If all goes according to plan for both teams next season, the Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers could have a real rivalry for the first time since LeBron James took his talents to Southern California in 2018.
Golden State and LA have traded good and bad seasons over the last two years, but the revitalized Warriors seem primed to challenge for the defending champion Lakers' crown. The NBA seems inclined to agree, as ESPN's Brian Windhorst said Monday he expects the Warriors and Lakers to play on Christmas next season.
"I think the game that you will see as the centerpiece game [on Christmas] will be Warriors-Lakers. The reason [for] that is not only do you bring Steph Curry and Klay Thompson back ... but also you're gonna have -- unless the Warriors make a big trade -- a top-three pick in this draft to be displayed, possibly in his first game. It could be James Wiseman's first game, in addition to the defending champion Lakers. That's a delicious matchup."
The Warriors and Lakers played on Christmas in 2018, but their merry matchup essentially marked the end of LA's title aspirations that season. Although the Lakers won, James injured his groin and he missed all but 21 of LA's 58 remaining games after that point.
With Anthony Davis alongside him, James and the Lakers returned to contention last season, outlasting the Miami Heat in a six-game series to win the franchise's 17th championship. LA did so last month on the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus just outside of Orlando, Fla., while Golden State's season had been over for about seven months.
Steph Curry missed all but five games with a broken hand and Klay Thompson missed the entirety of the season as he recovered from a torn ACL sustained in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and the Warriors limped to a 15-50 record before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus in March. Golden State was not one of 22 teams invited to resume the season in the Orlando bubble.
Windhorst said the NBA is trying to reduce travel by 25 percent or more as it tries to stage a 72-game season in home markets and outside of a bubble, and he expects the league to "try to keep teams local" on Christmas. While the NFL has had coast-to-coast travel, MLB -- with a daily schedule that's a far closer (yet imperfect) analog to the NBA's -- limited regular-season games based on geographic alignment.
Both leagues have dealt with coronavirus outbreaks on multiple rosters, with cases in the NFL rising alongside record-setting national totals. As this story was being published, the New York Knicks announced they would shut down their practice facility after three employees tested positive for COVID-19.
Cases in California are rising, too, and public-health experts expect cases and deaths to rise in the winter as the weather gets colder and people gather indoors during the holidays. Whether the Warriors play the Lakers in San Francisco or LA, fans won't be in attendance.