The Los Angeles Lakers made a strong push for the NBA Finals last season, but they should be in store for an even more successful run this time around.
Now that we know what they're regular season schedule will look like, we can begin to make some predictions about how this refurbished roster will handle the renewed expectations from Lakers brass and fans alike.
So long as Kobe Bryant is leading the way, those expectations demand nothing short of another title. With Steve Nash and an improved bench creating the most feared rotation since Shaquille O'Neal was still wearing Purple and Gold, that title indeed looks to be within tantalizing reach.
Here's a look at what you can expect from Los Angeles as their season progresses from developing roster chemistry in the early going to digging in for what promises to be a thrilling postseason run.
From start to finish, this is sure to be one of the most eventful campaigns yet for a franchise that's been no stranger to excitement.
-Tuesday, October 30 vs. Dallas Mavericks
-Wednesday, October 31 @ Portland Trail Blazers
-Friday, November 2 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
-Sunday, November 4 vs. Detroit Pistons
-Wednesday, November 7 @ Utah Jazz
-Friday, November 9 vs. Golden State Warriors
-Sunday, November 11 vs. Sacramento Kings
-Tuesday, November 13 vs. San Antonio Spurs
-Friday, November 16 vs. Phoenix Suns
-Sunday, November 18 vs. Houston Rockets
-Tuesday, November 20 vs. Brooklyn Nets
-Wednesday, November 21 @ Sacramento Kings
-Friday, November 23 @ Memphis Grizzlies
-Saturday, November 24 @ Dallas Mavericks
-Tuesday, November 27 vs. Indiana Pacers
-Friday, November 30 vs. Denver Nuggets
Friday, November 2 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
The third game of the season won't be short on drama. Games between these two have been known to get chippy, and the stakes will only get higher now that Chris Paul has a year with the Clippers under his belt and the Lakers have themselves a pure passer in Steve Nash. The Lakers may be the better team on paper, but they'll still be acclimating themselves to a new roster, so don't be surprised if the Clippers get the better of this one.
Tuesday, November 13 vs. San Antonio Spurs
This may be the Lakers' first true test of the season. Both clubs look primed to make a run for the first seed in the Western Conference, and this may be an early indicator of who has the edge.
Friday, November 16 vs. Phoenix Suns
This won't exactly be a homecoming for Steve Nash since the game will be at the Staples Center, but it will still be the first time of the season he faces off against the team with which he spent 10 years.
Saturday, November 24 @ Dallas Mavericks
The Lakers will enjoy a six-game homestand, but they'll have a three-game road-trip immediately thereafter. Dallas will be the third stop on that trip, and it will also be the second game of a back-to-back (with the first half coming against the Memphis Grizzlies).
Friday, November 30 vs. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets already proved they can pose a stiff challenge to the Lakers, and Ty Lawson is just the kind of quick point guard who can give Steve Nash's lacking defense a world of trouble.
Best One-on-One Matchup of October/November
Who better to welcome Steve Nash to the Lakers than the Los Angeles Clippers' own Chris Paul? Just three games into his stint in Los Angeles, Nash will go up against the one guy who has in some many ways become the heir to his status as the league's most dangerous passer.
You won't find two more poised and intelligent point guards, and they're running the offense for two of the league's very best teams. It doesn't get much better than this.
Lakers' Best-Case Scenario for October/November
Thanks to that six-game homestand, the Lakers have the chance for a very successful start to the season. If Los Angeles can knock off the new-look Dallas Mavericks in both meetings and win at least two of their three games on their mini-road trip, it could potentially get out to a 14-2 record. Let the title talk officially begin at that point.
Lakers' Worst-Case Scenario for October/November
As good as this team is on paper, it will take it time to develop some chemistry and get used to a new point guard. It may take Kobe Bryant a few games to get used to a slightly different role. Additionally, this team's defense may very well take a step back given how little Nash and Antawn Jamison contribute at that end of the floor.
If the Lakers struggle against teams like the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Nuggets, this could be a rough month. And you can't count out a team like the Sacramento Kings. They play Los Angeles twice, and they can score a lot of points on any given night.
If things start to go south, the Lakers could find themselves with a disappointing 9-7 start.
-Sunday, December 2 vs. Orlando Magic
-Tuesday, December 4 @ Houston Rockets
-Wednesday, December 5 @ New Orleans Hornets
-Friday, December 7 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
-Sunday, December 9 vs. Utah Jazz
-Tuesday, December 11 @ Cleveland Cavaliers
-Thursday, December 13 @ New York Knicks
-Friday, December 14 @ Washington Wizards
-Sunday, December 16 @ Philadelphia 76ers
-Tuesday, December 18 vs. Charlotte Bobcats
-Saturday, December 22 @ Golden State Warriors
-Tuesday, December 25 vs. New York Knicks
-Wednesday, December 26 @ Denver Nuggets
-Friday, December 28 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Friday, December 7 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Have the Lakers improved enough to change their odds against the Thunder? Perhaps. This first meeting between the two clubs should be the first indication of just how far the new iteration of Los Angeles has come.
