Which game will most likely mark the Lakers' first loss?
The question, of course, may not go over well in this corner of the blogosphere, particularly with an 82-0 bandwagon brewing on comment threads. But take off the purple and gold glasses for a second and think realistically. I also worded the question not to suggest which game the Lakers will lose, but more which game could be the one that truly tests the Lakers and their undefeated mark.
I can't find any conceivable scenario in which Minnesota could beat the Lakers tonight. Even though Denver's gone through a well-documented uncertainty surrounding Carmelo Anthony and is without Chris Anderson and Kenyon Martin, the Nuggets have still managed a 4-3 record and remained competitive with a schedule featuring Dallas, Houston, Utah and New Orleans. The Lakers heading into Denver on Thursday will likely bring a contentious atmosphere. L.A. controlled Phoenix in its 114-106 victory earlier this season and the Suns aren't the same without Amare Stoudemire, but their 3-4 record featured matchups with Memphis (twice), Atlanta, San Antonio, Portland, Utah and the Lakers. A victory over Phoenix on Sunday would lift L.A. to a 10-0 start, a mark Coach Phil Jackson said would start getting him excited about the team.
Next week doesn't feature much adversity for the Lakers, though their matchups with Milwaukee (2-5) on Tuesday and Detroit (2-5) on Wednesday come on road back-to-backs. Then it's off to Minnesota on Friday for another nondescript victory. Golden State (5-2) may be more competitive this year, but the Lakers already shut the Warriors down Oct. 31 in a 107-83 victory. I believe the Lakers' true test comes Nov. 23 when they host the Bulls, who feature strong point-guard play from Derrick Rose, feistiness from Joakim Noah and enough clout to possibly land Anthony. But I'm also sure games against Utah and Memphis at the end of the month could be competitive too.
The bottom line is this: The Lakers' first 18 games feature only seven teams that made the playoffs last year. It's not a stretch to think that the Lakers could match their 16-1 start of the 2001-2002 season.
-- Mark Medina
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