It's December 25, 2014 and for the first time since 2008, the Washington Wizards are playing a game on Christmas Day. This is kind of a big deal. It's only the second time in the 15 years I have been a Wizards season ticket holder that the team has had a game scheduled on Santa day, which is typically reserved for the best or most popular teams in the league. And I can attest based on the spotty attendance at Verizon Center during the first two months of the season that the Wizards are more "best" than they are "popular" right now.
The last time I watched the Wizards play on this day definitely made Christmas worse rather than better. The game was in Cleveland against the hated Cleveland Cavaliers who had just eliminated the Wizards from the playoffs during the previous three seasons. The two teams loathed each other. It was perhaps the fiercest rivalry in the NBA at that time and the 2008-2009 season was supposed to be a year in which both teams contended for the NBA crown or at least the Eastern Conference title.
Unfortunately, things never seem to work out for the Wizards the way we fans think they are destined to. Our hope that year was that Gilbert Arenas would return from his major knee injury in the spring of 2007 at full strength after being limited to a handful of games the previous season and that his return, along with a mix of veterans and younger draft picks would yield a Wizards squad better than the team which had made the playoffs the prior four years. It didn't work out that way. Gilbert, as it turned out, was no longer Agent Zero and we lost Brendan Haywood, one of the only Wizards inclined to play any defense, during the preseason for the entire year. On Christmas morning, the Wizards were 4-22. The Cavaliers were 24-4.
That year the Wizards put up a pretty good fight after getting behind early, but ultimately fell to the Cavs 93-89. I'm hoping this year's game, set for a noon tip-off against the mostly hapless New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, will go the same way our last Christmas game went, with the team with the better record prevailing once again. The Wizards are prone to lapses in concentration and this is an ideal trap game early in the day against a seemingly easy opponent. Just for the record, the Cavaliers didn't win the Eastern Conference in 2009 either. The Orlando Magic knocked them off in the Conference Finals.
Regardless of the outcome of the game, this Christmas is incredibly special for our family because my niece is two and half or so years old and at this point in her life understands what presents are. She may not understand why they are here or how they got here but she knows there may be something new and exciting beneath the brightly colored wrapping paper that might distract her for a few minutes, an hour or so, or the better part of the next year or two. We'll see how that goes when she gets here in a couple of hours and the tearing open of presents begins, likely accompanied by a lot of shrieking and looks of wonderment. This will likely outweigh any sort of joy from a Wizards victory. Those are not words I write lightly.
For my part, I'm hoping Santa brings me some Wizards loot and a Wizards victory to help my turkey and everything else I plan to eat as part of my minimum three platefuls of food go down a little smoother. I'm making my family wait about a half an hour longer to eat today and I appreciate that just as much as I appreciate the NBA scheduling this as a road game; I know there's no way my mom lets me go to a game on Christmas Day. For everyone else that reads this, including the dozen or so people who read this blog semi-regularly, I hope the rest of Wizards fans out there have a happy Christmas day. Go Wizards!