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Lakers' LeBron James Says It's an 'Honor' to Play on Christmas amid Injuries, COVID

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVDecember 24, 2021

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said it's still an "honor" to play in one of the NBA's Christmas Day games despite injuries and COVID-19 absences depleting many rosters around the league.

James explained Saturday's matchup with the Brooklyn Nets probably won't match some of his past Christmas games, highlighted by the memorable 2016 encounter between his Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, but that won't take away from the spectacle.

"It's always exciting and an honor to be able to play on Christmas," the four-time NBA MVP told reporters after Thursday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs (1:40 mark of video):

The Lakers enter the Christmas game on a four-game losing streak. They're without Anthony Davis because of a knee injury and had five players on the list for the NBA's COVID-19 health and safety protocols as of Thursday.

Brooklyn has 10 players on the COVID list and had its last three games postponed. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who's working toward a return for road games after sitting out the beginning of the season because of a team decision based on his unvaccinated status, are among the players in the protocols.

It's possible players from both teams test out of the protocols before the 8 p.m. ET Saturday start, but neither team will be at full strength and it won't have the look of a potential NBA Finals preview as was expected when the schedule was released.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said Thursday he didn't expect any further additions off the reserve list but noted the team will have "enough to play" despite the difficult circumstances.

"We had to shut everything down just out of precaution," Nash said. "But once we got back to a cadence, healthy guys could do one-on-zero workouts but no group workouts. It basically just started up yesterday, and today, guys are back on the court. And in isolation. It's tricky. We haven't been able to do a lot, but we do what we can and we will continue to adapt as the rules and mandates come in."

The surge of COVID-19 cases around the league has led teams to sign scores of G League players and veterans who've been out of the league for a while to fill out their rosters.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN's Malika Andrews on Tuesday there's an "amount of unfairness" with teams having to play without key players, but he noted the league doesn't think bringing a halt to the 2021-22 season is the way to go.

"No plans right now to pause the season," Silver said. "We have of course looked at all the options, but frankly we are having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now."

The NBA's annual five-game Christmas Day slate is one of the league's marquee events each year, so trying to keep it intact amid the rise in coronavirus cases was a priority. So far all five contests are scheduled to move forward as planned.

L.A. and Brooklyn are set to tip off on ABC. It'll be the first game at the newly renamed Crypto.com Arena.

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