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Dallas Mavericks-Los Angeles Lakers to highlight Christmas Day slate

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Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic will make his Christmas Day debut against the world champion Los Angeles Lakers as part of a blockbuster slate of tentative holiday games, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The NBA is tentatively scheduled to open its 2020-21 season on Dec. 22. But Christmas Day will again feature the NBA’s marquee games to get the season jump-started.

In addition to Doncic playing for the first time on Christmas against LeBron James and the defending champs in Los Angeles (8 p.m. ET), Zion Williamson is slated to make his Christmas debut when the New Orleans Pelicans kick off the star-powered holiday games with a visit to Miami to play the reigning Eastern Conference champion Heat (noon ET). The Pelicans played on Christmas last year, but an injured Williamson missed that contest against Denver.

After that game, Stephen Curry makes his return to the Christmas stage when the Golden State Warriors visit Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks (2:30 p.m. ET). Curry missed almost all of last season following hand surgery. While he will have to play this season without teammate Klay Thompson (out for the season after Achilles surgery), Curry will have his new big man, second overall pick James Wiseman, to help battle Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP.

The Nets‘ star tandem of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving also is in line to make its Christmas Day debut when Brooklyn faces the Boston Celtics (5 p.m. ET). The Nets enter the season with massive expectations with Durant and Irving finally playing together while being led by rookie head coach Steve Nash. Durant sat out all of last season while recovering from a ruptured right Achilles suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals. It will be Irving’s first game back to Boston since joining the Nets in free agency in July 2019.

The NBA certainly will be hoping that Doncic and James will face each other in the showcase game of the day, but James, 35, will be just over 10 weeks removed from helping the Lakers win the championship in Game 6 of the Finals over the Heat on Oct. 11. The Lakers, who added Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder in free agency, could opt to ease James back into the season.

The LA Clippers will close out the night by traveling to Denver to face the Nuggets (10:30 p.m. ET). When those two teams last faced each other in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, in September, the Nuggets shocked the Clippers by erasing a 3-1 series deficit and beating the popular pick to win it all in the second round of the playoffs. That stunning collapse led Clippers owner Steve Ballmer to part ways with coach Doc Rivers and replace him with Ty Lue. Lue and a new coaching staff hope to unlock the Clippers’ chemistry and incorporate free-agent addition Serge Ibaka alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Ibaka and Leonard won a championship together in Toronto in 2019.

Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic will look to take the next step and compete for a championship after leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference finals.

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Being seen as weak after playoffs ‘fueled me’

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After his playoff struggles in the NBA bubble, LA Clippers guard Paul George said he had to come back “with vengeance” this season to address the fact that “people saw weakness” in him.

A highly motivated George continued his torrid start to the season by making 8 of 14 shots and scoring 26 points to lead the Clippers to a 138-100 rout of the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on Friday night.

“I’m coming back with vengeance,” George said of his mindset entering this season after he and the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round to Denver last postseason. “I didn’t like, not so much of the noise and everything around [the way last season ended], but just the fact that people saw weakness.

“And I had to address that. I had to answer that. That fueled me. That put me in a place where I wanted to come back and be myself again.”

George told teammates entering the season that he was going to return to the form that helped him finish third in MVP voting during the 2018-19 season while in Oklahoma City.

“P is playing at a high level right now,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. said. “Which we all knew that he would. I feel as though he’s having an MVP season. And he told us that before the year started, that he was gonna come with it.”

George is shooting career highs of 50.3% from the field, 51.5% from 3-point range and 91.8% from the free throw line. He made 4 of 8 3-pointers against the Kings. George has made four or more 3s in 10 out of his 12 games this season.

George said he told teammates he was going to return to his MVP form this season because he had no other choice.

“After the tough year last year, it was the only way I could respond,” George said. “I immediately went straight to a dark place of where I just, I had nothing but to get better. That was the only thing on my mind and the only thing was to get better.

“Almost two years removed from having my shoulders operated on. … So I am just in a healthier mind state, I am in a healthier place.”

Last season, George struggled as he was coming off two shoulder surgeries following the 2018-19 season. During the NBA restart in the bubble, George suffered through the worst shooting slump he had experienced in the playoffs, going 10-for-47 combined in Games 2, 3 and 4, including missing 21 of 25 attempts from behind the 3-point line, in the first round against Dallas.

George admitted he had experienced bouts with depression and anxiety while in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, as he was unable to be with his family and loved ones. Then the Clippers collapsed in the second round to the Nuggets.

While George and Kawhi Leonard combined to shoot just 10-for-38 and score a combined total of 24 points in their Game 7 loss, George was the one who took a ton of heat from critics. His corner 3-point attempt that hit the side of the backboard in the fourth quarter symbolized the Clippers’ meltdown.

George not only was roasted on social media, but he even heard trash talking this season from opponents such as Phoenix’s Chris Paul and Devin Booker during a game on Jan. 3 when George and the two Suns guards exchanged words. George said he heard “a lot of chirping and people just living in the past.”

George has opted to let his game do his talking, averaging 25.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals to go with his career-best shooting percentages.

“He was able to work out this summer,” Leonard said. “Last summer he was limited, probably only could shoot 10 shots a day or so with his shoulder surgeries. He’s coming out with determination and he’s focused.”

“I can’t predict the future,” Leonard added on whether he saw this coming when the two worked out in the offseason. “But all I could say is he put his mind into his work, and when I did go work out with him, a lot of his stuff was like kind of game-simulated, working on the passes, reads, and it just translated over pretty much.”

