Schedule Watching: Opening Night, Christmas, and MLK

Darius Soriano —  August 4, 2010

Apr. 30, 2010 - Oklahoma City, OKLAHOMA, UNITED STATES - epa02138257 Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant (R) takes the ball in against Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Durant (L) in the second half of their Western Conference first round playoff game at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma USA, 30 April 2010.

Over the past couple of days, leaks of the upcoming NBA schedule have begun.  National websites and local papers alike are giving fans the skinny on what marquee match ups lie ahead and what games fans can look forward to on the most special of days.   We’ve already been told who the Lakers will open with (Houston), who’ll they’ll play on Christmas (Miami) and who’ll they’ll play on MLK’s Birthday (OKC).  (On a side note, MLK’s Birthday is one of my favorite days of basketball.  The match ups are always good and the league always has a heavy slate of games that start early and go late into the night.)  So, with us Lakers fans now in the know (at least partially) of what lies ahead for the 2010-11 season, I figured we should take a look at the three aforementioned games and give a small preview with some extra thoughts sprinkled in.

Opening Night:

For the 2nd time in 4 campaigns the Lakers will begin their season against the Houston Rockets.  So, on the night where the players will receive their championship jewelry (remember last years?) and where banner #16 will go up into the Staples Center rafters, one of the Lakers toughest foes of the past several seasons will be looking to spoil the show. 

And Houston will come in stocked full of talent and ready to roll.  Well known Lakers killer Carl Landry will (thankfully) not be in attendance due to his trade to the Kings, but the Rockets will have many other players to test the Lakers resolve.  And it all starts with the return of Yao Ming.  After breaking his foot against the Lakers in the 2009 playoffs, Yao will get to get his revenge out of the way quickly by facing the team that eliminated his Rockets as he stared from the sideline.  Joining Yao in the starting line up will be Luis Scola (who just re-upped with Houston), Shane Battier, Kevin Martin, and Aaron Brooks.  And off the bench the Rox will once again roll out Trevor Ariza, Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes, Jared Jeffries, Chase Buddinger, (rookie) Patrick Patterson, and Jordan Hill.  This is deep Houston team (a very good top eight) that can play a variety of styles on offense while also playing hard nosed defense.

This will easily be a tough test for the Lakers as the return of Yao will invigorate the Rockets while the combination of the ring ceremony and incorporating new players may have the Lakers not as sharp as normal (think to last season’s opener against the Clippers for an example of what I mean).  And while I’m not going to predict a win or loss at this point (we haven’t even seen any pre-season games), I can already say that the Lakers are going to face a stiff opponent that will be ready to take them down.  Remember, Houston is a team that fancies itself a championship contender with all their players healthy.  So, what better way to prove that than taking down the champions on the first night of the season?

Christmas Day:

This is the match up that everyone is salivating over.  Fans, league officials, players from other teams, media, and advertisers will all be planted in front of their TV’s with their glass of egg nog and wrapping paper thrown around their living rooms.  We’ll all be watching this contest to see the two (presumed) best teams in the league square off.

And while I’m excited about this match up (already), I must say that I really don’t know what to expect.  Take into account the following factors:

• We still don’t know how this Heat team will play together. They are obviously supremely talented, but they have a brand new team that will have only played together a couple of months up to this point. Will they have the kinks worked out? Only time will tell and right now we haven’t had any time.

• The Lakers will surely be motivated to play well in this game and will want to bring their best effort. However, will that cause some of them to press? The Lakers usually perform well in spotlight games and for once, they may be the team that the majority of NBA fans are rooting for, but sometimes wanting something too much can be a detriment to success.

• The Lakers play poorly on Christmas. I’ve had plenty of recent Christmases at least partially spoiled by a Lakers loss. Look at last year’s match up with Cleveland. Or the three straight years the Lakers lost to Miami on Christmas (’04-’06). Really, when looking at the past 10 seasons, the Lakers have only won 3 games on December 25th and at one point lost 6 of 7 (and 5 in a row). And it’s not like this lack of success can be blamed on being on the road as the Lakers have played 8 of those 10 games at home. (Although, if you want my theory, I actually think being at home hinders you in a Christmas day game as you’ve got all of your family commitments and the good times of the holiday broken up by a basketball game. When you’re on the road, I would think it’s easier to focus on the game itself without all the other commitments swirling around you. But I digress.)  And maybe the Lakers weren’t the most talented team in that stretch (especially in the middle of the decade), but considering the Lakers have won 5 championsips in the last 10 seasons but have only won 3 games on this particular holiday…let’s just say I’m prepared for any result.

However it turns out though, I can say that it will surely be a spectacle rarely exhibited in professional sports.  It may not be the Super Bowl, but I could easily see it rivaling the NBA All-Star game in that it will be an incredibly tough ticket with celebrities all wanting to see and be seen as the concentration of talent on the court will be the most a seen since the Lakers faced the Celtics in their 80’s hayday. 

