, you’re kind of used to it, you kind of embrace it, but you’re still up for it.”

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