The NBA's hottest team will be playing at home in Los Angeles, and it's the Clippers, not the Lakers. There's an NBA Finals rematch in Miami, a matinee in Brooklyn, Kobe vs. the Knicks and the 20th anniversary of one of Michael Jordan's most memorable games in Chicago.
Welcome to Christmas, NBA style. A five-game slate makes up today's schedule. Schedule-makers set the matchups long ago, and the league always tries to get marquee meetings. This year the NBA pretty much struck gold.
The Clippers are riding a franchise-record 13-game winning streak. The Knicks face their former coach Mike D'Antoni when they play the Lakers. Miami and Oklahoma City bring the best records in their respective conferences into their first matchup since the Heat won the title. And Brooklyn and Boston face off a few weeks after the teams started shoving one another and firing off insults afterward.
"I don't know how much bad blood is still there," Nets guard Deron Williams said Monday. "We beat them twice this year. I know they're aware of that, and they'll come in ready to play."
Los Angeles will be the center of the league's Christmas bash, with two games at Staples Center. The Knicks — with an Eastern Conference-leading 20 wins — venture out West to play Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, who reworked their roster over the summer and reworked their coaching staff after a slow start, firing Mike Brown and bringing in D'Antoni.
Finish that game, clear the court and fans in Los Angeles get a second present: the NBA's best team of late. The red-hot Clippers close the day's five-pack of games against the Nuggets. "It will be a good challenge for us," Denver forward Danilo Gallinari said. "And we'll be ready for them."
COUSINS RETURNS: The Kings reinstated center DeMarcus Cousins after a one-game suspension for "unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team." Cousins practiced with the team three days after he and coach Keith Smart exchanged words in the locker room during halftime of Sacramento's loss to the Clippers on Friday. Smart benched Cousins for the second half and ordered him to remain in the locker room.