MLK’s Birthday:

In all honesty, the match up with the Thunder on this day may be my favorite game of the three we’ve discussed.  Sure the Heat game is the glamorous one, but the Thunder are an up and coming team that the Lakers just faced in the playoffs this past season.  There’s a recent history with this team that can’t be ignored and I’ll be giddy every time these two teams match up.

There’s just so much goodness to explore in this match up.  Will Durant solve Artest’s pestering defense?  Will Kobe guard Westbrook? Will Gasol and Bynum continue to dominate the Thunder front line?  How much better will Serge Ibaka be?  How about the Thunder trio that are all participating in the training camp for Team USA?  You have to figure that all of those guys will raise their respective games a notch and with the added motivation of revenge on their minds, this is a can’t miss game for fans of both sides (and die hard fans around the league that don’t even have a rooting interest).  Again, I’m very excited for this game.

We’ll obviously get more into more analysis of the schedule as more details come out.  We’ll talk about potential win totals and highlight other match ups when the time comes.  But for now, these are three games that jump to the forefront for me.  Do you have a favorite?  If you could only watch one, which would it be?  Let me know in the comments.

Darius Soriano

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39 responses to Schedule Watching: Opening Night, Christmas, and MLK

  1. San Clemente Steve August 4, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    First in! Is it Christmas yet? The only present I want is for the Champs to spank the Wannabees big time!

  2. Darius,

    To be so excited about 3 possible Laker matchups next season–almost 2 months before the season starts–suggests that

    1. summertime NBA news is slow.

    2. You live, breathe, and dream about Laker games past and future.

    3. You have had several appointments with your Northern California fortune teller and looked deep into her crystal ball.

  3. #2. drrayeye,
    Hahaha. Honestly, you know what got me excited about the games, especially OKC? The replays that NBATV has been showing of the Lakers playoff games this past week. Those 1 hour cut downs of the games have gotten right back into game mode like it’s May again. Blame them. (And blame the fact that I’m a hoops junkie.)

  4. Good post Darius, Im already hyped up and the season is still 3 months away. All three scheduled games are definitely going to be interesting, but how does the Ali vs Frazier type atmosphere surrounding the Christmas Day game against the Heat not top the list. The media will have covered every angle before this game and will have us fans slobbering at the mouth before the ball is tipped. Can the Super Friends take down the evil Laker empire on national TV and show the world that we are just witnesses indeed. Or does LA prove that they are at the top of the hill and are still king. There are just so many plots and subplots to this battle that the OKC and Houston will not able to measure up to on a national level. Everyday LA fans can find the intrigue in the other matchups, buts it like comparing a Maybach to a Camry when its all said and done.

  5. Only one to watch? Definitely the OKC game. There’s going to be way too much hype with the Christmas game and it’s too early in the season.

    The OKC game will be late enough into the season that teams should be jelling some. Also with it hitting the dog days of the regular season, both teams would be focused for this game when they’ve been slacking most of January.

    It’ll also be a test of OKC’s athletic style and ability against Laker’s scheme and discipline. A good measurement of each other that can show tendencies and trends that will show up later in the playoffs.

    Definitely the OKC game if I only had to pick one.

  6. Living in Houston once, I’ve always kept an eye out for the Rockets. Never a top-3 favorite team, but always interested in how they are doing. With a healthy Yao, they are a stacked team. They have one heck of a team…that bench is one of the best ones in the league. The starters are solid, but probably not top 5, though I would argue their bench could be. That is a very solid lineup, top to bottom. Two Kentucky boys on the roster now, expect Patrick Patterson to get some good minutes and play well. Chuck Hayes and Lowry on the bench are great, not to mention our boy Trev.

    Seriously , if Kevin Martin plays to top form and Yao stays healthy…this Rockets team is a beast that could play with anyone. Those both may not happen, and we all know AB only plays well against the Lakers. But they look really good on paper.

  7. Everyone knows that the game to watch this coming season is on Dec 2 when Lebron returns to Cleveland. My inner sadist is hoping for a riot.

  8. #7 Taylor
    Houston does have a nice squad, but to think that Yao will be playing at his best after missing all of last year with a bad ankle that doesnt seem to want to heal is asking a bit much. He is still having problems, and I dont know how much work he could put in with such a questionable ankle during the off season. That in my mind makes an opening day game against Houston less interesting and more of a one sided affair in LA’s favor.

  9. Man…I hate summer.

    The sooner October gets here, the better.

  10. I thought Miami was the place where NBA players went to retire? It seems that Boston is also ground-zero for NBA pre-retirement as well.

