LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In what has become something of a Christmas Day tradition, the Los Angeles Lakers will play basketball again today and this time their opponent is the New York Knicks who they'll play at the Staples Center starting at noon.
This will be the 14th consecutive year the Lakers have played on Christmas Day. The Lakers have lost nine of their last 13 Christmas Day games, including losing to Cleveland, Miami and Chicago the past three seasons.
When Laker guard Kobe Bryant, whose 14 Christmas Day games are the most of any NBA player, was asked following practice Monday at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo why the Lakers have lost nine of their last 13 Christmas Day games, he laughed and responded, "I don't know.''
Bryant and Laker coach Mike D'Antoni differed on the importance of the game.
"It's special for us because we need to string some wins together,'' Bryant said. "We've got to get going.''
D'Antoni said today's game is "one of 82'' in the season and less important than one against a Western Conference opponent would be.
"Any time you play against the Eastern group, it's a little bit less important because it's only a one-game swing'' in the standings, D'Antoni said.
"Any Western'' Conference opponent "its two games, one they lost and one we win.''
Laker forward Pau Gasol called it "really important'' because the team is playing a home game.
"Every home game for the rest of the year is going to be crucial... in the standings,'' Gasol said. The Lakers are 8-6 at Staples Center. "We need to win this game badly.''
The Lakers have had what Gasol described as an "up and down'' season. A 1-4 record to start the season prompted the firing of coach Mike Brown. They then won four of five games under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, but started 4-9 under D'Antoni.
The Lakers lost to the Knicks, 116-107, Dec. 13 at Madison Square Garden.
Since then, the Lakers haven't lost, winning four consecutive games, improving to 13-14.
"We feel a little bit about ourselves'' now, Bryant said. "We have a little bit more confidence, playing with a little bit more energy.''
Despite the recent improvement, the Lakers have a losing record entering Christmas for the first time since the 2002-2003 season. They are 11th in the 15-team Western Conference and would miss the playoffs if the regular season ended today.
Both teams will wear monochromatic bright "Big Color'' Christmas jerseys. The Lakers' jersey will be white and the Knicks' orange.
For the first time in the history of Staples Center, which opened in 1999, there will be two Christmas Day games played at the arena. The Los Angeles Clippers will try to extend their franchise-record 13-game winning streak in a 7:30 p.m. game against the Denver Nuggets.