The NBA starts its season in October, but its unofficial opening day is on Christmas, when basketball begins to take the baton away from football.
The Clippers have played 32 games this season, but they haven't been completely healthy at any point, dating all the way back to training camp. It took until Dec. 24 (media day was Sep. 29) for the Clippers to have a practice with 15 healthy players. In some way, Christmas Day represents a new beginning for this team.
"It means everything to us to finally have everybody out here be at full strength, and we can figure out what exactly we’ll be moving forward," Moe Harkless said.
Their first test as a fully healthy squad is the team with the best record in the Western Conference, and their Staples Center roommate, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Clippers defeated the Lakers on opening night, back when Paul George was out and the Lakers were also missing Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso, and Kyle Kuzma.
The Clippers all acknowledged that a lot of time has passed since the two teams played their first game, which makes it hard to have too many takeaways from that matchup.
"It was just the first game of the season, everybody was just trying to get in their rhythm," Kawhi Leonard said. "It's gonna be two different teams. We've been through a journey till Christmas, it's a different matchup."
Doc Rivers believes that it will be a better-played game now that both teams have had time to figure themselves out, while Harkless noted that he hopes the Clippers can maintain their advantages on the offensive glass and in transition.
As far as the excitement of two Western Conference contenders, and intra-city rivals, playing on Christmas Day, the Clippers attempted to downplay the significance of the game beyond one win or one loss.
"I kind of just block out all that noise, in my opinion, it just takes away from the actual focus, which is winning the game," Harkless said. "Being around fans all the time, you know you hear Lakers vs. Clippers, blah blah blah, but at the end of the day, it's just another basketball game."
"I don’t think we’re downplaying it, but we’re not gonna play it to the level you [the media] are," Rivers said. "It’s a game, we want to beat the Lakers, they want to beat us. There’s nothing wrong with that, but other than that, we’ve just gotta show up and play."
Both Leonard and Rivers confirmed there was no added drama from the report about Leonard's free agency published in The Athletic.
Beyond all the outside noise, it should be another excellent basketball game between the Clippers and the Lakers. As Leonard put it, "it's a good look at a good team."
Some other fun nuggets from practice:
- Rivers buys his own holiday presents for himself, and is excited for 12:01 a.m. when he gets to open them.
- Harkless likes to spend time with his family and friends at the holidays playing cards and watching movies. His go-to choices? Spades and Home Alone.
- Leonard may not think playing the Lakers is special, but playing on Christmas certainly is. "It's fun. It's exciting to play," he said. "Just growing up, it's a dream to play in the NBA and to be playing the game you love on Christmas is fun."
- Rivers has historically been able to rile up Lakers fans with his comments, but not this time around. "I was trying to think of something to get them going for tomorrow, but I am going to leave it alone."