    I can’t wait to see the Lakers versus the cHEAT. Admittedly, the Lakers sometimes lose these “marquee” matchups on X-Mas, and then the whole Laker world panics, but this matchup may be a little different. I see our team being more focused than year’s past.

  11. It looks as though Shaq is signing with the Celtics for the Min. Despite Shaq’s flaws, I’ve always held him in high regard. I think most fans don’t remember the first 3 peet. That was one of the best teams in NBA history! We stopped one of the most stacked teams, the Blazers of that time, from winning a ring. We stopped probably the most stacked team to never win a ring, Webber’s Kings, from winning a ring. The 3 peet lakers were absolutely insane. I think everyone during that time realized that the 2 best players in the league were on the same team, and unlike Miami who may have 2 of the top 3 or 4, the pieces fit together nicely.

    Does anyone else remember that 4th quarter against the Blazers in game 7? Until our 13 point come back against the Celtics in game 7 of this year’s finals, i think that comeback was the craziest event i’ve ever seen on a basketball floor. Even though they were down huge, once the run started, you just KNEW that the Lakers were going to pull it out.

    Don’t forget about all the good things Shaq brought the Lakers. I hope he retires personally because i just can’t take another season of watching an old broken down once great, waddle up and down the floor. Especially when he used to dart back and forth like a cat, in his prime.

    That said, I don’t think that anyone can doubt this is a GREAT pickup for the Celtics. This makes them far better than they would otherwise be. Shaq last year had a PER of 17.4 off the top of my head. He is still quite efficient, and does require double teams. He pounds the crap out of opposing players and takes them out of their game.

    I just hope that Bynum is healthy, since Bynum can stand up to the guy. If Bynum is out, i just fear poor ole Gasol attempting to stand in front of that truck. He’ll get tossed around like a 5 year old, and probably be too scared to score on the other end.

  12. re: no 4/Dirty Sanchez.

    You might call the matchup the Evil Super Friends vs. the Evil Empire, depending on who you ask. As Darius noted, there will be plenty of Laker-Haters who will root for us on this one night just out of jealousy/repulsion/newly-found anti-lebronism/all of the above.

  13. Josh obviously doesn’t live in Oregon.

  14. 12.)

    “dart back and forth like a cat, in his prime.”

    (chuckle)…this is the same Shaq we’re talking about, right? He has lost a step, but a “catlike” metaphor. Being a bit genourous to the fella, no? How about revved up like a “Diesel?” I don’t ever remember he being as sprightly as you describe him, but on the downward slope now, he is.

  15. Darius,
    Great post. But I think you are downplaying what an amazing basketball game might be played on Xmas a little. Its isn’t just about hype… I would like to know the last time two teams have played with that kind of talent on the floor. I mean this is like an all star game with the 3 best players in the world (Lebron,Wade,Kobe) on the floor at the same time and the top two PF’s on the planet (Bosh and Gasol) squaring off against each other. You of course throw in one of the best defenders of all time (Artest) and the best shooter in the NBA (Miller) and you have a nice little game going on. Oh… and you have the 2nd best Center in the league (Bynum) and one of the most versatile forwards to ever play (Odom). I think this is the game of all games.

    And I don’t know why you asked if Kobe will guard Wetsbrook. We all know that Phil most likely lets us get torched by PG’s until the playoffs and then puts Kobe on them. But Kobe has another knee surgery behind him and will now be 32 years old… is Phil going to keep making his star aging guard chase PG’s around? Man… if only the Lakers brought in a PG this off season that could play average defense ;)

  16. “dart back and forth like a cat, in his prime.”

    Check the Youtube clips of Shaq. cat like is no stretch.

  17. There always seems to be alot of talk about Shaq’s #34 going in the rafters. I just do not see how anyone can argue agaist it. He was 2nd best center in the history of the Lakers and the most dominant player of his generation, with his prime being his time on the team. If Lakers fans can not remember how awesome he was on the floor and judge him on that, then I just do not know what to say.

  18. 19, i assure you that we remember…. just as we remember what came next.

    If everything shaq did to insure the bile of Laker fans – including this latest atrocity – doesn’t give you a bitter enough taste in your mouth to outweigh the glory days, that’s fine, I respect your position, but please understand others of us feel differently and would prefer if you not take it for granted that our opinion is based on ignorance.

    no one could possibly deny that shaq’s play, taken in a vacuum, makes him a lock to have his jersey retired. I just deny the vacuum with bitter memories of how he behaved both in his final year as a Laker and worse, once he was out the door.

  19. One thing I’m looking forward to is watching Shaq and Big Z lumbering around on opening night, trying not to roll an ankle keeping up with Wade/Lebron/Rondo.

  20. Is the mobile site broken? I can’t get to it from my phone, and when I try to have Mofuse re-send the link using the box on the right of the home page, it gives an error message as well.

