Of all the teams at the NBA’s disposal to share the huge Christmas Day stage with the defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers, the league decided to give that prestigious honor to the Dallas Mavericks.
So when the Mavs (0-1) face the Lakers (0-1) on Christmas Day at 7 p.m. at Staples Center in Los Angeles — it’s one of five NBA games televised nationally on Friday — it is not something the Mavs take lightly.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” coach Rick Carlisle said following Thursday’s practice in LA. “We talked about that with the team today. To be the featured game is a very big privilege.
“It’s the world champs coming off a game where they didn’t play their best, so we know that the challenge is going to be steep. But we’re coming off a game where we didn’t play our best either, so we’re going to have to do a lot of things better ourselves.”
This is the fourth time in their 41-year history that the Mavs have played on Christmas. In the three previous Christmas Day games, the Mavs won road games at the Sacramento Kings, 111-103, in 2003, and at Portland, 102-94, in 2008. In their only time hosting a Christmas Day game, they lost to Miami, 105-94, in 2011, a little over six months after defeating the Heat in six games to win their only title.
Obviously, a lot of eyes will be focused on Friday’s game since it will be televised nationally both on ABC and ESPN. Even more eyes will be trained on the marquee players – Mavs superstar point guard Luka Doncic and Lakers superstar forwards LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
All three players were named first-team all-NBA last season. So to have all three under one roof on Christmas Day is a bonus for the millions of fans who undoubtedly will be watching across the world.
“He’s already one of the faces of the NBA,” Carlisle said of Doncic. “If you haven’t noticed he’s in almost all of the NBA ads.
“I’ve seen him on some billboards that aren’t in the state of Texas, and I think he’s a great ambassador for the NBA game.”
In the Mavs’ season-opening 106-102 loss at Phoenix on Wednesday, Doncic had 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists. And the bigger the stage, the more he seems to rise to the occasion.
“He has the charisma, he has the game, and he has the following,” Carlisle said. “He’s got an amazing future ahead of him, but also a lot going on right now.
“He’s one of the few 21-year old that I can imagine that actually has the bandwidth to deal with all these different things.”
Speaking of things being different, in regard to COVID-19, Carlisle said: “There’s just a different set of protocols in the state of California. We were able to be here at Staples (on Thursday), socially distanced with masks in the facility with the team. Tomorrow we’ll do a virtual meeting in the morning and then we’ll get ready to play. This is all happening very, very quickly.
“One of the things we’re finding is as you go from state-to-state, venue-to-venue, there are some differences in the rules and regulations. We just got to constantly be nimble and adjust.”
That includes the Mavs making the necessary adjustments when getting ready to play Christmas’ prime-time NBA game – with their families back in Dallas.
“California has the tightest regulations of anybody in the country, so we’re actually not allowed to leave the hotel,” Carlisle said. “We’ll all do Christmas virtually with our families either over Face Time or Zoom.”
Actually, Mavs forward/center Maxi Kleber of Germany got a leg up on his teammates when it came to celebrating Christmas.
“In Germany we celebrate Christmas on the 24th (of December), so I was spending the time today face timing with my family and sharing the time with them,” Kleber said. “Here (in Los Angeles) it’s on complete lockdown, so we have to follow the rules here, obviously. As soon as we get on the court I hope we can celebrate it there as a team.”
While watching NBA games on Christmas is a longstanding ritual in America, Kleber said in Germany: “I never got to really watch one because usually around the time I was either home with my family or we had practice in the morning because we were playing soon afterwards ourselves. But it’s a big deal, it’s a big stage and obviously we’re hyped about playing on Christmas Day.”
The Mavs know the Lakers will be extra hyped since they lost their season-opener at home on Tuesday to the team they share Staples Center with – the Clippers – 116-109, despite 22 points from James and 18 points from Davis. No team wants to fall into an 0-2 hole in the ultra-rugged Western Conference.
“We’ve got to play better than we did (Wednesday) night,” Carlisle said. “It appeared that we were defending well because we were able to keep (the Suns) somewhere in the 100 (point) range and we had some quarters that were in the mid to low 20s. We made a lot of errors that we tried to get cleaned up.
“Look, the Lakers are the world champions, they’re extremely talented, they’ve got two of the greatest players on the planet with James and Davis, and a great supporting cast. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a challenge that you love. Again, the opportunity to play on Christmas Day in a featured game is a very big privilege.”
Even if in the midst of a pandemic and in a game where fans are not allowed to be in attendance.
“It’ll be a different kind of Christmas, but we’ll all remember the circumstances and how important it was to be resourceful and to adjust to difficult times,” Carlisle said. “We still get to do the thing we love the most, which is play and coach NBA basketball.”