The Christmas Day clash between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets will take place in extraordinary circumstances — with the two sides still feeling the impact of the NBA’s coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Over 10 players won’t feature in what was promising to be a mouth-watering clash between two NBA giants, at least when the league drew up the 2021 Christmas Day game schedule.
The Nets will turn up to Crypto.com Arena — in the venue’s new name’s debut — without the likes of Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kyrie Irving.
Meanwhile, the Lakers will have to cope without Kent Bazemore, Trevor Ariza, and Austin Reaves — who are ruled out because of the coronavirus — as well as Anthony Davis and Kendrick Nunn — who are still nursing their knee injuries.
But they will have Darren Collison and Stanley Johnson among the available players for the big game, who recently signed 10-day contracts with the Lakers.
And, the status of the latter should not change ahead of the clash. Johnson has already been in and out of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, preventing him from making a single appearance for the Chicago Bulls when they signed him to a 10-day deal earlier this season.
Perhaps the two veterans can provide LeBron James with the necessary support to improve the Lakers’ terrible form in recent games. James averaged 29.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists over 35.9 minutes on the floor in the last four outings.
But in the 12.1 minutes the 36-year-old All-Star was taking a well-deserved rest, L.A. registered a shocking offensive rating of 73.8 — and got outscored by 34.8 points per 100 possessions.
That translates into L.A. owning the worst net rating (-16.5), points per game average (100.5), and 3-point percentage (25.9) in the NBA during that stretch, explaining why they approach the game against the Nets on the back of a four-game losing streak.
However, Durant’s absence does provide the Lakers with a significant boost. Without the 33-year-old, the Nets’ field goal percentage drops from 46.4% to 40.8% and 3-point efficiency from 35.3% to 24.1%.
Brooklyn has lost two of the three games they played when Durant had a night off.
Neither the Lakers nor the Nets will be at full strength on Saturday night, making the fixture all the more unpredictable. But it can still be a magical night.
Johnson is finally poised to play a game for the Lakers, a team he used to cheer on as a young boy. And, James can surpass Kobe Bryant on the all-time Christmas scoring list, starting the game 12 points behind the late L.A. legend with 383.
In a way, the Christmas Day special between the Lakers and the Nets will be like a present we find under the Christmas tree — it’s not always what we expected it to be.
Nonetheless, it still feels special to receive it.
Lakers (16-16) vs. Nets (21-9)
5:00 p.m. PT, Dec. 25, 2021
Crytpo.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN/ABC, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Talen Horton-Tucker
SF: Wayne Ellington
PF: LeBron James
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, Jay Huff, Rajon Rondo, DeAndre Jordan, Darren Collison, Stanley Johnson
Projected Nets Starting Lineup:
PG: James Harden
SG: Patty Mills
SF: DeAndre’ Bembry
PF: Paull Millsap
C: Blake Griffin
Key Reserves: Jeveon Carter, Nic Claxton, Bruce Brown, James Ennis III