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                ***** NBA Previews from The Sports Network *****
                             Thursday, December 25
                              (All times Eastern)
 ( - The Washington Wizards have lost two games in a row for
 the second time this season, but they'll try to break out of it Thursday when
 they face the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
 The leadoff game on the NBA's Christmas schedule features two teams on losing
 streaks. The Knicks have dropped five in a row, but the Wizards need a victory
 after consecutive home losses.
 The Wizards fell to third in the Eastern Conference and lost the lead in the
 Southeast Division for the first time all season. The Atlanta Hawks have been
 on fire since Thanksgiving, but Washington was able to keep pace until
 After a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, the Wizards fell to the Chicago
 Bulls, 99-91, Tuesday night.
 Washington lost its second straight game on the heels of six consecutive wins
 despite John Wall's 18 points and nine assists. Marcin Gortat posted a 14-
 point, 11-rebound double-double in defeat.
 "They made plays," said Wall. "I think they outrebounded us and got to the
 free throw line more."
 After Nene hit two free throws to pull Washington within three early in the
 fourth, Chicago rattled off seven straight to force a timeout. It was 86-75
 midway through the period when Wall and the Wizards mounted their comeback.
 Wall did most of his work in transition and scored 10 of Washington's 12
 straight points that gave the hosts their first lead since the first quarter.
 Jimmy Butler stopped the flurry with a pair of free throws. Derrick Rose then
 took the game into his own hands, scoring six in a row. His tip-in preceded a
 pair of Pau Gasol free throws that put the game out of reach.
 Bradley Beal finished with 15, followed by 12 out of Paul Pierce.
 The Knicks have dropped 15 of their last 16. Their only victory since Nov. 24
 was a road win over the Boston Celtics on Dec. 12. New York has lost seven
 straight at MSG.
 The most recent setback came Sunday at Toronto, 118-108, to the Raptors.
 Carmelo Anthony ended with 28 points for the Knicks. Jason Smith and Jose
 Calderon contributed 16 and 15 points, respectively, with Calderon also
 dishing out 10 assists.
 "They scored and they scored super-fast," said Anthony. "They exploited a lot
 of things."
 Amare Stoudemire (rest), Iman Shumpert (shoulder) and J.R. Smith (foot) missed
 the Raptors game. Stoudemire should be a go on Thursday, but Smith, who has
 sat out the last seven for New York with a small tear in his plantar fascia,
 is questionable. Shumpert is out with a dislocated shoulder.
 The Wizards bested the Knicks by 15 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 4. That
 made it four in a row in the series for Washington, which has won three
 straight in New York City.
 ( - When the 2014-15 NBA schedule came out, this Christmas
 matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs seemed like a
 battle for Western Conference supremacy.
 Fast-forward through injuries and Thursday's contest at AT&T Center is between
 the seventh and 10th best teams in the ultra-loaded Western Conference.
 The defending champion Spurs were without All-Star guard Tony Parker for five
 games earlier this month. Now, Kawhi Leonard is sidelined indefinitely with a
 torn ligament in his right hand.
 The Thunder were without Kevin Durant for a long period to begin the season
 and the reigning MVP has sat the last three with a sprained right ankle. He
 has been ruled out for the game against the Spurs.
 OKC has also been without Russell Westbrook for a chunk of the campaign. He's
 back and playing at a high level, but it hasn't helped the Thunder, who've
 lost two straight and three of their last four.
 The Thunder's consecutive losses came at home to the New Orleans Pelicans and
 Portland Trail Blazers. The Portland loss came on Tuesday, in overtime,
 Westbrook went for 40 points with 10 rebounds and six assists in the loss. But
 unlike Portland's Damian Lillard, who scored 40 on 21 shots, it took Westbrook
 a career-high 34 shot attempts to do it.
 Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka had 21 and 16 points, respectively, for
 Oklahoma City.
 The Thunder squandered a 10-point lead over the game's final two minutes.
 Lillard found himself wide open at the top of the key coming off a pick and
 buried the trey to tie the game. Westbrook was off the mark from way beyond
 the arc as the buzzer sounded.
 "They pushed Russell out," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Westbrook's
 final shot in regulation. "He made a tough decision. We have to get a better
 shot than that."
 LaMarcus Aldridge converted a three-point play following a Jackson basket to
 open the overtime period. Wesley Matthews knocked down a 3-pointer the next
 trip down prior to Westbrook's layup that made it a two-point game.
