- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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Lakers and Cavs will be a Christmas party, complete with players in red and green sneakers, a gift exchange for the tots and fans in Santa hats shouting "eggnog me!" at vendors as they walk by.
But it won't be a rivalry game.
"We don't have that deep of a history other than two regular-season matchups," Lakers point guard Derek Fisher said Wednesday.
With so few regular-season games between nonconference opponents, it's almost impossible for a team from the West and a team from the East to develop a rivalry today, unless they face each other in the NBA Finals.
We thought we were getting that matchup last year, but Dwight Howard and company had other ideas.
"For us, the season's too long to kind of put your hopes into a particular matchup during the regular season," Fisher said. "We lost both of our regular-season games to Orlando last year and won in the Finals, so I'm sure Orlando probably would want to have that reversed the other way."
When asked if the Christmas Day game meant anything special to him, Bryant said, "Absolutely nothing. Anything to put myself and LeBron on national TV. Outside of that it's nothing."
Well, he's overstating it. It's something.
The Lakers (23-4) have the best record in the NBA. The Cavaliers (22-8) have the third-best record in the East (behind Boston and Orlando) and the fourth-best record in the league.
It's a tilt between two very good teams led by the two best players in the game. It's a showdown with home-court advantage implications down the line. It's footage for the Bryant and James Hall of Fame archives.
And it's the chance, the promise, of something magical happening should the game and the ball rest in either man's hands with the clock winding down.
Any good team wants to play any other good team, wants to be pushed. The Christmas Day game is a measuring stick and a chance to stoke the competitive fire. Following Bryant's lead, the Lakers relish fierce competition more than just about any other team in the league. And there is no doubt the Cavaliers and James will step to their challenge.
Sparks will fly.
Just don't expect the Lakers to see it as a message game. Just don't expect them to talk about how good it felt to get over on Cleveland or how much it hurt to come up short.
Christmas Day is special, but it's also just another day on the calendar.
"It's more so for the showcase for the fans and the matchups," Fisher said. "I don't think the individual teams look at it as this big preview-of-what's-to-come kind of thing."
22hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler