Lakers ‘can’t wait’ for fans in Staples Center on Thursday – Daily News

The championship rings are stashed safely at home, and the memories persist. But what is a world title if the world can’t celebrate with you?

Alex Caruso has felt that absence all season. While Staples Center can pump in a layer of artificial crowd noise for every home game introduction, it hasn’t been the same since March 10, 2020 – the last game the Lakers played in front of their own fans.

“We’ve been introduced every game with our P.A. announcer: We’re the defending world champions,” he said. “And there’s been nobody there to scream or to celebrate or to really do anything with it. And it’s gonna be exciting to have them back.”

So sure, Thursday night it’s the Boston Celtics, a rival, a tough opponent in a streak of important games. The Lakers (34-21) are still scratching and clawing without All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis; they’re still battling for position in the Western Conference standings.

But for the first time all season at Staples Center, the headliner will be the audience: The approximately 2,000 fans who will be sprinkled throughout the arena, socially distanced and wearing masks for the duration of the game.

The Lakers have experience playing in front of partial crowds this season: At this point, most NBA arenas are allowing at least a few fans. From the television production stage of last season’s bubble environment in Orlando to the vacuous space of an empty home arena, even a few thousand people can bring a jolt of energy to what has become a grind of a season.

When the Hornets were threatening to steal the game from the Lakers on Tuesday night in Charlotte, Kyle Kuzma said he could feel the Spectrum Center rocking.

“It’s like a sellout,” Kuzma said. “It just feels good to play in front of people and play in front of fans of the NBA. And it’s good. It’s a part of the game and it’s a huge part of the game.”

For whatever reason, the Lakers have struggled to a 16-11 record this season at Staples Center. On just home record, they lag behind teams like Golden State (17-10), which also has played in an empty arena so far. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the “mystique” of playing at Staples Center has been diminished by rows and rows of empty seats, populated to this point only by front office officials, family members and other team and arena employees.

Throughout the last year, James, in particular, has lamented the absence of fans – a possibility he once poo-pooed in the early days before the pandemic hit.

“It’s been extremely tough: You’ve got to literally like self motivate yourself every single day,” he said in February. “I’ve been watching a lot of games of late and there’s been 1,500, 2,000, whatever the case might be – the fans, it just gives you an extra boost. So, I’m just waiting. Hopefully sooner than later.”

There will be some logistical challenges for bringing in fans, given that the Lakers haven’t required anything all year to fill dead-ball moments during timeouts or other breaks in the game. The national anthem will be performed live, but other familiar elements – the team band, the Laker girls and on-court contests – are still on the shelf.

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