NBA schedule: Lakers to play Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day
Despite no sign of any progress surrounding the NBA lockout, the league still released the 2011-2012 schedule Tuesday.
The exact point of releasing a schedule is debatable -- perhaps to remind us which games we might not see? -- but that's not going to stifle any analysis here.
Below the jump are six matchups to circle on the Lakers' schedule -- assuming there is a season, of course.
1. Versus Oklahoma City (Nov. 1): Lakers Coach Mike Brown wants accountability in the defensive effort and a faster-paced offense. One of the uncertainties for the Lakers is how much a veteran-laden team can execute these ideals. The Lakers will quickly find out in their season-opening matchup with the youthful Thunder featuring Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Remember, the Lakers must play this game without Andrew Bynum, who opens the season with a five-game suspension because of his forearm shove on Dallas guard J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.
2. At Miami (Dec. 8): The Lakers can't downplay this game anymore. The Heat embarrassed them both times in last year's regular-season matchups, most notably on Christmas Day. As much delight as Lakers fans took in seeing LeBron James choke in the Finals, the reality is the Heat still proved to be a better team than the Lakers.
3. Versus Orlando (Dec. 11): This is just a hunch, but I suspect that no one will use this game to invoke any story lines involving whether the Lakers will land Dwight Howard in a trade or via free agency. (Give me a moment so I can turn off my sarcasm font). Regardless of what happens in this game, it's going to be fun to see how Bynum matches up with Howard, something he always uses as a barometer of how he stands in the league.
4. Versus Dallas (Dec. 15): By this point, Pau Gasol better have his head in the game and manage Dirk Nowitzki, Bynum and Ron Artest better keep their composure and resist lashing out at Barea, and the Lakers better have a better bench unit. Yup, there are a lot of items to take care of so that the Mavericks don't replicate what they did in a four-game sweep in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals.
5. Versus Chicago (Dec. 25): The Lakers better not downplay their Christmas Day game again, because this one is going to be tough. It's going to require teamwork, with Lakers' frontline helping Derek Fisher stop Derrick Rose. To which all Lakers fans say: Why can't they bring in a speedy, young guard to do this work?
6. At Boston (Feb. 9): Usually this would be a preview of the NBA Finals. Now it's just a reminder of how old both teams have become.
Below are some general impressions.
The Lakers have a home-heavy schedule at the beginning of the season.
To no one's surprise, the Lakers have a home-heavy schedule to open the season, starting with 12 of their first 21 games being played at Staples Center just as it was done in the 2010-2011 season. The reason for this points to the fact that the Lakers always have a prolonged February trip (this year it's a six-gamer) because awards season occupies Staples Center during that time.
The Lakers' home-heavy schedule at the beginning of the season should prove beneficial for a variety of reasons. They're freshly motivated from last season's poor playoff showing. It might take time to fully grasp and accept Mike Brown's philosophies. As mentioned before, Bynum will miss the first five games because of a suspension connected to his forearm on Barea. And only 13 of the Lakers' 30 opponents in November and December made the playoffs last season.
The Lakers shouldn't fall into a false sense of security or believe that Brown's suddenly the right man for the job because of any hot start. But given the schedule's increased difficulty later on, it's an absolute must that they play well at the beginning.
The Lakers have slightly more back-to-backs this season
The Lakers play 17 sets of back-to-back games, a slight increase from the 15 they played last year. Still, it's not as high as the 20 the Lakers had in the 2009-10 season. The obvious significance points to the reality that the Lakers will again need to manage their rest and injuries. They hope they can have more intensity in practice than last season, which often featured many of the starters simply getting treatment. But it remains unclear how healthy the Lakers will enter next season.
The Lakers have a tough last month of the season
The Lakers 11 games in April feature the final seven against last year's playoff teams, including Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Dallas and twice against both Denver and San Antonio. That's another reason why it's imperative the Lakers start off strongly in case they go through a few rough patches during this stretch or if they need to rest up injuries before the postseason.
This schedule means absolutely nothing
What I wrote was likely a waste of time because there's a good chance the season will be shortened or wiped out completely. But hey, it was at least fun to briefly get excited about next season.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant, center, and teammates listen to the national anthem before the start of a game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on April 12. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times