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Knicks don't mind playing on Christmas

Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh watches his team

Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh watches his team play the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden. (Dec. 22, 2010) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The NBA has scheduled a full slate of nationally-televised games on Christmas, kicked off by the Knicks and Chicago Bulls at noon at Madison Square Garden.

With the NBA trying to be to Christmas what the NFL is to Thanksgiving, high-profile names around the league, such as Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Miami Heat superstar LeBron James, have voiced their displeasure with being forced to play on a day they would prefer to spend with their families.

The Knicks, however, don't seem to mind playing on the holiday.

“We’re very fortunate and if it helps the league and helps other people on Christmas and on the holidays then I’m all for it,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said Friday during the team's practice. “I can adjust. I can open my presents up at 7 o’clock at night instead of 7 o’clock in the morning.”

Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh, a veteran of Christmas Day games from his time in Indiana, also has no problem with his Christmas being interrupted by a game.

“I don’t see it as disrespectful at all,” he said. “It’s become a tradition to have sporting events on holidays and we are being picked to be one of those sporting events. So I think in a way, the NBA is honoring us. I think the players understand that.”

Raymond Felton seemed to understand, despite admitting that it’s a day where he would rather be with his family.

“My family is still here, they’re going to be at the game,” Felton said. “We’re still going to celebrate Christmas like it’s the same. ... It’s going to be my first time (playing on Christmas) so I’m kind of excited. I can’t complain. My family is still here so I can’t be mad.”

Added Amar’e Stoudemire: “It’s good to have it early so you have the rest of the day to kind of relax and enjoy the family and stuff.”

Felton, along with Timofey Mozgov and Shawne Williams, were wearing festive red sneakers with green laces at practice, which should go well with the green jerseys the Knicks will wear on Christmas.

”It’s a one-time look, man,” Felton said. “Just for the holidays.”

After getting the holiday off every year since 2001, the Knicks returned to the Christmas day schedule last season, losing to the Heat 93-87. No NBA team has played more Christmas Day games than the Knicks, who will be playing for the 46th time, 39 of which have been at home.

The Christmas Day schedule generally showcases the league’s marquee teams which, in addition to attracting a New York audience, could be an indication that the league feels the Knicks are finally returning to that level.

“We’re starting to get some national respect,” Felton said. “Over the last couple of years the Knicks have not been one of those teams that everyone likes to look at. Luckily, now we are. That’s a good thing.”

When asked if he felt the Knicks were evolving into a marquee team again, D’Antoni said with a laugh: “I hope so, unless they just ran out of marquee teams. You hope that’s the case, that we are entertaining and people want to see us.”

Notes and quotes: Anthony Randolph tweaked his ankle during scrimmage at Friday’s practice and limped off the court but is expected to dress on Saturday.

New York Sports