A busy sports schedule awaits holiday weekend

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This holiday season, the sporting world has given us early gifts in the form of key match-ups and the official start of the NBA season.

After a 149-day work stoppage, the NBA will open a shortened 66-game regular season Christmas Day with many big-market teams battling for early-season supremacy.

On the gridiron, the NFL continues week 16 today, Sunday and Monday.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, teams are still battling for final playoff spots.

For fans more in favor of college ball, the collegiate basketball season is on break for the holidays, but the NCAA football bowl season continues.

The following are a few of the contests this holiday weekend:

New York Giants vs. New York Jets

When: 11 a.m. today

Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford

Channel: Fox

Breakdown: Officially scheduled as an away game for the New York Giants, the two teams share a stadium so neither has to travel. The Jets currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, but a loss to the Giants could knock them out.

The Giants, on the other hand, are still in the title race in a mediocre NFC East. If they don’t win the division, they are a long shot for a wild card spot.

The battle between these two New York teams could have a big impact on the postseason.

Also check out: San Diego Chargers at Detroit Lions — 2:05 p.m. today on CBS.

Nevada vs. #21 Southern Mississippi (football)

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Sheraton Hawaii Bowl — Aloha Stadium, Honolulu

Channel: ESPN

Breakdown: When Southern Miss beat then-undefeated Houston on Dec. 3 in the Conference USA championship game, the Golden Eagles head coach proclaimed his team deserved a BCS bowl bid. Instead, Southern Miss settles for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

The No. 21 Golden Eagles finished the season 11-2 and averaged 37.8 points per game.

They face Nevada, a team with two 700-yard rushers. The Wolf Pack, 7-5, finished second in the Western Athletic Conference, but had no marquee victories.

Southern Miss would like a win in their final game with head coach Larry Fedora, who will take over North Carolina next season.

Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks

When: 12:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas

Channel: ABC

Breakdown: What better way to open the 2011-12 NBA season than with the two teams who closed out the previous season in June.

The Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat four games to two in the NBA Finals to win their first NBA championship.

The “Big 3” of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are back for the Heat, and James has said he is ready to get back to the style of game he played while in Cleveland.

Both teams have added some key role players and are primed to make another push for the finals this season. The NFL bounced back from a lockout this summer, but didn’t miss any games. Only time will tell how a shortened season will affect this NBA season.

Also check out: Boston Celtics @ New York Knicks — 10 a.m. Sunday on TNT.

Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Channel: ABC

Breakdown: While the two conference champions from last year battle in the earlier game, two playoff teams from a season ago lace up in Los Angeles.

The Bulls had the best record in the East last year and point guard Derrick Rose took home MVP honors. But, the Bulls couldn’t hang with the Heat in the conference finals, falling 4-1.

The Lakers suffered a similar fate in a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Mavericks in the conference semifinals. The Lakers are without legendary head coach Phil Jackson this season after he retired and Kobe Bryant suffered a wrist injury in the first preseason game, but the Lakers will look to make another championship push under new coach Mike Brown.

Also check out: Orlando Magic @ Oklahoma City Thunder — 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPN.

Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers

When: 6:20 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay

Channel: NBC

Breakdown: The Chicago Bears lost their starting quarterback and starting running back in the middle of a playoff push.

Now, losers of four straight, the Bears are on the cusp of being eliminated from playoff contention.

On the other side, the Packers are 13-1 and coming off their first loss of the season. A win (or San Francisco 49ers loss today) would wrap up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But, in this NFC North rivalry, nothing is given.

The Bears defense knows how to slow the Packers offense, so Chicago could keep postseason hopes alive and stifle the Packers chances of a No.1 seed.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

When: 4 p.m. Monday

Where: Xcel Energy Stadium, St. Paul, Minn.

Channel: Altitude

Breakdown: The Minnesota Wild are the breakout team of the first part of the 2011-12 NHL season.

The Wild are leading the Northwest division and are second in the Western Conference.

The Avalanche struggled in November but have seemed to bounce back so far in December. The Avalanche currently sit third in the Northwest division.

The two teams met Nov. 17, with the Wild pulling out a 1-0 victory.

Minnesota is fourth in the league with 2.1 goals allowed per game, so the Avalanche will need to figure out a way to get the puck past goalie Niklas Backstrom if they hope to leave with a win.

Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints

When: 6:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Channel: ESPN

Breakdown: The Saints have wrapped up a playoff spot and the Falcons could do so with a win.

An Atlanta win would also make the NFC South division title race come down to week 17.

The Saints beat the Falcons in week 10, 26-23, in overtime after Atlanta went for it on fourth down in their own territory.

New Orleans has won six straight and Atlanta has won four of their last five since falling to the Saints.

If the game wasn’t compelling enough, Saints quarterback Drew Brees can break Dan Marino’s 1984 single-season passing yards record of 5,084 yards with a 305-yard performance.

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