Even as COVID-19 has ravaged both teams and threatened one of the NBA's marquee games, the Lakers still see it as "an honor" to play the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day.
The show must, and will, go on, providing available stars and role players a chance to perform on the stage that is now officially the Crypto.com Arena after 22 years being named the Staples Center.
The most common phrase in the league is "the NBA's health and safety protocols," which has left both teams depleted and unsure of what the level of play will be when they meet as two of the early-season favorites to win the NBA championship.
"It's a game that both teams want to win, no matter the circumstances," LeBron James said Thursday night after a loss to San Antonio. "Is it going to be one of the premier games I'm accustomed to playing in on Christmas? No. So many guys are out. This whole protocol thing has gotten the worst of a lot of teams in our league right now. So, it won't be as star-studded as I've been.
"I think I've played in probably the best Christmas Day game ever. Us versus Golden State in Cleveland was a monster game and I've been here for a few games at Staples as well versus Kobe [Bryant] and those Laker teams. But it's always exciting and an honor to be able to play on Christmas, for sure."
The protocols have taken out Lakers coach Frank Vogel, guards Avery Bradley, Austin Reaves, Malik Monk and Kent Bazemore, and forward Trevor Ariza. Plus All-Star forward Anthony Davis is out for the next four weeks because of a sprained ligament in his left knee.
The Nets had their last three games postponed because they didn't have the league's required eight eligible players.
They got star guard James Harden back and he will play against the Lakers after clearing the health and safety protocols.
But star forward Kevin Durant and star guard Kyrie Irving, who just rejoined the team for games outside of New York, are two of the seven Nets in the health and safety protocols and unavailable for the Christmas Day game.
"Playing on Christmas is an honor. It's a blessing," Lakers guard Russell Westbrook said Thursday night. "You get a chance to be able to spend time with your family, which is more important, and then go do something you love to do - and that's play basketball regardless of who we're playing. To be able to play on Christmas is a blessing and I'm honored to be able to do so."
Since he hasn't "played on Christmas in a while," Dwight Howard said he's looking forward to the game.
"It's going to be great," the Lakers center said. "I know we got a lot of guys out, coach is out and we haven't been playing as well as we want to, but this is still a great time regardless of how basketball is right now. We still have each other and we have a lot to be thankful for. So, why not play?"
The Lakers have lost four straight games. They are 16-17 on the season and in sixth place in the Western Conference.
They have a lot of problems to solve, like taking care of the basketball, rebounding, being more consistent on offense and winning games.
Yet with so many players out, the Lakers are facing a big challenge every time they take the court.
"This is the unknown, obviously. You don't know," James said. "Like I've said, I said every year has its own challenges and this is another year where you literally have one guy one night and the next night you won't. You really don't know. It's up in the air. And we really just saw that in having TA [Ariza] last game, and we wake up this [Thursday] morning and they say TA is out.
"So, it's the unknown. It's literally a crap shoot every single time you take a test at this point - on who is negative and who is positive. You just got to see who is available and go from there."
The Lakers announced that they have signed point guard Darren Collison and forward Stanley Johnson to 10-day contracts using the NBA's hardship exception provisions.
Collison, 34, who starred at Etiwanda High and UCLA, worked out at the Lakers' practice facility last week and will be available for the Lakers when they meet the Nets, as will Johnson.
Collison returns after abruptly retiring following the 2019 season, citing family and religious reasons.
When: 5 p.m., Saturday
On the air: TV: ABC, ESPN; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: Kevin Durant leads the NBA in scoring (29.7 per game) and James Harden is second in assists (9.6). The Nets are 11th in the league in scoring (109.7) and seventh in field-goal percentage (46.4%). LeBron James is 12 points behind Kobe Bryant on the all-time Christmas Day scoring list.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.