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It just isn't Christmas if not wrapped in NBA


It's a Christmas tradition. After Tab A has been inserted into Slot B, after everyone has sneaked off to hide away the reindeer sweater gift from Aunt Blabby, after one last viewing of how Ralphie got that BB gun, it's time to peer through the discarded wrapping paper and watch the NBA.

This Sunday's doubleheader on ABC (12:30 p.m., WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7) features an NBA Finals rematch of the San Antonio Spurs-Detroit Pistons, followed by Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers.

The big news here is the reunion of analysts Bill Walton and Steve "Snapper" Jones, who will work the first game. When Walton goes off on one of his hyperbolic flights of fancy, Jones has been known to ground him with a good-natured jibe.

The two, joined by fellow analyst Hubie Brown, held court in a conference call Wednesday to discuss matters NBA. Some highlights:

Walton on the resurgent Lakers: "They have really come to embrace each other as teammates. ... This is not a team that is filled with talented players except for Kobe Bryant."

Brown, recalling his time as coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, on the trade availability of the Indiana Pacers' Ron Artest: "You could have had him three summers ago, two summers ago."

Walton on whether he'd want the mercurial Artest on his team: "My experience is it's always better to play against the likes of Ron Artest."

Jones on how Lakers coach Phil Jackson can act superior: "When he has the best situation, he likes to rub it in."

Brown on whether the Phoenix Suns' up-tempo, share-the-ball offense will become a trend in the NBA: "You cannot play the way Phoenix plays night in and night out unless you have Steve Nash."

Walton on how the league was more intense in his day: "I'm of an era where teams routinely didn't like each other. ... When that ball is put up to decide the fate of Western Civilization, you're ready."

Jones on possible rivalries to match the Lakers-Boston Celtics of the 1980s: "If the Pistons and the Spurs can maintain their positions for four-five years, you may see that kind of rivalry."

Before the tip

ABC has retooled its NBA pre-game show, now called NBA Nation, which debuts Sunday at noon. Scottie Pippen has been added as a studio commentator, working with returning host Mike Tirico. Each show will feature a roundtable discussion with a celebrity guest panel. My suggestion: When it's time to talk point guards, invite Gary Coleman.

Not the lowest

Did you savor every moment of the Ravens' rout on Monday? The rest of the country wasn't with you. The Ravens-Green Bay Packers game delivered an 8.2 national rating, making it the second-lowest-rated game in Monday Night Football history. The lowest was last year's Tampa Bay Buccaneers-St. Louis Rams game, which drew a 7.7.

And even here, the game did only fair. The rating for Baltimore was 17.0. That number was driven down by a drop-off in the last half-hour, which did come after midnight. (You fans are so responsible, getting to bed so you could wake up for work the next morning. Let me write a note to your bosses.) Up until midnight, the game had an 18.2 rating here.

Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Packers fans weren't driven away. For the same time frame when Baltimore viewed at 18.2, Milwaukee's rating was 28.8.

Faith in Brett Favre, perhaps?

Keeping it Real

HBO's Real Sports presents a best-of-2005 show Tuesday at 10 p.m. Among the four repeat segments, the one most worth another look may well be "Fields of Hate," a piece about the racism in European soccer. Among the disturbing images, cameras caught fans making monkey noises and throwing bananas whenever a black player touched the ball.

TV highlights

Golf: Do you figure golf clubs will be under your tree? Then maybe you can swing along to the ADT Skills Challenge (tomorrow and Sunday, 4 p.m., WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4). Five PGA players (Nick Faldo, Peter Jacobsen, Chris DiMarco, Fred Funk and Jason Gore), two LPGA players (Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer) and one celebrity (Roger Clemens!?) compete in "situational shotmaking."

Pro football: We're not here to cause any trouble ... Fox presents a look at the 1985 Chicago Bears in Shuffle to the Super Bowl (Sunday, 3:30 p.m., WBFF/Channel 45 and WTTG/Channel 5).

Colleges: It's being aired at 4 p.m. on Christmas, but volleyball, cross country, field hockey and soccer get their shot on CBS (WJZ/Channel 13 and WUSA/Channel 9) in Championships of the NCAA, hosted by Bonnie Bernstein. As a Maryland grad, she can take extra pride in talking about the Terps' title in men's soccer.


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