As we all laze away the final days of summer, basking in the glow of our championship campaign, gauging the competition, and wondering just how crazy Ron Artest will be, allow me to take a look forward to this coming season, as we take a good hard look at the 2009-2010 Lakers Regular Season Schedule. And please, allow me the liberty of placing some predictions. Feel free to contradict them if you must, and please, add your own.
Opening Day, Oct 27: Against the Clippers at “home.” Yay! While not quite as exciting as last year’s opening day decimation of the Blazers, we do get to see nice first peak at Blake Griffin and the Clippers young core of Griffin, Eric Gordon, and Al Thornton. That’s assuming Blake Griffin hasn’t torn his ACL by then, which you never know when it comes to the Clippers.
First 8 weeks, Oct 27 – Dec 11 (21 games): We start out the season with 17 home games out of 21, including just two back to backs, one road-road against OKC then Houston, then another home-road with the Suns at home and then @ Denver. Look for that first Denver game to be our first loss. It’s notoriously difficult for teams to travel east on a back-to-back, especially crossing a timezone and then having to adjust to the altitude for an early evening ESPN game. Phil Jackson talked about it at length during last season, although the circumstances were a little different (what, with Sun getting lost on the way to get fast food). Otherwise, there aren’t too many really tough games in this stretch. With all the home games, look for us to come strong out of the gate.
Prediction: 19-2 (@Denver, 1 miscellaneous)
Christmas time, Dec 12 – Jan 11 (16 games): During the middle of the season, we make up the huge number of home games we had in the beginning of the season by having 21 road games out of 33 (Dec 12 – Feb 10). We have a 5 game road trip in mid-December through Utah, Chicago, Milwaukee, Jersey, and then Detroit. Then, on Christmas day, no surprise that we have Lebron, Shaq and the Cavs coming to LA for a double-dose “Kobe v. Shaq”, “Kobe v. Lebron.” Frankly I find it sick that the media keeps trying to double team Kobe. Why can’t we have “Kobe v. Shaq” and “Lebron v. Jordan Crawford’s dunk footage” or “Kobe v. Lebron” and “Shaq v. Age.” Even up things a little. Other games of note include a major let-down game on the day after Christmas @Sacramento, then probably another high-tension, tempers flaring battle up in Portland on Jan 6 (wagers on Artest getting into an altercation with more than one Blazer?). We played strong through this portion of the year last year, with our bench giving us a huge boost. Another strong month for the Lakers.
Prediction: 13-3 (1 against either Cleveland or Sacramento the next day, 1 on the road trip, 1 miscellaneous).
The All-Star Break and Grammy’s Road Trip, Jan 12 – Feb 10 (17 games): After a short back-to-back trip through Texas (San Antonio, then Dallas), we have the Clippers (maybe they’ve thrown in the towel by then? Just sayin), then home against Orlando. Eerily similar to last year, that Orlando game at home will be tough, considering we’ll be coming off the Clippers with a couple nice relaxing breaks at home. @Cleveland on Jan 26 kicks off the Grammy’s road trip, which includes the Lebrons, the Knicks, Raps, Wiz, Pacers (major let-down game #2), Philly, followed by Boston on the 31st, then the dreaded “@MEM” on the 1st of February. Scary how we always play the Grizz right at the end of January/beginning of February. We may have to pretend Bynum got the flu in Boston for this one. After the road trip comes a ‘3 games in 4 days” starting with a back-to-back, home-road against the Nuggs then @Portland, followed by San Antonio. We made our statement to the league around this time last year, so this big road-trip may be the best place to gauge our championship hopes. This is the really meaty part of our schedule, where we’ll be playing most of our games against contending teams, so this is where we can get the momentum to carry us through the rest of the regular season.
Prediction: 12-5 (@Indiana, @Portland, one of SAS/DAL, Orlando, 1 on road trip)
The Stink of the Season, Feb 16-Mar 31 (21 games): Feb 18, we have another showdown with Boston, this time at Staples. This is followed by a suspicious looking 4-day, 3-game road trip through Miami, Charlotte, and Orlando, which absolutely reeks of losing 2 out of 3 disappointment. Then there’s another mildly odorous 3 game road trip @Phoenix, @GSW, then @SAC, which stinks of losing 1 out of 3. Saving the most putrid for last, we have a 5 game trip @San Antonio, through OKC, Houston, NO, then closing in Atlanta (major let-down game #3). Maybe it’s just a sixth sense of mine, but late February, March period just reeks of disappointment to me, and I can see a lot of jitters coming from fans wary about our title hopes. However, it’s important that we keep our heads on straight during the tough times, as they will inevitably come. This month and a half period seems like the most likely time for a mass-scale fan freak-out.
Prediction: 16-5 (2 from @MIA/@CHA/@ORL, 1 from @PHO/@GSW/@SAC, 2 from road trip, most probably @ATL, @HOU)
Momentum into the Playoffs, Apr 1 – Apr 14 (7 games): Here is where we build for the playoffs. We start out at home against Utah then at home against San Antonio, followed by a road-road back-to-back, @Denver, @Minnesota, then close with home against Portland and Sacramento, then on the “road” against the Clippers (Hurray for ending the season back where we started! Although, I’d probably put money on Blake Griffin tearing a ligament of some sort by then). I fully expect us to play strong through this stretch, and push for some good momentum heading into the postseason.
Overall, while I expect this Lakers team to be really, really, really good, it is a long, 82-game season, in which we have to anticipate bumps, twists, and turns. As you can see above, my predictions are both conservative and liberal, giving way to elation at times (starting 19-2, closing 7-0), but I also understand that there will be times when our team will be down (bad road trips, poor performances in back-to-backs and 3-in-4’s). But, the one thing I encourage all of us is the remember the optimism that we feel now, during the off-season, when all we seem to talk about is how invincible we are. Please, I plead for you to remember this enthusiasm if we go 0-3 against Miami, Charlotte, and Orlando, or if we lose Sacramento at home, or if we lose back-to-back to start off a road trip (because it’s bound to happen). Because as we’ve all seen, the best part of a championship isn’t winning it (although it’s pretty damn good): It’s about the journey we take with our team to get there. Let’s make this one as memorable as the last.
Overall Prediction: 67-15