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NBA Preview from The Sports Network



Saturday, December 25th (All times eastern)

Miami Heat (21-7) at Los Angeles Lakers (14-11), 3 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The matchup that every NBA fan has been waiting for is here, as Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant will meet as opponents when the red- hot Miami Heat visit the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the second of two Christmas NBA Contests.

The Heat, who played their first season in the NBA in the 1988-89 campaign, made their biggest trade in franchise history during the offseason when they acquired O'Neal from the Lakers on July 14, 2004 in exchange for forwards Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler and a first-round draft pick. Together O'Neal and Bryant won three championships with the Lakers. The 32-year-old O'Neal, who spent eight seasons with fellow All-Star Bryant and the Lakers, now teams with 22-year-old sensational point guard Dwyane Wade.

O'Neal was originally drafted out of Louisiana State in the first round (1st overall) of the 1992 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. He spent four seasons with Magic before being signed as a free agent by the Lakers on July 18, 1996.

The Lakers will be without Butler today, as he will serve a one-game suspension for punching New Orleans guard Dan Dickau in the stomach during a game Wednesday night. NBA Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson made the announcement Thursday. Butler is averaging 13.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for LA this season.

The Heat come into today's game on a 10-game winning streak. A win today would tie Miami's franchise record of 11 straight wins, which was achieved in the 1996-97 season.

On Thursday, O'Neal scored 25 points with 10 rebounds, and Damon Jones hit a three-pointer with 23.4 seconds remaining to give Miami a 109-107 victory over the Sacramento Kings at ARCO Arena.

O'Neal was 11-of-19 from the field two days before his anticipated return to Los Angeles. He was only 3-of-13 from the foul line, though, and he missed two key free throws near the end that could have locked up the game for Miami. But he came up big with a block of Sacramento's Mike Bibby after that, and the Heat held on for the win after trailing by 12 early in the fourth quarter.

Wade added 22 points and 10 assists for Miami in the victory over Sacramento, while Eddie Jones scored 21 and Damon Jones ended with 18.

Shaq has averaged 21 points and a team-high 10.9 rebounds in 27 games for the Heat this season, while Wade, who has played in 26 contests, leads Miami in scoring (23.3 ppg) and assists (7.3 apg).

Miami is 10-4 on the road this season.

The Lakers play the fourth of a season-high six-game homestand. LA is 1-2 on its current stand. On Wednesday, Chucky Atkins scored a season-high 30 points and Bryant recorded 22 of his 29 points in the second half as the Lakers downed the Hornets, 101-89, at the Staples Center.

Chris Mihm pulled down a career-best 21 rebounds to go along with 11 points in Wednesday win for the Lakers, who have won four of their last seven games. Odom also notched a double-double, finishing with 10 points and 13 boards.

On the injury front, the Lakers placed center Vlade Divac on the injured list on Wednesday with a back ailment. LA activated forward Brian Grant. Divac missed the first 11 games of the season with a herniated disk, while Grant had been sidelined since November 23 with right knee tendinitis. Grant scored two points and grabbed five rebounds in 13 minutes of action against the Hornets.

Bryant, who has started all 25 of LA's games, leads the Lakers in scoring (27.1 ppg) and assists (7.2 apg). He is second, behind Odom, in rebounds (7.4 rpg). The six-time All-Star has scored in double-digits in every game this season and has recorded four triple-doubles.

The Lakers are 9-5 at home this season.

The Heat and Lakers will play once more this season, as the teams will square off in Miami on March 17, 2005.

The road team has won six of the last nine meetings in this series. The Lakers have won three straight and four of the last five contests. Miami has lost two in a row and eight of its last 10 at the Lakers.

12/25 10:07:08 ET


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