The Los Angeles Lakers played in front of NBA fans — and not just permitted family members — for the first time since last March in their back-to-back matchup with the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center.
Even though the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still ravages the U.S. and other countries around the world, NBA teams can let spectators inside their arenas during the 2020-21 season if infection rates in their markets allow them to do so safely. The arenas, however, can operate at a significantly reduced capacity.
The Rockets are among the few teams that decided to host fans right from the start of the season and have been averaging more than 3,000 spectators per home game. And even though the stands of the 18,000-seater were just partly filled, Lakers players noticed the difference in atmosphere as they cruised toward two dominant victories over Houston.
“From the beginning of the game guys were energized and ready to go,” Montrezl Harrell said after the 120-102 win on Jan. 10. “The layup lines were crazy, guys were doing spectacular dunks. I think the guys were ready for the energy. It’s something we haven’t had in a while, so to see it, I think guys were just ready to go and it fired us up even more.”
LeBron James seemed encouraged by the crowd to the extend he showed off his showmanship skills during the second clash with the Rockets. The 36-year-old stood with his back facing the court as his no-look corner 3 swished through the net in the second quarter of the 117-100 win. The play then turned out to be a result of a spur-of-the-moment bet with Dennis Schroder.
James said he was happy to see fans at Toyota Center, admitting he missed the noisy NBA crowds. That was evidenced by his looking into the empty stands after making a 3-pointer against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Me playing the game that I love to play, along with the fans, it’s something I dream about all the time,” he said. “Even when I’m on the floor, just try to let them know that we miss them. That was one of those moments.”
Schroder’s family kept him company in Houston before the NBA changed their health and safety protocols, and their presence is a longstanding tradition for him.
“I’ve been doing it my whole career,” Schroder explained. “For me, when my family is there, I give 10% more. It’s always like 110 or 120% because they’re supporting me.
“They’re lifting me up. It was great to even have fans. They were Houston fans, but it was great to have that feeling again. Especially with my family there.”
Lakers break franchise record for best road start to begin season
Regardless of the size of the crowd away from Staples Center — or lack thereof — the Lakers remain unbeaten on the road following the 128-99 win over the Thunder.
Having swept the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and Rockets, L.A. approached the showdown with Oklahoma City with an impeccable 6-0 record, tying the number of most consecutive road victories to begin a season in franchise history.
The Lakers then broke the record following the decisive win over the Thunder that coincided with Schroder’s return to Oklahoma City, where he played in his last two NBA seasons.
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