 It stayed that way until Lillard dialed in a trey, then he hit a pair of free
 throws with just over a minute left before Dorell Wright's tip-in gave the
 Blazers a comfortable seven-point cushion.
 The Spurs, meanwhile, halted a four-game losing streak Monday with a 125-118
 home win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
 Parker scored 26 points and Tim Duncan posted his third straight double-double
 to help the Spurs. Duncan went for 21 points and 12 rebounds, Boris Diaw added
 a season-high 23 points off the bench and Manu Ginobili scored 19 with 10
 assists for San Antonio.
 The Spurs assisted on 37 of their 49 baskets and shot a season-high 63.6
 percent from the field.
 Parker was critical in his return from injury.
 "I was just trying to bring energy and be aggressive," said Parker. "Just
 happy to be back out there."
 The Spurs toppled the Thunder in six games in the Western Conference Finals
 last season. OKC has won five straight against the Spurs in the regular
 season, including two in a row in the Alamo City.
 ( - LeBron James returns to Miami for the first time since
 spurning the Heat and rejoining the Cleveland Cavaliers this past offseason
 and, he will do it on Christmas night nonetheless.
 Traditionally reserved for the NBA's marquee matchup, this Christmas evening
 classic features James heading back to South Beach after four seasons, two
 titles and four championship appearances with the Miami Heat.
 "To say I haven't thought about going back, I'd be lying to you guys," James
 said. "I know it's going to be great to be back in that building around those
 unbelievable fans, you know, the memories will definitely come back."
 And how will those fans react after James returned home, leaving the Heat a
 sub .500 team?
 "It's going to be a mixture," Dwyane Wade told "How I think he
 should be received is a little bit different. The man helped take us to places
 we've only been once before he got here. So I think he should be received very
 well for that at the start of the game. And then, when the game [starts], then
 do what you've got to do."
 James won two MVPs and two Finals MVPs in his tenure with the Heat. He signed
 with Cleveland in the offseason, citing a need to bring a championship to his
 part of Ohio.
 For the Heat, that left a massive void, but the team enjoyed a solid offseason
 roster revival. It hasn't translated in the standings, but key injuries have
 set back the Heat's development.
 Cleveland suffered a huge injury in its last outing, a 125-104 blowout of the
 Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday. Center Anderson Varejao will miss the
 remainder of the season after suffering a torn left Achilles tendon in the
 Kevin Love scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in his first game
 against his former team. Love also exited the contest earlier in the third due
 to a thumb injury, but returned later in the period.
 "It scared me initially. I had jammed it pretty bad during the Brooklyn game
 and in practice put it in tape the next day, so I was fortunate that I was
 able to, I guess, get shots up and some practice time with the tape on," Love
 said. "We came back here and it seems to be just a mild, little thing. I shook
 it off and went back in there and played."
 Kyrie Irving scored 29 and James totaled 24 points for the Cavaliers, who have
 won three in a row and 12 of their last 15 games. That includes nine wins in
 their last 10 at home.
 The Heat are trending in a different direction. They've lost three of their
 last four, including an ugly loss Tuesday night at home against the
 Philadelphia 76ers.
 Miami blew a 23-point lead and lost to a Sixers' team with the fewest wins in
 the league and only eight healthy bodies.
 After establishing a 15-point halftime lead, the Heat scored 30 points in the
 second half, including just nine in the fourth quarter. Philly had 31 points
 in the third quarter alone. Miami shot just 27.8 percent from the field over
 the final 24 minutes.
 "It doesn't get worse than this," said a visibly dejected Wade. "You have to
 find a way to win a game like this. It's on us."
 Wade led the Heat with 23 points, while Shawne Williams netted 17 in the loss.
 Mario Chalmers scored 11 to round out the double-figure scorers for the Heat.
 With James a member of the team, the Heat have won 10 in a row against the
 Cavaliers. During the four seasons James was in South Beach, the Heat went
 13-1 versus Cleveland.
 Miami has taken seven in a row as the host in this series.
 ( - The Chicago Bulls are playing great basketball and will
 try to continue the momentum Christmas night when they host the Los Angeles
 The Bulls have won four straight and seven of their last eight. Chicago has
 also taken four consecutive home contests, and its recent run has been
 extremely impressive considering the competition.
