If the Lakers opening month schedule has been described across the league as one of the most difficult, December certainly brings little reprieve as L.A. will play nine of 14 games against team that currently sport a record of .500 or better.
The Lakers begin the month against the upstart Orlando Magic this Sunday (12/2). Dwight Howard is having a breakout season for the Magic averaging over 23 points and almost 15 rebounds per game. The Lakers will then seek solace against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis two days later (12/4), a game the Lakers must be careful in as they were defeated in Portland last season by a similarly young, scrappy team. L.A. finishes off their mini road trip with a back-to back against the Denver Nuggets (12/5), a rematch of the team’s game on Nov. 29.
The Lakers then head back home to face the Golden State Warriors (12/9) for the first time since the Warriors shocked the basketball world by defeating the number one seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Golden State struggled out of the gate while missing guard Jason Richardson (traded to Charlotte in the offseason) and forward Stephen Jackson (suspended for the first seven games because of an off the court incident). The Warriors have gone 7-1 since Jackson returned and now sit right behind the Lakers in the Western Conference standings.
The schedule does not get any easier as the Lakers will seek revenge against the San Antonio Spurs at STAPLES Center (12/13) following an early season defeat to the Spurs in Texas.
The team catches a mini-break as they get three days off before facing the Warriors and another three before meeting the Spurs.
The Lakers then leave L.A. for a quick rematch against the Warriors in Oakland (12/14) before coming home to face the inner-city rival Los Angeles Clippers on the Lakers court (12/16). Much to the surprise of just about everyone around the league, L.A.’s stepchild has risen above injuries threatening to decimate the team to hover around .500 to start the season.
The Chicago Bulls—the Lakers’ next opponent—have faced a myriad of problems to open the season, only winning 2 of their first 12 games. Their paltry record should not be overlooked though as the Bulls were picked by many in the pre-season to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Translation: The Lakers will still have their hands full. The game (12/18) will also mark Kobe Bryant’s first trip to the Windy City since the crowd at the United Center started chanting “Ko-Be, Ko-Be” amid a flurry of trade speculation.
Next up for the Lakers on their four game road swing back East is a date with LeBron James and his Eastern Conference Championship winning Cleveland Cavaliers (12/20). As always, the matchup between Bryant and James will provide plenty of intrigue, but Lakers-Cavs games always seem to find a way to make things pretty exciting on their own. Ditto for the Lakers 2001 NBA Finals opponent, the Philadelphia 76’ers who the team will play one night later (12/21). L.A. concludes the road trip with an afternoon affair against the New York Knicks that Sunday at Madison Square Garden(12/23)—a matchup between two teams that have historically battled it out with the best of them.
The Lakers return home for an extremely difficult stretch to close out the month, beginning with a Christmas Day rematch against the Phoenix Suns…the same team that the Lakers annihilated in Arizona in the first week of the season. The the Utah Jazz (who recently annihilated the Lakers in Utah) that Friday (12/28) as will Sunday’s (12/30) game against the same rival Boston Celtics team that just blew out the Lakers on their past road trip.
Judging by the team’s less than stellar play of late, the Lakers will likely find it difficult to finish the month more than a few games over the .500 mark. Even the easier games on the schedule—Minnesota, Philadelphia and New York—are all versus teams that the Lakers have had problems with on the road in the past. The final three games in particularly represent a monumental challenge so the team would be wise to rack up as many easy victories as possible before Phoenix, Utah and Boston come to town. The long-term prognosis of Kwame Brown’s injured knee will also affect how well the Lakers are able to compete with teams known for their size such as the Nuggets, Spurs and Jazz.