Heat-Thunder Finals rematch part of quintuple-header
The NBA's hottest team will be playing at home in Los Angeles, and it's the Clippers, not the Lakers. There's a finals rematch in Miami, a holiday 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.
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A five-game slate makes up the NBA's Christmas schedule, which this year comes with the additional bonus of not being the first day back after a lockout forced the cancellation of the opening portion of last season.
Schedule-makers set the matchups long ago, and the league always tries to get some marquee meetings.
This year, they pretty much struck gold.
The Clippers are riding a franchise-record 13-game winning streak. The New York Knicks will face their former coach, Mike D'Antoni, when they play the Lakers. Miami and Oklahoma City will be bringing 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 some insults afterward.
"I don't know how much bad blood is still there," Nets guard Deron Williams told reporters Monday. "We beat them twice this year. I know they're aware of that and they'll come in ready to play."
On Christmas, that's the case with everybody.
"There's nothing like playing on Christmas," Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said.
Los Angeles will be the center of the league's Christmas bash, with two games at Staples Center on the same day, including an opener that features two teams which got off to surprising starts in very different ways.
The Knicks — with an Eastern Conference-leading 20 wins so far — venture out to play Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, who reworked their roster over the summer and reworked their coaching staff after a slow early start, firing Mike Brown and bringing in D'Antoni.
It's the 48th time playing on Christmas for the Knicks, but only the eighth time on the road.
The Clippers, winners of a franchise-record 13 straight, close the five-pack of games against the Denver Nuggets. For the Clippers, it will be only the fourth Christmas home game in franchise history. For comparison's sake, Bryant will be playing on the holiday for the 15th time, and this will be his 12th time doing so at home.
"It will be a good challenge for us," Denver forward Danilo Gallinari told reporters when asked about facing the Clippers. "And we'll be ready for them."
The fourth game of the day — Houston at Chicago — comes exactly 20 years after Jordan put up a Christmas show of his own with a 42-point, eight-rebound effort to lift the Bulls over New York 89-77.
Maybe the best matchup of all comes in Miami, where the Thunder meet the Heat in what's sure to be an emotionally charged day. First, it's a finals rematch. Secondly, the teams will also pay tribute to military families by handing out gifts to children on the court immediately before the game, and both clubs will wear ribbons to honor those who were killed in the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month.
Osborne set to retire in new year
Tom Osborne will retire as Nebraska's athletic director Jan. 1 and end an association with the university that began in 1962. He turns 76 in February and will stay at the school through July 31 as athletic director emeritus to ease the transition of new athletic director Shawn Eichorst. Perhaps as much as anything, Osborne's 25-year Hall of Fame coaching career and five-year run as a can-do AD are characterized by his strong and steady leadership, often in difficult circumstances.
"No matter how crazy things were going on around him, you knew Coach was going to be calm," said Terry Connealy, who played defensive tackle on the 1994 national championship team. "We weren't going to get caught up in the emotion of the moment. He's a calming influence."
Osborne, who was born in the south-central Nebraska town of Hastings, leaves the university as one of the most influential figures in the state's history.
Each of the 25 Nebraska football teams Osborne coached won at least nine games, and three of his last four teams won national championships. He left coaching after the 1997 season with a career record of 255-49-3, an .836 winning percentage that ranked fifth all-time among Division I coaches, and 13 conference titles.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
Arkansas hires running backs coach
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Washington running backs coach Joel Thomas will join the Razorbacks in the same position. Thomas has spent the past four seasons at Washington and has previously coached running backs at Purdue, Louisville and Idaho.
A Texas Tech official said three Red Raiders won't be playing against Minnesota in Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl because they violated team rules. Football program spokesman Blayne Beal on Monday would not divulge the rules violated. He says Red Raiders starting defensive back Cornelius Douglas, linebacker Chris Payne and backup defensive tackle Leon Mackey won't play in the game.
Newspaper sues Armstrong
A British newspaper is suing Lance Armstrong for more than $1.5 million after it settled a libel case over doping allegations, saying that revelations of the cycling star's use of performance-enhancing drugs show the case was baseless. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency concluded this year that Armstrong led a massive doping program on his teams. Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for life. The Sunday Times paid Armstrong 300,000 pounds (now about $485,000) in 2006 to settle a case after it reprinted claims from a book that he took performance-enhancing drugs. The paper said in an article Sunday that it has issued legal papers against Armstrong. "It is clear that the proceedings were baseless and fraudulent," the paper said in a letter to Armstrong's lawyers.
The last word
TNT's Chris Webber, on the two constants at Timberwolves games:
"The fans are loud, and it's cold here in Minnesota."