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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