First off, Merry Christmas to those that observe the holiday, a Happy Holidays to those that are celebrating a different one, and happy Wednesday to the rest of you. At least, I hope, you have a day off and are with some family and enjoying a good meal with a libation (or two) of your choice.
The Lakers are back in action as they always are on this holiday, hosting the powerhouse Heat. I’m past complaining about the Lakers playing on this day — I understand why they’re always scheduled and while I wish they’d get the holiday off just once, I know it’s not happening anytime soon. That said, this day is always one of travel and family time for me and while basketball will always play a big part in that, it will still just be a part. Just like the gifts and catching up with those that are close to me are a part of this day.
In any event, today a game will be played and I’ll be watching. As mentioned at the top, the Heat are visiting and while they have the advantage of being the better team they also have the advantage of being the visiting team. I’ve always thought the home team was at a distinct disadvantage on the Christmas day games. Most of these players have families and commitments outside of basketball and while getting on the court to play this game is their job and livelihood it must be balanced against the rest of what is going on in their lives. Those things require time and attention just like the game-plan and while the visiting team has those commitments as well, it’s a different equation when you’re on the road where your family and the gifts and all that come with this day are probably in a different place.
This isn’t to say the home team doesn’t have some variables working in their favor. They are, after all, playing a home game. Their home crowd will be supporting them and they get all the other comforts and familiarities of home with them. If the Lakers have one thing going for them in this game, it’s that. They are a much better team at home than they are on the road and part of that is due to the fact that they rely heavily on role players to perform at their absolute best to win games. Today will be no different in that several of the Henry, Johnson, Meeks, Young, Williams, Hill, and Farmar group will need to play at a high level if the team is supposed to win.
Speaking of Farmar, yes, he will be back for the first time since tearing his hamstring in early December. Mike D’Antoni said he will play the point guard in “bursts” of minutes to account for Farmar’s conditioning (or lack thereof), but whatever minutes he can give will be a major plus. Not necessarily because I expect him to be sharp in his first game back in nearly a month, but simply because he can soak up minutes at a key position that the Lakers have been filling with guys who are not really comfortable playing that spot. When Farmar is in the game — and he will start the game — every Laker flanking him will slide back into a more normal role and can concentrate on what he does best. Young, Meeks, and Henry won’t have to bring the ball up and initiate the offense and can go back to simply looking to score. Hill, Sacre, and Kaman can return to simply setting screens and diving hard to the rim rather than being guys who have to be playmakers from the high or low post. And on and on it goes.
Ultimately though, what this game will come down to isn’t really about Farmar but more about whether or not the entire team has it in them to play up to the level that the Heat will surely bring. I don’t need to get into what Miami does well or how they do it — they are the defending champs and have the best player in the league as a pillar of their attack on both sides of the ball. They will be ready to compete and would like nothing more than to put on a show for the national TV audience while dispatching the Lakers at the same time. The Lakers, then, will need to play their best basketball just to keep the game close and then need to take their respective games to an even higher level if they hope to win. The odds of them doing this are low (especially when accounting for the strengths of their opponent), but this is why they play the game.
In the end, I hope the team can achieve this, but I won’t let it ruin my day if it doesn’t happen. Like I said at the top, this game will always matter to me, but it’s one part of a day that matters to me for more reasons than being able to watch my favorite team play a game. With that in mind, enjoy this game as best you can and maybe at the end we’ll have the gift of victory. That would make this holiday especially sweet.