The Los Angeles Lakers are in for a major 2021-22 season filled with high expectations.
Following a disappointing conclusion to the 2020-21 campaign with a first-round playoff loss, plus a regular season mired in injuries, the Lakers got aggressive in the offseason.
The Lakers went after all the talent they could afford with limited financial flexibility this summer, and though the prevalent criticisms have been about the collective age of the roster, winning a championship would silence those doubts.
Los Angeles wants to optimize the current title window in place with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and adding the talent it did this summer signaled those intentions.
With the schedule for next season released, let’s look at 10 games that will be key for L.A.:
vs. Phoenix Suns, Oct. 22
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
While the game against the Golden State Warriors on opening day will dominate headlines, the Phoenix Suns are a more captivating matchup to begin the new season. Not just because the Suns eliminated the Lakers in the playoffs but because it gives L.A. the opportunity to see how their new big three meshes against the Western Conference champions. The Suns have essentially the same roster from last season except JaVale McGee is adding necessary frontcourt depth behind Deandre Ayton. Landry Shamet will also provide defensive versatility and 3-point shooting off the bench. But if the Lakers want an early test to see how the new roster stacks up against a proven contender, this is the battle.
at Milwaukee Bucks, Nov. 11
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The NBA blessed the Lakers with an extremely chill beginning to the new season; many of those games are also occurring in Staples Center. When the Lakers embark on their first five-game road streak, they’ll start in Milwaukee against the reigning champions. The Bucks, headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, will be a heavyweight in the Eastern Conference despite the Brooklyn Nets holding the title as the favorites. In the scenario both of these teams make the NBA Finals, this will be a game for each team to look back on and watch the tape. How did the Lakers guard Giannis? Did the Bucks use Giannis to neutralize Anthony Davis inside the arc? Who matched up against who and when? The Lakers should have any rust, if any, with the big three ironed out by this game, making it an enthralling watch.
at Dallas Mavericks, Dec. 15
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The first game for the Lakers against the Dallas Mavericks comes at an intriguing time. It’s the start of a three-game road trip that leads into more tough contests, so it will prove to be a good assessment period. Luka Doncic has a 3-7 record against the Lakers in his career, but he always brings extra motivation and resilience against James. The Mavericks may not have moved the needle much this offseason, and though a healthy Doncic will keep the team competitive, it’s an opening for the Lakers to assert their dominance against a lower-tier playoff team when every squad is at full strength.
vs. Brooklyn Nets, Dec. 25
(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
No list would be complete if this star-studded matchup wasn’t included. Last season robbed fans of a fully healthy contest between the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets; hopefully, that isn’t the case this season. The two powerhouses will face off on Christmas, which should compete for one of the games of the year if it pans out accordingly. James. Davis and Westbrook against Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving is what the NBA world is eagerly hoping to see. It would be another possible matchup to transpire in the NBA Finals, so let’s see if the basketball god allows dreams of many to manifest.
at Atlanta Hawks, Jan. 30
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The young-and-gun Atlanta Hawks caused numerous heads to swivel last season after going on a deep playoff run that included knocking off the No. 1 seeded Philadelphia 76ers. Atlanta did a fantastic job addressing weaknesses on the roster, such as adding Delon Wright from the Sacramento Kings to back up Trae Young. A healthy De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish transform the Hawks into an even more dangerous threat as both missed crucial time in the playoffs. The second matchup between the Lakers and Hawks happens at the end of a six-game road trip for L.A., which can be extremely grueling and takes a damaging toll fatigue-wise on a team. Will the Lakers have enough firepower to finish the trip with a record above .500? How will the last game of the trip transpire? After this game, the Lakers have seven games (out of eight) against teams that made the playoffs last season, so playing a fun and young Hawks squad at this point of the season should be enticing.
vs. Philadelphia 76ers, March 23
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
From this point on in the calendar, the competition level dramatically increases, and it sustains until the end of the regular season. This would be Los Angeles’ second and final match against the 76ers, and it’s the last contender from the Eastern Conference L.A. will face. Presuming both teams are at full health, it provides L.A. another opportunity to see how a theoretical finals matchup would go. The 76ers are stacked across the board with long-armed defenders, and though the situation with Ben Simmons still needs to be resolved, Philadelphia has the perfect matchup to Davis in Joel Embiid.
at Utah Jazz, March 31
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The Lakers head to Utah Jazz in the final game of their last three-game road trip of the season. Utah finished first in the West last season, and despite how that fact typically gets buried under the rug in any discourse involving the team, they’ll still be a tough team to beat. The additions of Rudy Gay and rookie Jared Butler have also been underrated adds. Again, it’s another possible playoff matchup for both teams. If the West is as close this season as the battle was last year, seeding implications could play a significant role in the outcome of this one.
at Phoenix Suns, April 5
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Just as the Suns will be a good test for L.A. to start the season with, this game will illustrate how far, if applicable, the Lakers have come. It’s another possible game where seeding matters, and L.A. gets a glimpse of the atmosphere in Phoenix before potentially facing them in a seven-game series for the second year in a row.
at Golden State Warriors, April 7
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This is the game against the Warriors that could be the most entertaining of the four-game series that happens during the 82-game schedule. By this time, hopefully, Klay Thompson is not hindered by any restrictions. Golden State also had to participate in the play-in tournament last season, but with a healthy roster in the mix, that shouldn’t be the case if Stephen Curry replicates his phenomenal play from last year. The Lakers and Warriors went to the final minute in that play-in game, but a deep James triple sealed the deal. A game with large stakes would be another high-energy battle between the division rivals.
at Denver Nuggets, April 10
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How the season ends is more important than how it starts. The Lakers end the campaign on the road against the Denver Nuggets, who were a formidable squad last season despite multiple injuries to the starting guards, mainly Jamal Murray. Denver also made improvements along the margins by swapping Paul Millsap for Jeff Green, who was sneaky good for the Nets last season. Michael Porter Jr. has taken a leap every season, and it’s plausible to believe he’ll do the same with a longer offseason to train. Both the Lakers and Nuggets were playoff teams last year, and seedings, as you may have guessed, come into play again. The Lakers have a straightforward start to the season, but it’s balanced by what appears to be a strenuous end, at least on paper. The NBA season can be extremely unpredictable, which is why the league enthralls many. These 10 games for the Lakers could define how successful their season is, especially come playoff time.
Source: Yahoo Sports