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LeBron James once again playing Christmas game at home of defending NBA champ

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OAKLAND, Calif. — LeBron James will make what has become a regular Christmas visit to the home of the reigning NBA champion when he leads his new team, the Los Angeles Lakers, against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

The Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, led by James, have won the last four NBA titles, with the champion each of the first three times earning the right to host the runner-up in a rematch on Christmas.

But it’s only half-true this year, with the NBA opting to invite James and his new team rather than the Cavaliers.

The Warriors beat the Cavaliers in their last two Christmas rematches in Oakland following their first two championships in 2015 and 2017. James had 20 and 25 points in those losses.

The Warriors had not yet signed Kevin Durant when they beat the Cavaliers 89-83 on Christmas of 2015, with Stephen Curry scoring 19 points and Klay Thompson 18.

After the Cavs beat the Warriors when the clubs met in Cleveland in 2016 — because the Cavaliers had won the championship six months earlier — the Warriors prevailed again at home last Christmas despite Curry sitting out with an injury. Kevin Durant (25 points) and Thompson (24) led the way.

The Warriors and Lakers are meeting for the first time since James moved west in the offseason. They currently sit second (Warriors, 23-11) and fourth (Lakers, 19-14) in the Western Conference standings, creating the possibility they will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

The last time the Warriors won a playoff series from the Lakers, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were on the losing end of a 3-0 sweep in the 1967 Western semis when the opponent was known as the San Francisco Warriors.

The Warriors will take the floor Tuesday having won seven straight over the Lakers and having dominated them to the tune of 13-3 in the Steve Kerr era.

They are coming off two nail-biting home wins on back-to-back nights — 120-116 over Dallas on Saturday and 129-127 over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

“It will be fun,” Kerr said upon turning his attention to the Lakers after Sunday’s win. “I love Christmas games, as long as they are at home. We are lucky we’re at home.”

The Lakers have lost three of their last four games, including a 107-99 defeat at home against Memphis on Sunday night.

They likely once again will be without center JaVale McGee, who has missed four straight games as he has battled pneumonia.

McGee felt good enough to make the trip north, and will receive his 2018 championship ring in a pregame ceremony.

A key contributor to the Warriors last season when he made nine playoff starts, McGee admitted Sunday he was just happy to be back at the arena and working up a sweat after being hospitalized.

“It felt good, man,” he said of his pregame warmup, something he hopes to build upon Tuesday. “Just getting back to the routine. For the past eight, nine days, my routine has been laying in bed. And that’s it. So it’s real refreshing.”

Report: Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opting in for $13 million

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The Hornets’ last hope for super-maxing out Kemba Walker and avoiding the luxury tax without trading or stretching anyone has been extinguished.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s $13 million salary locked in for next season, Charlotte faces hard choices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If the Hornets re-sign Walker to the super-max, sign their draft picks (Nos. 12, 36 and 52) and add no other free agents, they’d project to be about $9 million over the tax line.

Would Walker take that large of a discount? That $9 million below the super-max would be for just next season. Over a five-year contract with max raises, he’d be leaving about $54 million on the table. And that’s all to maintain a lottery team that’s not really upgrading.

Would Michael Jordan pay the tax? He never has, and I doubt this mediocre team sways him.

The most likely outcome if Walker re-signs: Charlotte trades an undesirable contract – Kidd-Gilchrist’s, Nicolas Batum‘s, Marvin Williams‘, Cody Zeller‘s) – or stretches Bismack Biyombo. Trading those rotation players would probably require a sweetener. Stretching Biyombo would create a cap hit through 2022.

So, the Hornets get even more depleted in the long-term, maybe also the short-term.

That’s the cost of overpaying so many players – including Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard and defends well but hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.

Mavericks reportedly front runners to land Al Horford, Lakers and Clippers also interested

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Al Horford is moving on from Boston, the latest blow in a year where the Celtics went from “they will be in the Eastern Conference Finals every year for the next five years at least” to “they’re okay but have a lot of work to do.” It’s been a perfect storm of things gone wrong.

So where does Al Horford play next season?

How about next to Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas?

That’s the buzz, with the two Los Angeles teams trying to get in the conversation, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

The Mavericks are considered favorites to land Celtics free-agent big man Al Horford, according to league sources, and the two Los Angeles teams are said to also have interest, though they both have their sights set on bigger fish like Kawhi Leonard.

Dallas makes sense for both sides.

The Mavericks have the cap space to offer Horford the $20 million or more starting salary he wants, reportedly he seeks $100 million across four years (he opted out of a $30.5 million season in Boston for the security of more years). Dallas has $31.3 million in cap space, even after Dwight Powell opting in. While they likely will reach a max deal on a new contract with Porzingis, the Mavs have his bird rights so they can sign Horford then go over the cap to re-sign Porzingis (who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL injury).

On the court, Horford can both be paired with Porzingis — two bigs teams have to defend out to the three-point line — and help limit the young big man’s minutes. While not young at 33 (and the Mavs may regret the final year of a four-year contract), Horford is the kind of glue big man who can do everything well, giving coach Rick Carlisle a lot of options. Horford can score in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good man defender and can protect the rim, and all that versatility makes him valuable. He can fit into the Dallas frontcourt rotation with Porzingis, Dwight Powell, and Maxi Kleber.

That versatility would make him a great second addition to the Clippers if Kawhi Leonard chooses to leave the Raptors to join Doc Rivers’ squad (he Leonard stays the Clippers are out of this running). While Los Angeles start Ivica Zubac at the five, Horford would be an upgrade and they still have Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Horford also could mix in at the four for the Clippers.

For the Lakers, who are looking for a third star, they could sigh Horford at a $20 million starting salary (with raises from there) without having to go through the salary cap gymnastics it would take for them to clear cap space to land someone like Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker.

Horford has fans all over the league and will have options, but Dallas is aggressive and there is a logical fit there.