LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers finally unveiled the franchise's 17th NBA championship banner at Staples Center on Wednesday night, and LeBron James used the occasion to set his sights on No. 18.
"We said we would not unveil this banner until we had some of you guys in the seats, so this is your guys' moment," James said, speaking into a microphone at center court before L.A.'s 124-122 win over the Houston Rockets. "We had our ring night; we wanted you guys there, but we wanted to make sure we saved the banner for y'all.
"So, we love you guys, and the road to back-to-back starts in about a week. So, let's get going."
The win over Houston kept L.A.'s hopes alive of avoiding the play-in tournament, where they would need to fend off the likes of the supernova that is Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, or perhaps the upstart Memphis Grizzlies led by Ja Morant or James' old Finals nemesis, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.
If the Lakers go 2-0 to finish the season in their road back-to-back this weekend against the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans and either the Portland Trail Blazers finish 0-2 at Phoenix and vs. Denver or the Dallas Mavericks go 0-2 vs. Toronto and at Minnesota, L.A. will enter the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. If the Blazers and Mavs both finish 0-2, the Lakers will be the No. 5 seed.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said before the game that it's possible he'll have his roster fully healthy and available for just the second time this season come Saturday's game in Indiana.
"Obviously it's exciting to get everybody back, get our team back fully healthy," said Wesley Matthews, who helped preserve the win over Houston with a late defensive strip on Kelly Olynyk. "And from there, we're going to see where we are."
Matthews, who signed with L.A. as a free agent in the offseason, was nowhere to be found during the banner ceremony, staying back in the locker room to pray.
"That was something that I felt was for them," he said. "And me, my fire burns, my hunger burns to raise another banner."
Nearly five months ago, the Lakers had a traditional ring ceremony on opening night of the 2020-21 season in December but held off on revealing the championship banner until L.A. County's COVID-19 restrictions lessened, so fans would be allowed in the building.
Approximately 4,000 fans attended Wednesday's game, according to a Lakers spokesperson, which is far fewer than Staples Center's 19,000 capacity for Lakers games but also more than double the 1,915 fans present on April 15 against the Boston Celtics -- the first game fans were allowed back.
James shared center court with Lakers governor Jeanie Buss. Resting on a table between them was the Larry O'Brien Trophy from the team's 2020 title won in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida.
"We've waited until now because our banners have always been about our fans," Buss said. "It's so good to hear you guys together and be together as family again. We've been awarded our trophy; the players have their rings. Our final piece of business to commemorate our 2020 NBA championship is to honor our fans with the banner."
The Lakers hope to continue to increase attendance capacity in the postseason while working with state and local coronavirus guidelines, according to a team spokesperson.
James, missing his sixth straight game because of a high right ankle sprain, addressed the crowd while wearing a baseball-style hat, dark green shorts and a black sweatshirt. When he was finished speaking, Lakers longtime public address announcer Lawrence Tanter counted down, "3-2-1," and the black cloak featuring the message "Stay Tuned, Lakers Family" that had been covering the championship banner since opening night was removed.
Queen's "We Are the Champions" blared through the arena's sound system to accompany the moment.
Anthony Davis, also in street clothes and out for the game because of tightness in his groin, then took the mic to finish off the pregame ceremony.
"What a feeling," Davis said. "I never thought that I would be hanging one of these banners, man. And it's all because of you guys. All because of you, your continued support for me, my teammates, the coaching staff.
"Before the hiatus, when you guys were allowed in the building. Even when we went to the bubble, every night we'd come in, and see on the screen you guys cheering for us. And that means a lot to us. And without you guys, we wouldn't be able to raise this banner or have this trophy behind us.
"So I appreciate you guys, and like Bron said, let's get it going and try to repeat."
It's still undetermined how much James and Davis will play this weekend, or if Dennis Schroder will be cleared from the league's health and safety protocols, or if Alex Caruso's sore right foot will feel well enough to join them.
But riding a three-game winning streak, the Lakers sound like they're looking forward to how it all plays out next -- play-in, playoffs, whatever.
"Honestly, it's damn fun," said Kyle Kuzma. "Honestly. For us, the season has been a challenge. We've had rotatable parts, people in, people out, people in COVID protocols, people not healthy enough to play. We've all had to figure it out on the fly. ... I think we'll be alright."