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DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry: All they want for Christmas is to play in a game

The Toronto Raptors All-Stars have never played on Dec. 25, and their team’s last Christmas appearance was in 2001

When it comes to Christmas Day games, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have gotten lumps of coal from the NBA in their stockings for years.

“It has gotten to the point where you just sigh and say, ‘Another year …’ That’s crazy. I always wanted to say that I’m playing on Christmas,” DeRozan said.

The Raptors have been in the playoffs the past four seasons, including one Eastern Conference finals appearance, while averaging 51 regular-season wins. Toronto’s roster includes two 2017 NBA All-Stars in DeRozan and Lowry. The Raptors entered Thursday with the NBA’s fourth-best overall record this season and the best mark of any team not playing on Dec. 25.

That resume, however, was not enough to persuade the NBA schedule-makers to select the Raptors to play on Christmas. Toronto’s lone Christmas appearance was in 2001. The Raptors had a young All-Star named Vince Carter at that time.

“You get the special shoes. The Christmas jerseys. That’s one I want to frame one day. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to do it,” said Lowry, who has been in the league since 2006 and with the Raptors since 2012.

The 2017 Christmas slate is highlighted with a rematch of the last three NBA Finals with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers visiting Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics, who have the NBA’s top record, host an Eastern Conference rival in John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Despite the Oklahoma City Thunder’s early season struggles, it’s understandable why a team with three 2017 NBA All-Stars in Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George was chosen to play against 2017 NBA MVP James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

The Los Angeles Lakers, despite a losing record, and the New York Knicks will be playing on Christmas. Heralded forward Kristaps Porzingis’ Knicks have played on Christmas an NBA-high 51 times while rookie Lonzo Ball’s Lakers have played 42 times. The Philadelphia 76ers, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are making their first Christmas appearance since 2001. The 76ers also have a losing record. Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves make an appearance as well.

NBA senior vice president Tom Carelli told The Undefeated via email that choosing the 10 teams to play in a mere five Christmas games is one of “the most difficult decisions that we make when we create the schedule.”

“When we begin the process, we consider all 30 teams,” Carelli said. “Working with our partners, our goal is to provide fans with compelling matchups based on storylines, rivalries, competitiveness of the teams, star players, and the history of the teams and players competing on Christmas Day. At the same time, we also need to factor in broadcast windows, arena availability, schedule requirements, travel and rest and recuperation.”

Toronto could have been an attractive matchup playing against another East power. Despite having two All-Stars, the Raptors did not have one player among the Top 15 most popular NBA jerseys listed on April 11. The Raptors were 10th in most popular team merchandise. Carelli said Toronto, which hosted the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend, was not written off because it is not in the United States.

The Raptors have the fifth-best winning percentage (225-132, .630) since 2013-14 behind the Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Rockets and Clippers. Toronto has a better record than six of the 10 teams playing on Christmas this year. Lowry said he isn’t certain why the Raptors have regularly been snubbed. DeRozan added that he has never been given any reason that Toronto is not selected.

Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

“We’ve won. We’ve been one of the best in the league the past few years. To not get that look is definitely crazy. … There is really no excuse. We’ve proven we are a top team in the league for a reason,” said DeRozan, who has played with the Raptors since 2009.

Said Lowry: “I care when the schedule originally comes out. But then, after that I say, ‘All right, whatever.’ I plan my Christmas Day. I get to be with my kids and all my family. So that’s more important.

“That’s one of the first things I look at. I know me and DeMar, that’s one of the first things we see. … I’m not mad at it. We just want the opportunity. It would be really cool to play on Christmas.”

So why weren’t the Raptors chosen?

“There are plenty of interesting teams with great storylines not playing on Christmas Day. We have five games, so only one-third are playing. We do our best to create the best matchups,” Carelli said.

The NBA had to compete with NFL games on Christmas in 2016. The NBA was still successful as the Cavaliers’ 109-108 victory over the Warriors posted a 5.9 overnight Nielsen rating, matching the highest rated Christmas NBA game in four years. The only NBA game that didn’t cross with the NFL was the Celtics’ victory over the New York Knicks in the noon window on ESPN, which drew a 2.4 overnight rating. The NFL will have two games on Christmas this year. The NBA does not get a Nielsen rating for games played in Canada.

NBA All-Star Voting 2018 began on Thursday. The stars playing on Christmas could get a rise in votes that day from the casual fan tuning in on television, computers or mobile devices.

DeRozan was a starting guard during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. While three-time NBA All-Star knows he can miss out on votes on Christmas, he hopes he lands the needed fan support to get him back in the All-Star starting lineup in his hometown of Los Angeles in February.

“To start at home, that would be a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “Speechless to be able to play at home in the NBA All-Star Game. It definitely would be one for the books.”

The silver lining is DeRozan and Lowry will spend the holiday with their wives and kids.

“I have never played on Christmas,” Lowry said. “I’ve always in my life wanted to play a Christmas game. There are a lot of things I want to say as the reason I think ‘why not’ [for Toronto]. It’s never happened, but I’ve always had the opportunity to always be with my family on Christmas. It’s a blessing to be able to not play, but at the same you always want that one time you play on Christmas.”

The Christmas snub could also light some fire with DeRozan, Lowry and the already-feeling-slighted Raptors.

“We always have that underdog mentality. We thrive off that. We always keep that in the back of our minds when we play. We never get comfortable, because we don’t get the credit we deserve,” DeRozan said.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.