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The wrapping's already off this Christmas Day gift: Cavaliers at Lakers

Tuesday night's Staples Center crowd appreciated the glad tidings of a Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James faceoff. Also not to be missed: the Ron Artest-James pairing.

December 23, 2009|By Broderick Turner

Late in the game against Oklahoma City on Tuesday night at Staples Center, the scoreboard jumped ahead to the next game with this announcement:

"Christmas Day. 2 p.m. Pacific Time," it read.

There also was a picture of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on the screen.

The crowd cheered, everyone knowing the significance of the message.

Lakers vs. Cleveland on Christmas Day.

Kobe vs. LeBron.

Shaquille O'Neal, the former Lakers' center, will be at Staples Center Friday with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For Ron Artest, being a part of the pomp and circumstances of the super-hyped Christmas Day game was nothing for him get overexcited about.

"I'm looking forward to the next game," Artest said. "I'm not really making that big of a thing out of it. My thing is it's self-explanatory. You don't have to do any promoting, because that game is going to be so exciting to everybody -- to all the fans, to the media it's going to be exciting.

"All we have to do is go out there and actually perform. We ain't got to do no extra dances. We ain't got to moonwalk. We ain't got to do nothing but play."

Ok, but one of the most intriguing matchups will be between Artest and James.

After all, that's why the Lakers signed Artest, for these kinds of matchups, for him to use his strength and defensive skills against small forwards like Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Boston's Paul Pierce and James, players that have given the Lakers problems over the years.

"It's been that way my whole career," Artest said. "Me and Kobe. Me and LeBron. You know what I mean? Of course they are going to make it about me. It don't matter."

Many of the Lakers tried to downplay the showcase game between them and the Cavaliers.

Many of the Lakers have been here before, playing on Christmas Day, prime time, all eyes on them.

"I just think it's more so about the showcase for the fans and the matchups," Derek Fisher said. "I don't think the individual teams look at it like this big preview-of-what's-to-come kind of thing. The fact that there are quality teams and personalities that the fans enjoy seeing and it's just a big focus on basketball that day, I think that's what it's really about."

As a kid growing up in Spain, Pau Gasol didn't watch the Christmas Day games.

But he became a part of it last season when the Lakers played the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day at Staples Center.

Not as much is at stake this time.

The Lakers are the NBA champions now, not the Celtics.

Still, when Gasol, who is from Barcelona, was asked if the Lakers will look to send a statement to the Cavaliers, he didn't hesitate with his answer.

"Yeah, absolutely," Gasol said. "I think it should be a very competitive game. They are a contender also and they have very good players on their roster. We've got to make sure we defend our home court, first of all, and always try to send a message. It's always good to make a stand against an opponent that's trying to reach the same goal that you are."

Fisher said last year was different.

The Celtics had defeated the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals, embarrassed them in Game 6.

The Celtics came to Staples Center with a 19-game winning streak and a chip on their shoulders because they were the defending NBA champions and had to play on the road on Christmas Day.

The Lakers had a lot to prove, to themselves, to the Celtics, to the rest of the NBA.

So when the Lakers faced the Celtics last Christmas Day, Los Angeles was ready, ready for the showdown.

This year, Fisher said, it's not quite the same playing the Cavaliers.

"It's just related to the matchup, the Lakers and Celtics, coming off the Finals the year before," Fisher said. "We're angry. They have something to prove. That's where it is.

"But with the Cavaliers, I think it's about the matchup. It's about the quality of the teams. But we don't have that deep of a history other than two regular-season matchups. We're still going to play the game to win and I'm sure they will too."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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