If there was one game that received the most hype when the NBA schedule was first released, it just may have been this Christmas special between the Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets. It was expected to be an iconic battle between six All-Stars (who all have history with each other to varying degrees) and their very own juggernaut teams. It was supposed to be the crown jewel of the most prestigious day of the regular season.
But unfortunately, like in many aspects of our lives, COVID-19 (and injuries) has ruined this game for all of us.
Instead of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook against Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, we’ll be watching which team can best survive without their team intact on Christmas Day. The Lakers have been heavily depleted all week, and so are the Nets, who have yet to play a single game since Dec. 18 due to postponements caused by their own COVID outbreak.
Who’s going to play on Christmas Day? Well to be honest, it’s hard to tell right now given who’s in and out of the lineup for both squads every single game. The Nets landed in Los Angeles with 11 players available, specifically James Harden, Jevon Carter, Paul Milsap, Patty Mills, Blake Griffin, Shaq Harrison, James Ennis III, Langston Galloway, DeAndre Bembry and newly signed Wenyen Gabriel.
other than melo none of these guys are nba players pic.twitter.com/fnOJ4Apr4m— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) December 24, 2021
As for the Lakers, their injury report is probably longer than your wishlist for Christmas. James, Westbrook, Wayne Ellington, Carmelo Anthony, THT, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo, 10-day contract signee Isaiah Thomas, the newly acquired Darren Collison and Stanley Johnson, and their two-way players are the only ones available as of publishing time.
So, yeah, if you paid a gazillion bucks to watch this game live or planned your family time around this previously much-anticipated superstar showdown, then I’m so sorry for you.
However, what will likely happen is a recharged James Harden going nuclear on Christmas Day. Harden may be having a down year, but he’s still averaging 20.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 9.6 assists and is still capable of dominating any game, especially if there’s no defensive game plan for him. Another player to look out for is Patty Mills, who has been up and down so far this season but can still get hot at any given time.
And knowing the Lakers poor perimeter defense right now, it’s hard to rule out a masterclass from either player on Christmas Day.
By defensive rating, tonight was the Lakers' second-worst performance of the season, trailing only the 130-point drubbing at the hands of the Celtics on 11/19— Cooper Halpern (@CooperHalpern) December 24, 2021
If the Lakers’ defense has a repeat performance of Thursday’s loss to the Spurs, then there’s a good chance that Brooklyn leads the game from start to finish. This Nets team ranks seventh in the league in field goal percentage (46.4%), in large part because of Durant, but they still share the ball (seventh in the league in assists per game) and convert quality shots even without their superstar.
Again, the Lakers’ defense has to be better than it has over the past couple of games in order to at least stay afloat on Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, on offense, the Lakers will need more production from anyone not named LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. The Lakers’ bench was outscored 69-20 vs. the Spurs on Thursday. It’s a little crazy to say that James and Westbrook need more help given that both superstars consume half of the roster’s total cap space, but players out due to injuries and the health and safety protocols — especially Anthony Davis being sidelined with an MCL sprain — have just left too many holes in the rotation, gaps not even both All-Stars can cover for.
It would be nice for Ellington to finally have a decent shooting night after struggling to score more than 10 points in the past four games. Maybe this is the game THT finally gets his groove back and scores more than 15 points for the first time since he was out due to health and safety protocols. This is also a game Howard should start once again and own the paint, because there is no one on the Nets that should be able to keep up with his physicality.
And hopefully Carmelo plays like he did vs. the Lakers in Christmas 2012, and actually contributes more points than fouls on Saturday. Even if that classic effort is probably too high a bar, the point is that the Lakers desperately need more from their role players.
It’s difficult to anticipate how this Nets team will look like on Christmas Day just because this will be their first game in six days and they likely won’t have Durant (who’s carried them all season). But still, the Lakers should at least show some fight and look to end their four-game losing skid against a team that’s as COVID-ravaged as them. Hopefully the Basketball Gods give the purple and gold a W as a Christmas present this year. Because this team (and it’s fans) need something to be happy about after how the past four games have gone.
Notes and Updates
- As of publishing time, the Lakers are one-point underdogs against the Nets for their Christmas Day matchup, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
- Anthony Davis (MCL sprain) is out for the next several weeks at least.
- The Lakers signed Darren Collison and Stanley Johnson to 10-day hardship deals.
- Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton, who was sidelined due to a wrist injury in the past few weeks, will be ready to go tomorrow.
- Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Austin Reaves and Malik Monk, who are all still in the health and safety protocols, are out. You can see the latest on who is in and who is out in our tracker.
- For the Nets, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, James Johnson, Day’Ron Sharpe, Bruce Brown, Cam Thomas and Kessler Edwards are all out due to health and safety protocols as well.
- Speaking of health and safety protocols, the NBA is at around 100 COVID-19 cases as of right now. Commissioner Adam Silver has mentioned that there are no plans of suspending the season any time soon.
As of right now, the Lakers and Nets will tip-off their Christmas showdown at 5 p.m. PT. What was once a very much anticipated game before COVID-19 and injuries took over will still be nationally televised on ABC and ESPN.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.