Tuesday, December 25 vs. New York Knicks
The Lakers will take the Knicks on for the second time in a month. The game could go either way, but you can be sure both star-studded teams will bring their A-games with everyone watching on Christmas.
Wednesday, December 26 @ Denver Nuggets
The Lakers should be able to handle the Nuggets in their first meeting, but the trip to Denver could yield different results. Los Angeles wasn't an especially good road team last year, and games like this one could prove difficult.
December W-L Prediction: 10-4
Wins: Magic, Rockets, Hornets, Jazz, Cavaliers, Wizards, Bobcats, Warriors, Knicks, Trail Blazers
Losses: Thunder, Knicks, 76ers, Nuggets
Best One-on-One Matchup of December
If Dwight Howard is still with the Orlando Magic come December, his match-up against Andrew Bynum will be loaded with intrigue. The two All-Star centers could both be on the move, but there's no telling whether something will actually transpire between now and December. Whoever gets the best of this matchup will certainly make a point, given the ongoing questions about which big man the Lakers would be better off with going forward.
Lakers' Best-Case Scenario for December
Los Angeles will have to pay for all those home games they started the season with, but their opposition in December won't be especially stiff. Seven of their 14 games will be against teams that didn't make the playoffs last season, so if all goes well, Los Angeles could take as many as 12 of their 14 games.
Lakers' Worst-Case Scenario for October/November
If the Lakers' road woes continue this season, December could be a rough month. Nine of their 14 games will be away from the Staples Center, and teams like the Rockets, Knicks, 76ers, Warriors and Nuggets are all capable of surprising a great team on any given night.
If the Lakers struggle away from home, they could walk away with a 9-5 record in December.
-Tuesday, January 1 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
-Friday, January 4 @ Los Angeles Clippers
-Sunday, January 6 vs. Denver Nuggets
-Tuesday, January 8 @ Houston Rockets
-Wednesday, January 9 @ San Antonio Spurs
-Friday, January 11 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
-Sunday, January 13 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
-Tuesday, January 15 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
-Thursday, January 17 vs. Miami Heat
-Sunday, January 20 @ Toronto Raptors
-Monday, January 21 @ Chicago Bulls
-Wednesday, January 23 @ Memphis Grizzlies
-Friday, January 25 vs. Utah Jazz
-Sunday, January 27 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
-Tuesday, January 29 vs. New Orleans Hornets
-Wednesday, January 30 @ Phoenix Suns
Wednesday, January 9 @ San Antonio Spurs
If the first game between these two teams wasn't a test for the Lakers, a visit to San Antonio almost certainly will be. The Spurs don't lose many home games, and this will say a lot about Los Angeles' ability to hang around with other contenders on the road.
Friday, January 11 and Sunday, January 27 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Lakers will host the Thunder twice in January; both games promise to be important previews of postseason intrigue to come. If one of the two contenders sweeps the two games, we might have ourselves a pretty good sense of who has the edge come playoff time.
Thursday, January 17 vs. Miami Heat
It's no secret why this is an important game. If the Lakers have any shot at taking home a title this year, beating the Heat at home would go a long way in proving.
Best One-on-One Matchup of January
Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are both clinging to their primes, and doing a pretty darn good job of it too. The shooting guards aren't depended upon like they once were, but they're still absolutely essential
Whoever gets the best of this matchup may well end up getting the best of the game. And, should these two clubs meet in the NBA Finals, the same holds true.
Lakers' Best-Case Scenario for January
If the Lakers are to be as dominant as their fans hope, December will be an important indicator. Four of the 16 games will be against teams in the 2012 Conference Finals, and another will be against the Los Angeles Clippers. Even at their best, the Lakers probably won't finish this month any better than 12-4
Lakers' Worst-Case Scenario for January
Easily the most difficult month the Lakers will have faced up to this point, the good vibes sure to accompany a comparatively easy November and December could come crashing to an end. If the pressure gets to the Lakers, look for them to return to earth with a 9-7 month to forget.
-Friday, February 1 @ Minnesota Timberwolves
-Sunday, February 3 @ Detroit Pistons
-Tuesday, February 5 @ Brooklyn Nets
-Thursday, February 7 @ Boston Celtics
-Friday, February 8 @ Charlotte Bobcats
-Sunday, February 10 @ Miami Heat
-Tuesday, February 12 vs. Phoenix Suns
-Thursday, February 14 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
-Wednesday, February 20 vs. Boston Celtics
-Friday, February 22 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
-Sunday, February 24 @ Dallas Mavericks
-Monday, February 25 @ Denver Nuggets
-Thursday, February 28 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Thursday, February 7 @ Boston Celtics
The first of two meetings against the Boston Celtics will feature two veteran clubs with plenty of potential All-Stars making their cases for invitations to the big party. Expect to see both teams' stars at the very best.
Sunday, February 10 @ Miami Heat
If the Lakers somehow make it out alive from their January meeting with the Heat, chances are they won't be so lucky for this road game. If Los Angeles does somehow find a way to upend Miami, this game would make a huge statement about their title prospects.
