The Nets’ nationally televised Christmas Day game against the Lakers at renamed Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles is on. James Harden, one of their Big 3, will take part while Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving remain out in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
In short, Nets (21-9) at Lakers (16-17) will be a reflection of these COVID-19-infected times. Nets coach Steve Nash said on Friday that DeAndre’ Bembry tested out of protocols and will be available against the Lakers along with Harden, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter, all of whom previously exited the protocols.
According to the calendar, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bruce Brown and James Johnson were due to come out of the NBA’s 10-day quarantine on Friday, but Nash said none of those three will be available against the Lakers. Nash said previously injured Nic Claxton (left wrist soreness) will be available.
That means the Nets will have 11 healthy bodies to satisfy the eight-man NBA minimum roster requirement.
Based on precedent earlier this season, the starting lineup likely will include Claxton at center, Blake Griffin and Bembry at the forward spots and Harden and Patty Mills in the backcourt. The bench should include Carter, Millsap and free agents Langston Galloway, James Ennis, Shaquille Harrison and Wenyen Gabriel, all of whom are on 10-day contracts to supplement the roster.
"We just do the best we can," Nash said Friday after a brief practice to prepare for the Lakers. "We’ve got a lot of guys coming off an extended break. Nobody’s in great condition, so we have to manage the group, try to be as competitive as possible and, at the same time, be careful.
"Guys coming out and playing the game after an absence like this is tricky. We will do what we can. A lot of these decisions are still to be made before the game, during the game, as the game goes on. We just have to be very fluid and adaptable and [have] a great attitude and take it as an opportunity."
The Nets’ past three games were postponed because they could not meet the minimum eight-player requirement, including home games against the Nuggets on Sunday and Wizards on Tuesday plus a road game at Portland on Thursday. But they are up to speed to resume their scheduled games against the Lakers and the Clippers on Monday in Los Angeles.
Griffin suffered a knee injury against the Magic last Saturday night, but the extra rest allowed him time to go against the Lakers. Nash said he is ready to go. The Lakers got Dwight Howard and Talen Horton-Tucker out of the protocols but still suffered a shocking 28-point loss to the Spurs on Thursday. Kent Bazemore, Austin Reaves and coach Frank Vogel remain in the protocols for the Lakers.
As far as the Nets go, the absence of Durant and Irving, both of whom entered the protocols last Saturday, is huge. Irving has missed every game this season after refusing to be vaccinated to comply with the New York City mandate.
The Nets said on Oct. 12 that they didn’t want him to be a part-time player, but they have decided to let him return on a part-time basis because of their manpower shortage. He tested positive for COVID the first day back, which put him in a 10-day quarantine that ends Tuesday.
That doesn’t mean he will enter the lineup right away. The next game for which he is eligible is Jan. 5 at Indiana.
"He needs a ramp-up, so we won’t see Kyrie on this [Los Angeles] trip," Nash said. "I don’t know what the rule change will be or how it will affect us, but anything is possible and we’ll see when the time comes.''