  21. @19
    just like MJ’s career in a vaccum without the blue 23, right?

  22. For what it’s worth, looks like Shannon Brown will return to the Lakers tomorrow.

    http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/knicksblog/knicks_target_brown_likely_staying_kd2zx71UnixSAcR2NuZC8M

    The article reveals what I’ve been thinking all along: NYK still wants to preserve salary cap (even if it’s only $3mil) for next year to move for Carmelo.

  23. agent Mark Bartelstein tells The Post Shannon Brown likely to pass on Knicks for Lakers. Final decision tomorrow.

    http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/knicksblog/knicks_target_brown_likely_staying_kd2zx71UnixSAcR2NuZC8M

  24. I’m with Zephid. I am looking forward to LeBron’s return to Cleveland. The response he gets will be absolutely priceless.

    I am looking forward to the Christmas game, but I will keep my expectations in check. The two best Christmas games in recent years was 2007’s win against Phoenix and 2008’s win against Boston. One win signaled that the team had officially turned the corner and became a contender. The other proved they were ready to win the title.

    I don’t see much that can be proved against Miami. The Lakers were blown out last Christmas and still won the title. They are the two time defending champs. A win or loss on Christmas won’t change that. Miami will have more to prove than LA. For this reason they may come out with a little more fire. We’ll see.

    The Lakers obviously do better when they have a bit of a chip on their shoulders. Beating Miami in a regular season game in December just doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme. Of course they want to win. Honestly, I would have preferred Boston on Christmas (especially with Shaq).

  25. Thank God for Shannon he made the right decision in my opinion, very happy to have him back and I think he will have his best season yet this year. If you weren’t excited or content with Shannon coming back look at the remaining talent left in the free agent SG pool. It was very slim pickings, luckily we have the best player in the world on our team to mentor Shannon and help him further his development . . . after all the guy is only 24. The sky is the limit, literally.

  26. Watching some of the playoff replays on NBATV, Shannon really improved over the course of the season and I thought played pretty well while filling in for Kobe at the end of the season also.

    Shannon’s got the athleticism, with study and Kobe’s tutor ledge I believe he could nail down his jump shot and develop quite the all around game.

  27. As for Shannon, I still won’t relax until he announces his decision and signs the contract for the Lakers. He is more valuable to the 2nd unit than most others think. Other than his high-flying, highlight reel plays, he has 2yrs experience with the triangle, and has an improving outside shot. With Blake stabilizing the 2nd unit, we will see even better play and production from Shannon this season

  28. The game against Miami on Christmas is the one I’m most exited about. Sure, Oklahoma City is a great young team, but I don’t really care whether the Lakers win or lose – in the sense that I really don’t feel threatened by them. Regardless of what everyone seem to be hyped about, OKC was not our greatest obstacle in the playoffs last year.

    Lets not forget that Perkins was solid until he went down.

    Anyways, I hope my Christmas present is a thumpingfrom the Lakers to the Heat.

  29. #14.

    As a matter of fact, I live in Portland, Oregon. I hate summer. If it rained every single day here, I mean every day, I would be totally happy with it.

  30. Incidentally, this is why I love LA from a distance.

  31. I will be very happy when Shannon signs his multiyear contract with the Lakers. I believe that teaming with Blake will be very beneficial to ShanWOW–and the Lakers!

  32. Hey, is everyone forgetting that the Rockets added Brad Miller?!

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=5388602

    He definitely adds another solid big that can step in and play along side yao or scola.

  33. Shaq to Boston… Boston???

    The Big Prostitute?

    I kind of like it, makes possible for me to wish him bad fortune without feeling lousy about it.

    I wish Shaq one hell of a bad season, but hope he will still be standing in the final for the recording of a new youtube classis: “Kobe dunks over Shaq in GAME, funny”

  34. in that nypost article, it’s like brown’s agent is like, “OKAY, TEAMS! THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO TENDER MY CLIENT A MULTI-YEAR OFFER. CALL ME!”

  35. Wow, Bob Ryan notes the following about the Boston “travelling mausoleum” Celtics.

    “Among them, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Jermaine O’Neal have a combined total of 71 years of service, good for 5,655 regular-season and playoff games and 200,371 minutes. They have combined for 51 All-Star Game appearances. They have 10 All-NBA third-team selections, eight second-team selections, and 12 first-team selections.”

    Springfield, Massachusetts, is basketball’s Hall of Fame location, right? It’s only apropos that four likely HOFers play within minutes of Springfield, and that this year’s team will be a travelling HOF tribute team. Fun stuff.

  36. Paul Pierce, a Hall of Famer?! I don’t think so…

  37. “considering the Lakers have won 5 championsips in the last 10 seasons”

    It is 5 Championships in 11 seasons not 10