LOS ANGELES – No LeBron James. No Rajon Rondo. No Lonzo Ball. And likely not even Lavar Ball, though his relative silence is perplexing.
The Lakers taking the court Monday at Staples Center to face the defending champion Warriors in the marquee game on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday are not the Lakers the NBA had in mind when they scheduled this game.
James sustained a groin strain in the Christmas Day game against the Warriors at Oracle Arena. Rondo sprained a finger two days later. Ball sprained his left ankle Saturday night in a loss to the Rockets in Houston.
Asked Sunday if he would miss playing against LeBron, DeMarcus Cousins responded with a colorful “no.”
He’s not alone. The Warriors don’t care. Can’t care. They’re delighted to be who they are now and what they can be in the months to come.
“A lot of things we’re going to have to work on as we go forward and we understand that,” Stephen Curry. “There’s a lot to focus on. Leading up to the All-Star break, we want to continue to build this momentum we’ve had the last six games. On the road, band together and make it happen.”
They’ve won their last seven games. They feel rejuvenated by the addition of Cousins, who was successful in his Warriors debut on Friday. They’ve got zero concern for who may or may not be available to their opponent because they are enjoying their own sense of newness.
This is typically the point of the season when nothing is new and the Warriors join the rest of the NBA, trudging along until the mid-February All-Star break. In the four weeks leading up to the break last season, the Warriors were 7-5.
This time around, there is, of course, the presence of Cousins. Draymond Green has found his rhythm. Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant continue their metronomic production. Curry is shooting as well as he ever has.
There also is the fortified bench, with Kevon Looney returning to a reserve role after starting at center in all but one of the last 18 games.
There is no real excuse for the Warriors to be anything less than fully engaged.
“It’s almost perfect timing, because traditionally between now and the All-Star break, those are the toughest games for every team,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Right after the new year and before the All-Star break, you have about three or four weeks where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel but the season’s not fresh any more.”
The Warriors, however, are very fresh, refreshed to be precise. That’s the Boogie Effect.
Cousins wants to be good for his new teammates, and they want to be at least as good for him. The All-Stars are primed to feed off each other, and the bench is on board with that energy.
“When they announced the starting lineup, it was like an NBA 2K lineup,” Alfonzo McKinnie said, referring to Cousins’ Warriors debut on Friday. “When I was a kid, I would create these rosters with all the top players on one team. The way these guys’ careers have gone, when I looked at that lineup the other night, that’s what I thought of, making up roster with so many superstars.”
Under normal circumstances, the Warriors might find themselves trying to manufacture passion for a game against these Lakers. James not only is their best player but also is a longtime Warriors rival. Rondo orchestrated their upset win on Christmas Day in Oakland.
And let’s not forget Ball. It was his father, Lavar, who two years ago said his son was “better than Steph Curry.”
As outrageous a claim as it is, such boastful comparisons don’t escape the competitive spirit of Curry.
So the playoff vibe that was present when the teams met last month will be absent. In its place, at least for the Warriors, will be the next step in the drive toward their potential.