LeBron James once again playing Christmas game at home of defending NBA champ

AP Photo/John Locher

OAKLAND, Calif. — LeBron James will make what has become a regular Christmas visit to the home of the reigning NBA champion when he leads his new team, the Los Angeles Lakers, against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

The Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, led by James, have won the last four NBA titles, with the champion each of the first three times earning the right to host the runner-up in a rematch on Christmas.

But it’s only half-true this year, with the NBA opting to invite James and his new team rather than the Cavaliers.

The Warriors beat the Cavaliers in their last two Christmas rematches in Oakland following their first two championships in 2015 and 2017. James had 20 and 25 points in those losses.

The Warriors had not yet signed Kevin Durant when they beat the Cavaliers 89-83 on Christmas of 2015, with Stephen Curry scoring 19 points and Klay Thompson 18.

After the Cavs beat the Warriors when the clubs met in Cleveland in 2016 — because the Cavaliers had won the championship six months earlier — the Warriors prevailed again at home last Christmas despite Curry sitting out with an injury. Kevin Durant (25 points) and Thompson (24) led the way.

The Warriors and Lakers are meeting for the first time since James moved west in the offseason. They currently sit second (Warriors, 23-11) and fourth (Lakers, 19-14) in the Western Conference standings, creating the possibility they will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

The last time the Warriors won a playoff series from the Lakers, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were on the losing end of a 3-0 sweep in the 1967 Western semis when the opponent was known as the San Francisco Warriors.

The Warriors will take the floor Tuesday having won seven straight over the Lakers and having dominated them to the tune of 13-3 in the Steve Kerr era.

They are coming off two nail-biting home wins on back-to-back nights — 120-116 over Dallas on Saturday and 129-127 over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

“It will be fun,” Kerr said upon turning his attention to the Lakers after Sunday’s win. “I love Christmas games, as long as they are at home. We are lucky we’re at home.”

The Lakers have lost three of their last four games, including a 107-99 defeat at home against Memphis on Sunday night.

They likely once again will be without center JaVale McGee, who has missed four straight games as he has battled pneumonia.

McGee felt good enough to make the trip north, and will receive his 2018 championship ring in a pregame ceremony.

A key contributor to the Warriors last season when he made nine playoff starts, McGee admitted Sunday he was just happy to be back at the arena and working up a sweat after being hospitalized.

“It felt good, man,” he said of his pregame warmup, something he hopes to build upon Tuesday. “Just getting back to the routine. For the past eight, nine days, my routine has been laying in bed. And that’s it. So it’s real refreshing.”