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Christmas spirit, ugly rivalries collide

Published December 19, 2004 1:13 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.

We agree, then.

This year's NBA Christmas Day doubleheader - Detroit at Indiana before Miami plays the Los Angeles Lakers - is incorrectly themed.

Santa Claus?

Try Santa Claws.

The last time the Pistons played the Pacers, the storyline involved busting heads, not sugar plums dancing inside of them. In L.A., Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are reunited for the first time since their Hollywood-style divorce.

This is a doubleheader, all right.

It's "Days of Our Lives," followed by "General Hospital."

If St. Nick is a soap opera fan, those presents might get delivered a little early this year, just so he's home in time for tipoff.

ABC, of course, could not have written a better script.

Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal, Shaq O'Neal and Bryant have gift-wrapped the biggest blockbuster of the NBA's regular season to the league's network television partner.

Eat your heart out, "Desperate Housewives."

The Heat-Laker game is the day's headliner, if only because its stars are two of the biggest names in today's super-hyped world of professional sports.

O'Neal vs. Bryant.

It would be fun to watch even if they liked each other.

But given the animosity that has developed between the former teammates over the last six months - since Kobe broke up the Lakers by forcing management to trade O'Neal - this is can't-miss holiday entertainment.

For his part, O'Neal downplays his return to L.A. and the matchup against Bryant.

"It's just another game to me," he said. "If we win, we win. If we lose, I'm not going to drink a can of rat [expletive]."

Eloquence aside, Shaq is convinced - like everyone else - that Bryant's desire to be No. 1 in Los Angeles led to Phil Jackson's departure as coach, O'Neal's trade to Miami and Karl Malone's recent he-said/she-said with Kobe and his wife.

After Bryant consented to a couple of TV interviews last week and at one point apologized "for any harm I brought to him and his family," O'Neal remains convinced that the Lakers would still be the Lakers if Kobe hadn't grown weary of being his little brother.

"Listen, everybody that had something to do with me has been fired or traded or cut," Shaq told the Miami Herald. "I knew I was dog meat. Luckily, I'm high-priced dog meat that everyone wants. I'm good quality dog meat. I'm the Alpo of the NBA."

Asked if he wanted to prove his point against Bryant's Lakers next Saturday, O'Neal said, "I don't have to prove a point. I'm George Bush. I'm the president, I built that arena. So I don't have to make a point."

Meanwhile, the Pistons and Pacers open the doubleheader.

Detroit, the reigning world champion, is struggling to stay above .500. Indiana just snapped a seven-game losing streak.

"I don't think it's a compelling story," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "Not with what happened with our teams."

Wrong.

On Nov. 19, an ugly brawl between the Pistons and Pacers spilled into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Artest punched a fan and was suspended for the rest of the season. Jermaine O'Neal punched a fan and was suspended for 30 games.

The NBA was changed forever, and people want to see the two teams - if not the players - that changed it.

"It's only going to bring back those terrible five minutes," Brown said. "I don't like that. . . . I hope that's never seen again - on any level, in any sport."