Thursday, December 24, 2015

Cavaliers-Warriors rematch among five holiday games

MIAMI -- NBA superstars LeBron James and Steph Curry meet Friday as Cleveland and Golden State lock horns in a rematch of last season's NBA Finals, one of the league's five Christmas contests.

The eighth consecutive year with so many holiday games again features several of the league's top players and clubs, the prime attraction being reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Curry's Warriors taking on four-time MVP James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Warriors own the NBA's best record at 26-1 after winning their first 24 games, the best start to any season in NBA history, while Cleveland is off to an 18-7 start, the Eastern Conference's best record.

It will be their first meeting since the Warriors won their first title in 40 years by defeating Cleveland four games to two in the best-of-seven final.

Friday's festive lineup opens with New Orleans at Miami and continues with Chicago at Oklahoma City. After the Warriors play host to Cleveland, San Antonio will visit Houston before the finale matching the Los Angeles rivals Clippers and Lakers.

The games will be telecast in more than 40 languages to more than 215 nations.

In all, 33 players from beyond US borders will be on rosters in the five games, Cleveland and San Antonio having the most with six each. Australians have the most representatives with five, including Golden State's Andrew Bogut and Cleveland's Matthew Dellavedova.

Kobe Bryant, who is retiring after his 20th and final NBA season, will make a record 16th Christmas appearance. He is the NBA's all-time scoring leader in December 25 contests with 383 points, including 42-point holiday heroics in a 2004 loss to former teammate Shaquille O'Neal and Miami.

The Heat is 9-2 on Christmas and seeking a seventh consecutive victory on the holiday, which would boost Miami past Portland's 14-3 mark for the NBA's all-time best win percentage in December 25 games.

Dwyane Wade ranks second in scoring on the holiday with 258 points from 10 games for Miami (16-11) while Pelicans (8-19) star Anthony Davis, the only player ranked among this season's top 10 scorers and rebounders and shot blockers, makes his Christmas debut.

Oklahoma City (19-9) boasts Kevin Durant, who has averaged 31.8 points in five Christmas starts, second only to retired NBA icon Jerry West (32.2) among players with five December 25 appearances. The Thunder also sparkle behind 2015 NBA All-Star Game MVP Russell Westbrook.

Chicago (15-11) has lost three games in a row and struggled to come together, prompting Spanish star Pau Gasol to urge the Bulls to end their squabbles and improve their level of play.

Curry is the NBA's runaway leader in 3-pointers with 131 through 27 games. He shattered his own NBA record for 3-pointers with 286 last year and is on pace to break it again with 397 for this season.

Golden State's Draymond Green, the top NBA forward in assists with 7.1 a game just ahead of James, could join the Cleveland playmaker plus Larry Bird and Grant Hill as the lone forwards in the past 40 years to average seven assists in a season.