Holiday showdown

Just in time for Christmas, here comes a matchup that was on the NBA's wish list in June.

The Kobe Bryant-LeBron James showdown did not pan out last season for the NBA championship, but now it arrives in Hollywood with the addition of basketball's biggest supporting actor: Shaquille O'Neal, who's now James' sidekick.

The Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.

Could this be an NBA Finals preview?

"Without a doubt. Definitely," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They're going to be an elite team. They got off to a slow start, they had some issues with new personnel to blend in, and they're going to start playing well. Too talented a team not to pay attention to."

The defending champion Lakers were 22-4 entering last night's home game against Oklahoma City. Cleveland improved to 21-8 by handing Phoenix its first home loss with a 109-91 rout on Monday.

"Boston, Orlando are playing well," said James in handicapping the Eastern race. "Miami's played great at times. . . . We're happy we're in the position we are. There's a long way to go until it all shakes out."

Maynor moves on

The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired rookie point guard Eric Maynor in a trade with Utah. The Jazz will get the rights to 2002 draft pick Peter Fehse, who has never played in the NBA.

Maynor, the 20th overall pick in this year's draft, is averaging 5.2 points and 3.1 assists.

Foreign affairs

Real Madrid signed former NBA guard Marko Jaric, 31, for the rest of the Spanish league season.

- Associated Press