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Who’s the best 3-point shooter on the Lakers? LeBron James, Anthony Davis weigh in

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The Los Angeles Lakers went into Friday with the third-best 3-point percentage in the league and were hot from the outside once again in their 112-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, hitting 15 3s at Staples Center.

LeBron James was responsible for two of them, going 2-for-6 from deep, which caused his season percentage to dip ever so slightly to 38.2% — which would be the second-best 3-point shooting season of his 18-year career should he keep it up.

Earlier in the week, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James was “probably the best shooter on our team,” which begs the question: Does James agree with his coach?

“I mean, we got a lot of great shooters on the team, man,” James said. “KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope], a great shooter. Wes Matthews, great shooter. Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] can shoot the heck out of the ball. Dennis the Menace [Dennis Schroder] can shoot the ball. AD [Anthony Davis] can shoot the ball. So we got a lot of great knock-down shooters.

“Obviously, if someone says, ‘Bet,’ then obviously you guys know, I’m going to take myself. That’s just the competitive nature in me and the work ethic that I put into my shot. But I feel real good with my shot right now, both from the free throw line and also from the 3-point line, and I want to continue that.”

Davis, who lifted his 3-point marksmanship from 33% in his first season in L.A. to 39.4% going into the Pelicans game, slotted James a bit lower.

“I would have to say Kenny is always our guy who we always look to for shots,” Davis said, referring to Caldwell-Pope. “Wes is still struggling to find his consistent 3. He’s been getting open looks, but I still put Wes up there. I put Bron third, just because of this year he’s been able to shoot the ball extremely well. Marc [Gasol] can shoot it. Marc is up there. And then I put myself. Dudz [Jared Dudley]. AC [Alex Caruso].”

For those scoring at home, that is nine different 3-point shooters rattled off by the Lakers’ co-captains — and doesn’t even include guys such as Quinn Cook and Markieff Morris, who live beyond the arc when they’re on the court.

Caldwell-Pope, who shot 4-for-6 from 3 on Friday and moved past Metta World Peace for ninth place on the Lakers’ all-time franchise list for 3-pointers made, was not ready to crown James as the team’s 3-point shooting king so long as he is involved.

“Numbers don’t lie,” he said, alluding to the career-best 55.3% he’s shooting from 3 so far this season. “But I’m really enjoying LeBron shooting the ball. He’s shooting it at a tremendous clip. He’s knocking them down and it’s fun seeing him have [success] shooting the ball as well. But we all know, I’m the real shooter, for sure.”

He might have a legitimate claim there, but, as Davis pointed out, everyone also knows that James gets certain privileges that Caldwell-Pope will never see.

“You know LeBron’s always going to be up there because he shoots a ton of them, especially when he gets hot, and starts shooting halfcourt and things like that,” Davis said. “I don’t think Coach will allow Kenny to do that.”

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Billy Donovan – Chicago Bulls want to win but ‘don’t know how to’

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After losing multiple double-digit leads throughout the game to eventually fall 127-125 in overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan put it bluntly: His young team hasn’t figured out how to win yet.

“This is a hard-working group. It’s a good group of guys. They want to win,” Donovan said. “They don’t know how to. They are learning how to.”

With a fourth consecutive loss, the Bulls dropped to 4-8 on the season. Turnovers have become a trend, with 24 against the Thunder. Guard Zach LaVine was sensational in scoring 35 points, hitting 8-of-14 from 3-point range, but he turned it over six times.

“It’s the same thing for us,” Donovan said. “Until we find a way to take care of the basketball, it’s so hard to win at this level when you’re turning the ball over at the rate we turn it over.

“A lot of it is self-induced,” Donovan said. “I thought it was all on us.”

The Bulls led by 22 in the third quarter, by 16 with 4 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the fourth and by 10 with 1:56 remaining in regulation. The Bulls went scoreless in the final two minutes, turning the ball over three times (two offensive fouls) and missing the only two shots they attempted, including a potential game-winning attempt by LaVine with 0.9 seconds left.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, before the Bulls’ loss Friday night, teams were 1-2,930 when trailing by 10 or more points in the final two minutes of regulation over the past five seasons. The only other win was by the Kings on Jan. 27, 2020.

“I think we’re all at a lot for words on how we played and how we ended the game,” a frustrated LaVine said. “We just folded. We straight up folded.”

The Bulls have shown positive signs of progression after a slow start, bouncing back to win four out of five before this losing streak. But in their past four games, they’ve allowed at least 115 points in all of them, losing all by four points or fewer.

“I think we’ve just got to learn how to win,” forward Lauri Markkanen said.

The four-game losing streak comes at the same time LaVine is on an offensive roll, becoming the first Bull to have four consecutive 30-point games while shooting 50% or better from the floor since Michael Jordan did it in five straight games in 1996.

“You gotta learn how to win a basketball game when you’re up by 20,” LaVine said.

It wasn’t enough, though, to hold off the Thunder, who were sparked by a career-high 33 points by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on impressive 13-of-19 shooting, plus 10 assists. Guard Lu Dort added 21, and he was a big part of the Bulls’ turnover issues, forcing six.

“It is really hard to win in this league if you don’t do three things: If you don’t win the free throw battle, the rebounding battle and the turnover battle, it’s really difficult,” Donovan said. “And for us, we’ve gotten destroyed in the turnover battle the whole entire year.”

The Bulls play at the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

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