The Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to play on Christmas Day for the 22nd consecutive year Friday, but LeBron James expects a different experience for the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center.
“I've had the opportunity to play here on Christmas as a Laker and also as an opponent. It's a beautiful feeling being here, but it's not the same without the Laker faithful, without the fans, without celebrity row, without the bright lights,” James told reporters Thursday.
“It's just a totally different feeling. It's just strictly basketball, which is fine. But our game is entertainment as well. And when you're out there, you hope to entertain some people live as well. But we have to do it. Hopefully we know we're making a mark while they're watching the game.”
The Lakers announced on Nov. 11 that games at Staples Center would be played without fans until further notice because of the coronavirus pandemic, following “the guidance of state and local health officials.”
James is third on the career Christmas Day scoring list with 361 points. He needs to score 17 points to pass Oscar Robertson (377) for second place and 35 to pass Kobe Bryant (395) for first. James will be seeking his 10th victory on Christmas Day, tying the record set by retired Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, whose teams were 10-3 on Christmas Day.
James' teams are 9-5 on Christmas Day. Udonis Haslem also had the opportunity Friday to be credited with a 10th Christmas Day victory, but the 40-year-old power forward did not play in the Miami Heat's 111-98 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
One other player was on a winning team in nine Christmas Day games, Dick Van Arsdale, who was 1-2 as a guard with the New York Knicks in Christmas Day games from 1965-67 and 8-1 with the Phoenix Suns, who played a home game on Christmas Day annually from 1968-76, coinciding with their first nine seasons and his nine seasons with the team before retiring.
The Lakers have lost seven of their last 10 Christmas Day games, including a 111-106 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last Christmas. They are seeking to increase their NBA-record 23 Christmas Day victories, one more than the New York Knicks, who were idle Friday and did not play on Christmas Day last season either. The Lakers are 23-23 on Christmas Day.
The team has played on Christmas Day 46 times, second-most in NBA history behind the Knicks, who have played on Christmas Day 53 times. The last time the Lakers didn't play on Christmas Day was in 1998 when the owners' lockout of the players delayed the start of the season until February.
Dallas will be playing on Christmas Day for the first time since 2011 when it lost to James and the Heat, 105-94, in a rematch of the 2011 NBA Finals. The Mavericks are 2-1 on Christmas.
Both teams are trying to rebound from losses in their openers. Dallas lost 116-112 at Phoenix on Wednesday while the Lakers opened the season with a 116-109 loss to the Clippers Tuesday at Staples Center, in a game they never led.
After receiving their championship rings, the Lakers trailed 16-5 four minutes, three seconds into the game following an 8-0 run. The Lakers were outscored, 15-2, later in the quarter to trail 39-17, their biggest deficit.
The Lakers cut the lead to 56-54 at halftime and tied the score, 75- 75, with 5:04 left in the third quarter. The Clippers responded with a 14-3 run to lead 89-78 at the end of the third quarter. The closest the Lakers got in the fourth quarter was six, 96-90, with 9:01 to play.
“I wasn't totally unhappy with how we played,” coach Frank Vogel told reporters Thursday. “Obviously, it could be better in a lot of ways. It was one of those games where there was a lot of good defensive possessions by us where they made a tough shot and conversely I thought there were a lot of good offensive possessions by us where we missed the shot. “You're going to have games like that so I'm not overly concerned.”