The NBA gave its fans possibly the best Christmas gift ever, with the season opening for the first time in its history on the holiday. With a fleet of stars headlining a much anticipated tip off, basketball returned in a big way just in time for the 2011-2012 campaign. If we’re going off of one day’s worth of action then it’s clear that Miami and Chicago will likely meet up in the NBA Eastern Conference finals again for a second straight year and the Western Conference is wide open with the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks appearing to have trouble in store as the season gets under way.
One season after becoming the youngest scoring champ in NBA history, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant could follow up his breakout season with an MVP trophy. The Thunder’s 97-89 win over the Orlando Magic on Christmas day saw a 30-point explosion from the 23-year-old Durant. Oklahoma City was last season’s NBA darlings in the ultra competitive Western Conference but this season could feature a new face in the Los Angeles Clippers, who unveiled their new Chris Paul-led attack in a 105-86 beat down of the Golden State Warriors. Between Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, the Clippers finally have the talent to unseat the Lakers as the best team in California.
While the New York Knicks’ two-man combo of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire combined for 58 points in a narrow 106-104 win over the aging Boston Celtics, the real story in the Eastern Conference was the Heat’s 105-94 destruction over the Dallas Mavericks. The final score not revealing, the Heat led by 32 points at the start of the final quarter. LeBron James led all scorers on the day with 37 and Miami avenged a bitter finals loss to the champion Mavs.
It was a busy opening day for the NBA, which received an uptick in ratings for the holiday. A Bulls/Lakers matchup on ABC trailed only two other Christmas day games in 2004 and 2010 in ratings and Paul’s debut with the Clippers marked ESPN’s highest-rated prime time game on Christmas night.