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Nets return to action against Lakers on Christmas Day

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San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

And just like that, we’re back! We haven’t seen the Brooklyn Nets since last Saturday as they’ve had their last three games postponed as COVID-19 protocols have been wreaking havoc. They’re still on top of the Eastern Conference and they hope that now reinforcements are coming in, they’ll stay there as they head into 2022 and beyond.

Awaiting the Nets for this Christmas Day bonanza will be the Los Angeles Lakers. In the big picture, it’s still early. However, that doesn’t mean much to the 2020 Champs these days. They suffered their fourth straight loss on Thursday night as the San Antonio Spurs smoked them by 28 points in LA. The Lakers still find themselves in sixth place in the Western Conference standings coming into this game, but their futures are pretty uncertain as they try to get things back on track.

Where to follow the game

ESPN and ABC on TV. WFAN on radio. This is a primetime affair so the party’s getting started after 8 PM.

Odds: The Lakers are 1.5 point favorites.

Injuries

Stay with me, y’all. The following players are out of COVID protocols and available tonight:

  • DeAndre Bembry
  • Bruce Brown
  • Jevon Carter
  • James Harden
  • James Johnson
  • Paul Millsap

The following are still in protocols and are not available:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • David Duke Jr
  • Kevin Durant
  • Kessler Edwards
  • Kyrie Irving
  • Cam Thomas
  • Day’ron Sharpe.

The following have never been in protocols and are available:

  • Patty Mills
  • Blake Griffin
  • Langston Galloway
  • Shaq Harrison
  • James Ennis III
  • Wenyen Gabriel

Joe Harris is out in non COVID injury news. Nicolas Claxton was dealing with a hand injury last week and is good to go tonight. A uniform note: Wenyen Gabriel will wear No. 34, the first time it’s been worn by a Brooklyn Net since Paul Pierce.

Anthony Davis is out with an MCL sprain. Kendrick Nunn is out with a right knee bone bruise. Kent Bazemore, Austin Reaves and Trevor Ariza are still in COVID protocols. Head coach Frank Vogel is in protocols as well. Malik Monk and Avery Bradley were cleared on Saturday and are available. The Lakers signed Darren Collison and Stanley Johnson on Friday.

The game

What’s in a name? Staples Center is officially a thing of the past as it was renamed to Crypto.com arena. Doesn’t roll off the tongue, but hey, give it time!

We’ll be seeing two new faces for the Lakers tonight. It was announced yesterday that the team signed Darren Collison and Stanley Johnson to ten day contracts and both are expected to play tonight. We’ll also say hello to an old friend as well. DeAndre Jordan gets a few minutes here and there, but center duties fall mostly to Dwight Howard and somebody else. More on that in a few.

Now that the roster is starting to fill up again, we’ll see how Steve Nash manages minutes. The week off hopefully did wonders for two of the Blue Collar Boys, Blake Griffin and Patty Mills. While the team dealt (and is dealing with) COVID, they stepped up and helped keep things running. The Nets are missing someone in Thomas (and others) that can get their own shot, so offense might be tough to come by. Mills gets to slide down a role on the offensive responsibility scale, so that might help get him back on track from three point range after he only went 2-14 from downtown last Saturday.

Prior to the start of the season, friend of the site, Juanita Anderson of the Triple Threat Pod (and now Swish Appeal!), broke down the Lakers for us. Give it a read!

If there’s any positive to all of the roster upheaval caused by COVID, it’s that it’s given guys we counted out a chance to make it back to the bright lights. After his debut with the Lakers last week, Isaiah Thomas spoke about his journey back to the NBA and said:

“They really cheered for me, and this is an away game. Those moments mean more to me than anything, because people respect what I do, people respect the grind I’m on. Me being 5-foot-9 helps. I’m a normal person’s height. People cheer for me because of that.”

When you do right by people and never give up, good things are bound to happen.

One issue for the Lakers this year has been their penchant to turn the ball. LA is 26th in turnover rate and if they get sloppy with the ball tonight, it will give the Nets opportunities for some much needed easy baskets. With the way the Lakers roster is set up, they need to make the most out of every possession possible.

Russell Westbrook has been better as of late, but he still has room to improve. His turnovers are at the highest rate of his career, his three point shooting still isn’t where you’d like it to be, and while the Lakers play at the fastest pace in the NBA this year, their offense is a shocking 27th in offensive efficiency. A lot of that is due to the lineups that they’ve run out there as there isn’t the optimal level of spacing you need to succeed, but when you have Hall of Famers on the squad, you’ve got to make it work. No excuses.

Player to watch: LeBron James

Simply put, LeBron James is one of the greatest players to ever grace a basketball court. He’s done practically everything and accomplished everything humanly possible as an athlete and he heads into his 37th birthday in a few days, is still doing everything he can to need to win. Even in a down year, he gives you 27/7/7 on super efficient shooting from the field in 36 minutes a night. His latest job is playing center, and like everything else he does, is looking pretty damn solid. Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer has more:

But he does need more help than he’s used to. The older LeBron gets, the more spacing he needs. Playing LeBron at the 5 is Frank Vogel’s version of a controlled experiment. It hasn’t happened much this season (84 minutes) and the early returns have been mixed (net rating of minus-1.3). The key is that LeBron’s individual offensive numbers are up in those lineups while the Lakers defense has remained consistent. That’s impressive considering that he’s no longer a great rebounder and doesn’t have much experience as the sole rim protector on the floor.

The other benefit is that it could actually relieve some of the pressure on his body. It’s not the same league he joined in 2003. There aren’t many old-school bruisers roaming the paint. Most second-unit centers aren’t bigger than LeBron. Nor does he have to expend energy chasing smaller players around the perimeter in this new role. The best way for him to stay healthy is to remain on the ground and use his size on defense instead of running and leaping. Playing in the air is a young man’s game. LeBron can’t sprain his ankle if he rarely jumps in the first place.

With Davis out, James has had to do more and like Kevin Durant, isn’t worrying about high minute totals. These dudes love to play the game and as fans, seeing them night after night is a privilege.

In a perfect world, we would’ve gotten Bron at center vs. the Nets with KD at center tonight. Maybe at the rematch at the Clays on January 25th. In the meantime, I need my man to not fly too close to the anti vax sun. I keep trying to tell y’all, man.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen James Harden. When he last played, he had an excellent game against the Atlanta Hawks as he helped the Nets to victory. Now that he’s out of protocols, he’ll be the focal point of the Nets offense and the person the Lakers focus the most on. The last time he had a solo outing, he had one of his worst games of the season against the Houston Rockets. We’re not sure if he’ll be on a minutes restriction or anything like that, but with him back, it gives the Nets a superstar to run things while the rest of the cavalry makes their way.

From the Vault

Have a merry Mamba Christmas!

More reading: Silver Screen and Roll

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