Sure the MLB regular season is progressively peaking and NFL training camps are now underway, but let’s not forget about the release of the 2009-10 NBA schedule, particularly from the standpoint of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
When they begin their journey on Repeat Road this fall, the Lakers will undoubtedly get each opponent’s utmost effort for all 82 games because, well, they’re the defending champs. To fuel that fire, 25 Lakers games will be nationally televised, only supplementing the size of the already-large target that will be virtually emblazoned on their jerseys.
On opening night – Tuesday, Oct. 27 – the Lakers will receive their championship rings before welcoming Blake Griffin to the Big Boys Club when they host the cross-town nemesis Clippers, the first of three straight home games. In fact, the Lakers will get to sleep in their own beds for 17 of the first 21 games before hitting the road for seven of the next nine.
As February’s all-star break nears, the Lakers will pack up their bags for the season-long road trip: an eight-game, 12-day Eastern Conference crusade that features Cleveland, New York (where Kobe Bryant dropped 61 points last season), Toronto, Philadelphia and Boston. Historically, the Lakers have flourished on the equivalent of past season’s trips: Over the last two, they have finished a combined 13-1.
With all that said, let’s sink our teeth into what could very well be the season’s top five games to watch:
Lakers @ Rockets – Wednesday, Nov. 4
Even though the Rockets will presumably be without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, this game qualifies for the top five because of the small forward matchup: Ron Artest vs. Trevor Ariza. How will the two jersey-swappers fare against their former teams? Chances are Artest gets the best of Ariza (who will quickly realize that his decision to leave Los Angeles for a little more money wasn’t worth it by any means) in the Lakers’ second of back-to-back road games.
Lakers @ Nuggets – Friday, Nov. 13
Just eight games deep into the Lakers’ campaign, last postseason’s Western Conference finalists will hook up in the first of four meetings. Will Artest be able to contain Carmelo Anthony, who dominated the Lakers in those conference finals? How well will the Lakers play against their first top-tier West opponent of the young season? As usual, the Pepsi Center promises to be a hostile environment for the Lakers, especially considering the Nuggets will have concluded a six-game roadie when they enter this game.
Lakers vs. Cavs – Friday, Dec. 25
Arguably the most anticipated game on the entire NBA calendar – hence why it’s scheduled on Christmas Day – the Great Debate and Kobe-Shaq rekindling will be taken to heights never before seen. With regard to the latter, Kobe’s team (the Lakers) and Shaq’s teams (the Heat and Suns) have never been jointly competitive since the Diesel’s departure from Lakerland. (The Lakers struggled to stay above .500 when the Big Fella won a title in Miami and, as the Lakers began climbing the ranks, the Suns took a turn for the worse after they traded for Shaq.) Now, with both superstars on sure-to-be successful teams, the media frenzy will likely be as overwhelming as it was following Michael Jackson’s sudden death.
Lakers vs. Magic – Monday, Jan. 18
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past handful of months, this game (the first of two, with the second coming on March 7 in Orlando) speaks for itself. Last year the Magic stole both regular season games from the Lakers, but the offseason replacement of Hedo Turkoglu with Vince Carter – and by replacement, I mean downgrade – is just one reason why a clean sweep won’t be in the Magic’s cards this season.
Lakers @ Celtics – Sunday, Jan. 31
If both teams remain relatively healthy and newly-acquired Artest and Rasheed Wallace thrive in their respective roles, this game is bound to be a preview of the Finals. The Lakers will have arrived in Boston with six road games (Cleveland, New York, Toronto, Washington, Indiana and Philadelphia) in 10 days already under their belt, and the Celtics will certainly have last season’s overtime home loss to the Lakers on their mind. Still, don’t count out the defending champs who are sure to circle this one on their calendar.
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Written by Josh Hoffman