Listen, we already know one major element will be missing. Anthony Davis will be sitting on the Lakers’ bench in civvies Thursday night, waiting out a calf injury. We’ll find out soon enough if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will take part in the festivities, depending on whether they hop onto the layup line.
And you know something?
It won’t really matter when the Nets and the Lakers take the floor at Staples Center, because there are some games in the course of a long season that are simply required viewing, even if it’ll take a few extra cups of coffee to make it for the duration, even if the marquee isn’t likely to sparkle as brightly as we’d hoped.
Thursday night, we get Nets and Lakers for the first of two scheduled games this year and, with a little luck, perhaps as many as nine.
Neither team will enter with the best record in its respective conference — out west, that’s still the Jazz, and back east, it’s still the 76ers. But the deeper we get into this season, the more that all feels beside the point. In many ways, these teams are mirror images staring at each other from 3,000 miles away, teams whose regular seasons will be little more than rough drafts of what we’ll see come spring, when things really begin to matter.
Davis is out for the Lakers, and you have to believe that even if LeBron James is resistant to being monitored by the Minutes Police, there will be games in March and April he’ll be asked to skip. We have already seen that the Nets have little problem forging onward when any of their Big 3 needs a night or two off.
So maybe that means the Jazz or the Clippers will hit the 72-game tape before the Lakers do. Maybe that means that the Sixers or the Bucks will do that in the East, or that the Celtics will start putting it together. The beauty of the way the Nets and Lakers are built is that they are both seed-proof.
Good luck beating LeBron and AD when you really need to.
Good luck beating KD and Kyrie and James Harden when you really need to, regardless of locale, regardless of how many people are inside a building. Whatever hardships and roadblocks these teams encounter now are designed to make them impervious to such things in May and June. You bet against a Nets-Lakers Finals at your own peril. And that will be all business.
This? This should be fun, no matter who plays and who doesn’t. Brooklyn versus Los Angeles is a state-of-mind rivalry that exists primarily in the souls and the hearts of older fans born before 1950, who still harbor resentment for the Dodgers skipping town, for Walter O’Malley choosing Chavez Ravine over Flatbush Avenue, and for the heirs of those angst-ridden times. But it’s about to get a brand-new chapter, a basketball chapter.
That starts Thursday.
“Playing the Lakers is obviously a tremendous challenge,” Nets coach Steve Nash said Tuesday night, after the Nets had finished off a thrilling 128-124 comeback win at Phoenix that was probably their most satisfying win of the year, given an early 24-point hole and the absence of Durant and Irving.
“We know who they have over there. We know how well they’re coached and what they’ve been able to do in the last year or so. So it’s a great test for us. You load the guys up and be ready to go and try to keep getting better.”
Said Harden, who was at his MVP-caliber best against the Suns, piling up 38 points and 11 assists: “I don’t think it’s who were playing, I think it’s about us. We are trying to build something within ourselves and as a unit. I think no matter who we’re playing, no matter who is in the game for us or our opponent, we have to have that mindset and we’ve had it.”
The long season demands a game like this every now and again. You know the Nets have LeBron’s attention, and you know the defending champs, even missing one of their legs, would love to send a loud message. The Nets? As well as they’ve played recently, they’re still the ones who need to prove they really do belong in this conversation.
The eye test says they absolutely do. Those eyes ought to be glued to Staples Center on Thursday. This will be a fun one.