Christmas can be expensive, something the Los Angeles Lakers know all too well.
LeBron James, injured on a Christmas Day at Golden State, will miss his 11th consecutive game on Sunday, this one against his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the Lakers play host to a Sunday night matchup in Los Angeles.
After James injured his groin, his team has been predictably lost without him. The Lakers did roll to a victory in that game in the Bay Area but have struggled ever since.
The Lakers are just 3-7 without their superstar, as well as the absence of backup point guard Rajon Rondo, who has been out for the same length of time with a finger injury. James was averaging 27.3 points per game, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists before he was injured when his leg stretched awkwardly as he tried to reach for a loose ball.
But a matchup with the Cavs, and the potential return of James as early as Thursday's game at Oklahoma City, have the Lakers feeling optimistic. They are 23-20 and firmly in the playoff hunt with the All-Star Game approaching next month.
"To me that's exciting, that opportunity of, 'Hey, we're in this dogfight and we've had great moments and we've had awful moments,'" upbeat head coach Luke Walton said this week, per ESPN. "Like we've said, we've got a lot to learn about ourselves still and that we've got a lot of room for growth and I think our team will accept that challenge and opportunity and we'll have a good end of the season."
If the Lakers' issues without James were easy to predict, the Cavaliers' struggles without their hometown hero were even less surprising. James was a Cleveland fixture both while emerging on the basketball scene and in two separate stints with the Cavs, leaving via free agency this past offseason.
Cleveland is a miserable 8-35 this season and will arrive in Los Angeles on a 12-game losing streak, the most recent on Friday at Houston, when the Cavs were smothered 141-113 by the Rockets. It was the second consecutive game Cleveland has given up at least 140 points.
"I don't know; I don't know what we have right now, to be perfectly honest with you," Cavs coach Larry Drew said about the defense Friday. "I think what we do have, we're going to continue to try to challenge these guys every game we play. Hopefully we can come up with better numbers. I'm kind of a realist when it comes to that. I take what we have and try to make it work."
As of Saturday, the Cavs' 113.7 points per game allowed was still better than seven other teams, but their point differential of minus-11 was worst among all 30 teams. And in six games in the new year, they have given up a whopping 128.5 per game.
Those are good signs for the Lakers, who know they could use a victory. After Cleveland comes to town, the Lakers will play host to the Bulls then head out on a road trip that goes to Oklahoma City, Houston and Golden State. The trip would be challenging enough, even with James.
Other than injuries to James and Rondo, the Lakers' Michael Beasley is day-to-day with a hand injury. Kevin Love (toe), John Henson (wrist) and J.R. Smith (undisclosed) remain out indefinitely for Cleveland. Former Laker Larry Nance Jr. is day-to-day for the Cavs with a knee injury, as is David Nwaba (ankle).
--Field Level Media