When LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the then-new-look Lakers went to Dallas last year to face Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, they were still searching for their first signature win of the season. Yes, they had won their last three games heading into that one, but their opening night loss to the Clippers wasn’t done following them around — sound familiar? — and none of their victories had been against particularly impressive-looking opponents.
That all changed in their showdown against the Mavericks, however. James and Doncic dueled down the wire in front of a national TV audience, and the Lakers needed a game-tying shot from Danny Green to send the contest into overtime, where Davis and James took over. Davis ended the game with 31 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks, while James had a 39-point, 16-assist, 12-rebound triple-double with four steals to push back against Doncic, nipping at his heels with a 31-point, 15-assist and 13-rebound triple-double of his own. It was one of the most fun and exhilarating regular season games of the year for the Lakers, and the first glimpse of how special this team could look when both of its stars were clicking.
It should be no surprise, then, that the NBA decided to schedule James vs. Doncic as one of its Christmas Day games this year, an opportunity for them to have another fun matchup as the league signals that it’s preparing for Doncic’s eventual reign by showing the possible future MVP against the man who still calls himself King, even if no one is adding the #Washed modifier ahead of the title anymore after he led the Lakers to their 17th championship last season.
But aside from the far-reaching implications of this game philosophically in terms of what it tells us about how much the league believes Doncic is for real, and for as much as LeBron vs. Luka is always a duel to be excited about, there are very real reasons to watch this game for current reasons, too. Just like last year, the Lakers could really use a win here.
Both of these teams will be coming into this game searching for their first victory of the season, the Lakers after a disappointing loss on ring night, and the Mavericks after an underwhelming performance from Doncic as they dropped their own season-opener. James tweaked his ankle in the Lakers’ defeat, but he says he’ll be good to go on Christmas Day, surely leading to sighs of relief from the league office during a week when they haven’t gotten much good news, considering that this game is the most anticipated one on the Christmas Day slate.
And if the Lakers start the season 0-2, it won’t be time to panic by any means, but it will force this team to really look at itself and make sure it can right the ship sooner rather than later, because as much as a playoff berth is pretty much a shoo-in and seeding may not matter a ton, the purple and gold surely don’t want to drop too far in the standings right off the bat. And for the Mavericks, whose roster gives them a bit less wiggle room, they also are likely extremely motivated to not drop a second game in a row in a loaded Western Conference.
But both these teams can’t win. Something will have to give. Someone will be getting a lump of coal on Christmas, and neither side will be gifting their opponent a W for the holidays. The Mavericks need to get Doncic going, and the Lakers will have to get more organized on defense — especially when defending pick and rolls, Luka’s bread and butter — in Game 2 if they want to stop that from happening.
Which side will get what they want? Just like any presents you’re wondering about the contents of under the tree, you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow to figure out the answer. Try not to stay up all night in anticipation.
Notes and Updates
- LeBron James and Frank Vogel both spoke a bit about the Lakers’ process going into tomorrow’s game and a variety of other topics after their Christmas Eve practice. Here is a short summary of some of the things they said from myself and our own Alex Regla (the latter of whom you should definitely follow on Twitter).
LeBron confirms his ankle is good to go for tomorrow.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 24, 2020
"I've never missed a Christmas Day game, so I don't plan on missing one tomorrow."
LeBron James on his ankle: "I'll be ready to go tomorrow. I have never missed a Christmas game."— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 24, 2020
Vogel hints that the Lakers will be more cautious with little injuries LeBron picks up this year as a result of the short turnaround/expedited season, but says this ankle thing isn't that big of a deal.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 24, 2020
"It's mild enough that he's going to be good to go."
Vogel also added the Lakers will likely throw multiple defenders/bodies on Luka throughout the game.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 24, 2020
Vogel, on the Mavericks, who he says have "one of the best coaches in the league" and one of the best players in Luka.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) December 24, 2020
"I definitely consider them one of the top teams in the West."
Frank Vogel cited the Mavericks' historic offensive rating and Luka's development in year 3 as reasons for Dallas being one of the best teams in the Western Conference.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 24, 2020
Here is LeBron's full quote when asked about the skills that both impress him the most, and he admires. pic.twitter.com/jMfWqJfl7F— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 24, 2020
General theme from Lakers' players and coaches I have gotten thus far during media availability has been patience, and treating each game as another chance to grow and gel with one and other.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) December 24, 2020
Here is LeBron on Dennis Schröder and Montrezl Harrell from this morning: pic.twitter.com/l6oMJcviO5
And for an X’s and O’s breakdown of what went wrong on opening night and how it can get better, my friend Coach Pete has you covered in this thread:
Thread of some of the def mistakes we made vs LAC:— Laker Film Room (@LakerFilmRoom) December 24, 2020
PG was on fire & Lue did well to take advantage of his gravity. PG gets separation from KCP here, so Trez steps out to help on him.
Zu dives to the basket as soon as PG runs past him, & AC is a step late in helping the helper. pic.twitter.com/aW4xpuZwX7
- In other preview news, Marc Gasol is motivated to try and bounce back after a disappointing first regular season game in purple and gold. Getting him going would be a big boon for the Lakers’ chances tomorrow.
- Our friends over at SB Nation took a look back at one of the most legendary Christmas Day games ever. Check it out if you’re feeling nostalgic.
The Lakers and Mavericks will tip off tomorrow, on Christmas Day, at 5:00 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on both ABC and ESPN nationally. And happy holidays from Silver Screen and Roll everyone, no matter what you celebrate.