LOS ANGELES – The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers get their first face-to-face look at the new Miami Heat on Saturday, with many on both teams downplaying the significance of the Christmas Day clash.
"I don't think it's a measuring stick for us," said two-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James, who created a stir in the offseason as he linked up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a superstar trio in Miami. "It's just another game."
Lakers star Kobe Bryant said much the same in a television interview last week, but the contest may have taken on more importance for Los Angeles after their shocking 19-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.
Bryant was ejected for two technical fouls in the waning minutes of that game and has since kept his thoughts to himself.
It was a disappointing performance for the Lakers, who own a 21-8 record but have often looked lackluster in taking on a series of soft-target teams.
"I thought their come-uppance might come against Miami, but Milwaukee delivered the blow," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "So maybe it got their attention so they can get focused on basketball."
While James and Bryant have denied the game has any extra significance, Lakers point guard Derek Fisher admitted it was an intriguing matchup.
"The personalities that are going to be matching up in this game, I don't know if it can get any bigger," Fisher said. "Although there will be other games in this regular season that can mean more, from a personality standpoint and a star-power point, I don't know if it can get any bigger."
Star-power notwithstanding, James insists the real tests will come in the playoffs.
James led Cleveland against the Lakers on Christmas last year in a Cavaliers victory that saw frustrated Lakers fans throwing souvenirs and water bottles on the court in irritation at their team.
But the Lakers went on to win it all and Cleveland failed to advance from the Eastern Conference playoffs -- prompting James to move to Miami.
"I was in Cleveland and we beat the two-time champs twice in one season, and it didn't get me anything," James said.
"It's one game," he said of Saturday's contest. "The media guys hype it up, but when that time is over and done with, we've got to move on to the next one."