NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Los Angeles Lakers

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Two of the NBA’s biggest superstars, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, will square off at the Staples Center when the Cleveland Cavaliers face defending champion Los Angeles Lakers this afternoon (5 pm ET).

James and Shaquille O’Neal visit Bryant and Pau Gasol for the first time this season. This is the third time Shaq and Kobe have opposed each other on the holiday since the 7-foot-1 center left the Lakers. Shaq and the Miami Heat defeated Los Angeles twice on Christmas Day, in 2004 and 2005, and his latest return to Hollywood will definitely draw attention.

The Cavs have built much of their 22-8 record without O’Neal. He missed six games and averages only 23 minutes. But with the Lakers’ tall lineup, Cleveland will need the “Gentle Giant” to stay in the game and be effective.

Currently, Phil Jackson’s men are off to a better start compared to last season. They have won five straight overall and pushed their home record to 16-2 with a 111-108 victory over Oklahoma City on Tuesday. The Cavs, on the other hand, have won two straight and seven of eight, including a 117-104 overtime win at Sacramento on midweek.

This is going to be an exciting game. Kobe and LeBron are destined to meet in the title series just as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were destined to collide for the NBA championship.

Meanwhile the Lakers have signed Pau Gasol to a three-year contract extension. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the L.A. Times reported it could be worth up to $64.7 million, depending on NBA salary cap figures to be determined in 2011.

The 29-year-old Spaniard is making $16.5 million this season and will make $17.8 million next term, which would have been the final year of his contract.

UPDATE: Mo Williams notched 28 points, LeBron James added 26 and the Cavs beat Los Angeles 102-87 in a game that ended with angry Lakers fans throwing dozens of items onto the court.

UPDATE 2: You can watch the rematch here.