How was your Christmas? How many fruitcakes this year? And does anyone really bring out the figgy pudding? With the NBA season officially one quarter of the way done, here's one look at how the teams are breaking down.

Had the best Christmas ever - and could still be celebrating in June:- Houston Rockets: Did you catch Vernon (Mad) Maxwell's off-balance, outta-time, 20-foot bomb to beat San Antonio on Tuesday night? A year or two ago, the ball would have either shattered the backboard or airballed into the front row and split some poor little kid's lip. But Maxwell knew enough to better watch out, better not pout, better not cry this season. Do you get the feeling Houston is this year's Team of Destiny?

- Seattle SuperSonics: George Karl is the only coach willing to admit that his team's white-hot start is due, in part, to the fact that suddenly half the league resembles the old Milwaukee Bucks. You know, mildly competitive but also mildly boring and decidedly middle of the road. Seattle is better than that, and Karl's willingness to give his boys the green light to cuss and swear and deliver internal salvos is a stroke of genius. It also happens to fit his own feisty personality.

- Phoenix Suns: Your superstar says he's retiring because of a bad back. Your core players are playing a lot of minutes and getting older. What to do? Easy. Don't let them practice. That's Paul Westphal's solution, and it just may get Charles to the finish line in June. The Rockets and the Sonics have overshadowed Phoenix's success, but the Suns aren't worried. Their 17-5 start is only one game off their pace of last season, when everyone was proclaiming them NBA champions in December.

- New York Knicks: You know when you get just the present you wanted, and you rip off the wrapping, and turn on the switch, and poof!, the thing blows up in your face? Not only that, but when you read the back of the box, it says you'll have to wait months to get the parts replaced. That's how New York feels. The Knicks thought they had the perfect package, but now Doc Rivers' knee surgery will keep him sidelined for the rest of the year, and suddenly Christmas isn't all that merry. Do the Knicks want to win badly enough to part with one of their granite forwards, Charles Oakley or Anthony Mason? They need a point guard - quickly.

Had a holly, jolly Christmas - but need one more reindeer to pull the sleigh:

- Utah Jazz: Utah could have been upgraded to the top tier if Mark Eaton had been able to stay healthy for one more push. But he couldn't, and it's been piecemeal in the middle ever since. John Stockton can still spread the cheer as well as anyone, and it's Karl Malone who still receives most of Stockton's gifts, but an inconsistent support group that includes Jeff Malone, David Benoit and Jay Humphries hinders championship title hopes. Tom Chambers has added a little kick to this year's egg nog.

- San Antonio Spurs: Christmas came early for John Lucas, who received a very special gift: the Dennis Rodman doll. You just wind him up, and he'll keep going and going and going ... (tattoos, orange hair and hunting rifle sold separately). Count Charles Barkley among those who believes David Robinson is the true early-season MVP. Even though Avery Johnson was no All-Star, losing him in the free-agent pool was a costly blow to this club.

- Portland Trail Blazers: The talent is still in place, but a certain malaise appears to be developing in the Blazers' locker room. Have these elves been side by side on the assembly line for a little too long? Or will the return of high-priced Chris Dudley solve all their problems? Clyde Drexler's severely sprained ankle is just one more reminder that the Glide is getting older and therefore becoming grounded more frequently.

- Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan's career has died, but has it risen, and will it come again? Wisely, the Bulls aren't giving this much thought. Scottie Pippen has fared better than many believed he could without Jordan as a shield, but his toughness will be tested as spring approaches. Toni Kukoc is a nice addition. Nothing helps winning like having been there before.

- Charlotte Hornets: Did they or did they not have former Bulls coach Doug Collins on their Christmas list? It appears to be an inevitable decision. In the meantime, the Hornets have floundered more than they should. You can't be taken too seriously with a 5-9 road record, but there's still time to improve.

Have the lips all puckered - but still searching for the mistletoe:

- Atlanta Hawks: Maybe we're wrong. Maybe the Hawks are for real, and not just a Christmas miracle. Either way, tip your hat to coach Lenny Wilkens and realize that when he does surpass Red Auerbach as the league's all-time winningest coach, he does so with the proper credentials. Defense has already carried the Hawks a long way, but it can't take them all the way. Isn't Mookie Blaylock fun to watch?

- Orlando Magic: Santa Claus has been good to his pals in Florida. He delivered Shaq and Penny, but he hasn't been able to find the proper forward in his bag of goodies for coach Brian Hill. Maybe next year. In the meantime, the Magic will be rockin' their way to their first postseason appearance and will scare the living daylights out of whomever they play.