 The Bulls started this win streak with a home victory over the New York
 Knicks, then knocked off the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Chicago defeated
 the Toronto Raptors, and, on Tuesday, toppled the Wizards in Washington,
 Derrick Rose scored 25 points in the Bulls' win over the Wiz. Rose shot a
 combined 12-for-35 in the two games before missing two with an illness. Since
 his return, the former MVP has been lights out in a pair of crucial wins over
 two Eastern Conference contenders.
 Rose scored 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting against Toronto on Monday and hit
 10-for-17 in Washington on Tuesday. His personal 6-0 run late in the game
 helped the Bulls extend the best road record in the East to 13-4.
 Rose won the battle of elite point guards as John Wall finished with 18 points
 and nine assists.
 "They're both dynamic players," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said about Rose and
 Wall. "Hard to guard, transition, pick and rolls. Both are unselfish and make
 the right play."
 Pau Gasol had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls. Aaron Brooks managed
 13 points off the bench, followed by 12 out of Taj Gibson. Jimmy Butler, who
 had been on a tear, cooled a bit with 11 points and Joakim Noah grabbed 11
 Gasol will face his former team for the first time since signing with the
 Bulls in the offseason.
 The Lakers snapped a three-game losing streak in an unlikely fashion.
 LA beat the Golden State Warriors, the team with the NBA's best record, on
 Tuesday night and did so without the services of Kobe Bryant, who was sitting
 for rest.
 Bryant, of course, has been used heavily in his 19th NBA season, and given his
 usage rate and his recent struggles, head coach Byron Scott opted to give the
 veteran a maintenance day. Bryant's status for Christmas night is unknown.
 The Lakers built a huge lead by shooting 56.5 percent over the first three
 quarters and held on for a surprising win.
 "That's exactly what we needed with that type of effort and energy," Scott
 said. "We just went out and played...and had confidence that we could make
 Carlos Boozer led seven Los Angeles players in double figures with 18 points
 and added nine rebounds. Ronnie Price contributed 17 points and eight assists,
 Nick Young added 15 points, and Wesley Johnson and Ed Davis chipped in with 14
 Wayne Ellington finished with 12 points and Jeremy Lin added 11.
 The Bulls have won two straight over the Lakers and five of their last six.
 The teams have split the last eight meetings in Chicago, although the Bulls
 have won two in a row.
 ( - One of the NBA's best rivalries will close the Christmas
 schedule on Thursday night when the Golden State Warriors visit the Los
 Angeles Clippers.
 The Warriors and Clippers have engaged in several physical altercations in
 recent years, including one on Christmas night last season.
 There were no antics when the Warriors beat the Clippers at Oracle Arena on
 Nov. 5. Golden State walked away with a 17-point victory, but it could be
 staring in the face of a two-game losing streak for the second time this
 The Warriors laid an egg on Tuesday night in a 115-105 loss to the Los Angeles
 Lakers at Staples Center. LA didn't even play Kobe Bryant, who took the night
 off for rest.
 "They kicked our [butt]," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr admitted. "They were
 much better than we were tonight. We weren't ready to play."
 Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 22 and 18 points,
 respectively, but both sharpshooters were on the bench long before the final
 buzzer with the outcome never in question.
 The Warriors trailed by 15 at the half, then by 22 after three quarters. Only
 a 16-0 Warriors run in the fourth prevented an uglier outcome.
 The Clippers have dropped two in a row coming into this holiday tilt. They
 were swept on a two-game road trip, falling in San Antonio, then to the
 Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.
 LA had a 13-point lead in the second half, but the scorching-hot Hawks rallied
 for a 107-104 victory.
 Blake Griffin scored 21 points to lead Los Angeles, but missed an off-balance
 3-pointer as time expired after the Clippers bumbled an inbounds pass with 6.4
 seconds remaining.
 DeAndre Jordan had 15 points and 22 rebounds in the loss, the Clippers' fifth
 in their last eight games. Chris Paul had 19 points and seven assists and J.J.
 Redick and Jamal Crawford each scored 18 for LA .
 "They played well. They came back," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. "We had to
 sub at some point. ... They made more plays."
 With Spencer Hawes sidelined with a knee injury, the Clippers got almost no
 production off the bench other than Crawford. Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu,
 Reggie Bullock and Jordan Farmar combined for seven points.
 The Clippers begin a nine-game homestand against the Warriors and have won
 seven straight as the host.
 The Clippers defeated the Warriors in the first round of last season's
 playoffs, but the Warriors have taken three of the last four regular-season
 Including the postseason, the Clippers have won six of the previous seven as
 the host.
 12/25 10:42:44 ET

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