- Golden State Warriors: They should have had the best Christmas ever and could have still been celebrating in June. But the Warriors have a roster littered with a bunch of Tiny Tims. The question now is, Who will be able to toss aside the crutches and return without any lingering physical impediments?

- Miami Heat: Another team that's a candidate for a coaching change. Have you ever decided to go in on a gift for your parents, then spent the next few weeks bickering with your siblings on how much to spend, what to get and how to wrap it? These guys don't seem to agree on much, except that Steve Smith is the key to it all.

- Boston Celtics: They are the guys on the low Christmas budget who still manage to keep everyone on their list happy with their thoughtful choices. How do they win? They don't shoot 3s, they don't go to the line, they don't have an inside "presence," and they don't have a consistent one-on-one player who create his own havoc. But they are willing to run until they drop.

- Denver Nuggets: Check that list, check it twice and don't forget Dikembe Mutombo. Everyone does, and it's not fair. He isn't a scoring machine in Dan Issel's motion offense, but he's still swatting shots all over the lot, he's willing to run the floor, and he plays both ends. The former Chris Jackson (that's Mahmud Abdul-Rauf to you) wants to take this club to the next level. With LaPhonso Ellis aboard, the groundwork is there.

- Indiana Pacers: Larry Brown may be fickle, contradictory and downright bizarre at times, and if he made every deal he thought about he'd break league records for a turnstile of personnel. Having said all that, he knows how to win, demands that his players win and will win here. That is, if he sticks around long enough to ring in the New Year.

- Cleveland Cavaliers: These guys should be more than just looking for mistletoe. They should have had a holly, jolly Christmas at worst, but with Larry Nance hobbling they have struggled. Mike Fratello's frenetic style requires an adjustment period, but will the players hang with him long enough to reap its benefits? Seems as though some of that aforementioned Blazers malaise has made its way to Richfield, Ohio.

Bah, humbug - or, let's skip Christmas this year, shall we?

- New Jersey Nets: What do you think Chuck Daly bought Willis Reed for Christmas? An autographed picture of Sam Bowie? Maybe one of Blaylock. Or Dudley. Or Terry Mills ...

- Los Angeles Clippers: Danny Manning was hoping his Christmas present would be a one-way ticket out of town. Instead, owner Donald Sterling gave him a solid gold pen, with the stipulation that he use it to sign a contract extension that would go to the year 2020. Manning took the pen, crossed out the word "Clippers" next to Los Angeles, wrote in "Lakers" and promptly signed.

- Los Angeles Lakers: There is a method to their mediocre madness. Jerry West cleverly let A.C. Green go under the guise of a solid offer that swung public opinion in the team's corner, then started cutting down his payroll and loading up with young, athletic talent. But will Randy Pfund be around to enjoy it? West saved all the tags from his coach's gift, in case he has to return it.

- Detroit Pistons: It was a somber Christmas season in Motown, where favorite son Bill Laimbeer was sorely missed at the company party. Isiah Thomas served the punch (get it?). Joe Dumars stayed home and wrote holiday greetings to the Knicks front office.

A lump of coal - again:

- Philadelphia 76ers: The entire city had been complaining that Shawn Bradley wasn't doing enough, so the Sixers' 7-foot, 6-inch rookie agreed to serve as the team's Christmas tree. Coach Fred Carter hung the ornaments and tried to convince everyone that Bradley would be a much better tree in time. Jeff Hornacek stayed home and wrote holiday greetings to the Knicks' front office.

- Minnesota Timberwolves: Chuck Person had a great idea. He would dress up as Santa Claus. But then they said Christian Laettner was already doing that. So Chuck figured he'd ride to practice in a sleigh. But when he got to the players' parking lot, the one sleigh spot was filled - and the rig had Duke stickers plastered all over it.

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- Washington Bullets: Michael Adams started a snowball fight at the annual team outing. Pervis Ellison ducked and threw his neck out. Rex Chapman didn't duck and broke his nose. Kevin Duckworth tried to move and wrecked his knee. The next night, Tom Gugliotta took the floor by himself and beat Dallas.

- Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks put all their gifts on layaway. At the moment, their friends and family think they're no good, but down the road, when it all pays off, everyone will love them. In theory, anyway.

- Sacramento Kings: No wisecracks. Just a wish to Bobby Hurley that he makes a full and speedy recovery.

- Dallas Mavericks: No sense in beating a dead horse, er Maverick.

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