Thursday, February 14 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than a matchup between two teams with no love lost between them? If Blake Griffin pushes off Pau Gasol's face for another dunk, no one will be hugging it out this time.
Wednesday, February 20 vs. Boston Celtics
How about another meet-up between these two rivals? The Lakers will have the advantage in the paint, but that point-guard matchup between Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo will be fun to watch.
Best One-on-One Matchup of February
Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce has epitomized the most modern version of the rivalry between these two teams. They're both incredibly crafty scorers who've made careers out of supplementing their athleticism with superior skills and intelligence.
And, they get to face off twice in February. Things could get interesting.
Lakers' Best-Case Scenario for February
If Los Angeles get the best of the Celtics, they could walk away with a pretty dominant 11-2 record. Chances are they lose to Miami, and there's always a good risk that a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves will sneak in there for an unexpected win. Otherwise, this won't be an especially rough month for the Lakers.
Lakers' Worst-Case Scenario for February
Besides the obvious challenges posed by Boston and Miami, the Lakers could also face tests from the Nets, Mavericks and Nuggets. If things don't go Los Angeles' way, don't be especially surprised to see an 8-5 month. If there are any trades in the works as the deadline approaches, they could shake things up enough to turn February upside down.
-Sunday, March 3 vs. Atlanta Hawks
-Tuesday, March 5 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
-Wednesday, March 6 @ New Orleans Hornets
-Friday, March 8 vs. Toronto Raptors
-Sunday, March 10 vs. Chicago Bulls
-Tuesday, March 12 @ Orlando Magic
-Wednesday, March 13 @ Atlanta Hawks
-Friday, March 15 @ Indiana Pacers
-Sunday, March 17 vs. Sacramento Kings
-Monday, March 18 @ Phoenix Suns
-Friday, March 22 vs. Washington Wizards
-Monday, March 25 @ Golden State Warriors
-Wednesday, March 27 @ Minnesota Timberwolves
-Thursday, March 28 @ Milwaukee Bucks
-Saturday, March 30 @ Sacramento Kings
Tuesday, March 5 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
The final regular-season meeting between these two teams should be the most meaningful. The Lakers will have had plenty of time to develop some chemistry with their added pieces, and the Thunder will be rounding into playoff form.
Sunday, March 10 vs. Chicago Bulls
If Derrick Rose returns in time for this one, it will be a game to watch. The Bulls proved they could hang around without Rose last season, but they could once again be in the title race if Rose returns from knee surgery in time.
Friday, March 15 @ Indiana Pacers
This game will mean more to the Pacers than it does the Lakers, but it will be a good measure of whether Indiana has taken a step forward after its breakout 2011-12 season. It won't be a bad postseason tune-up for Los Angeles either.
Best One-on-One Matchup of March
The Lakers will face off twice against the Atlanta Hawks. The games themselves may not be especially exhilarating, but the power forward matchup should be.
It will pit one of the games most athletic 4s in Josh Smith against a guy who's made his living with skill and finesse. Both Smith and Pau Gasol are incredible talents, and they're both indispensable to their team's postseason hopes.
Lakers' Best-Case Scenario for March
March should be a relatively easy month for Los Angeles, and it couldn't come at a better time. Head coach Mike Brown should have the opportunity to give some of his guys a little extra rest in anticipation for the playoffs, and the Lakers should hit their stride. They could very easily role to a 13-2 record in March
Lakers' Worst-Case Scenario for October/November
If anything goes wrong with this roster's facelift, we'll know by March. The disappointment produced thereby could send this club into something of a tailspin. If worst comes to worst, the Lakers could show some cracks and finish the month at 10-5.
-Tuesday, April 2 vs. Dallas Mavericks
-Friday, April 5 vs. Memphis Grizzlies
-Sunday, April 7 @ Los Angeles Clippers
-Tuesday, April 9 vs. New Orleans Hornets
-Wednesday, April 10 @ Portland Trail Blazers
-Friday, April 12 vs. Golden State Warriors
-Sunday, April 14 vs. San Antonio Spurs
-Wednesday, April 17 vs Houston Rockets
Tuesday, April 2 vs. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks will have an almost entirely-rebuilt rotation next season, but it could begin to show some signs of life by the time the postseason rolls around. Whether they have what it takes to make another postseason run will become much clearer against Los Angeles.
Sunday, April 7 @ Los Angeles Clippers
If both of these teams are fighting for playoff position, this game could get ugly. If they're instead fortunate enough to rest some starters, we'll see if the benches can maintain a rivalry-like atmosphere.
Sunday, April 14 vs. San Antonio Spurs
In the second-to-last game of the season, there's a good chance both clubs rest their starters. That is, of course, unless they're both vying for home-court position in the postseason. In that event, this could very well have the feel of a playoff game.
Best One-on-One Matchup of April
Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol may be the game's two most skilled seven-footers. They've had some epic battles, and Gasol appeared to be none-too-pleased that Dirk got the All-Star nod last year.
The Mavericks will also look to ready their new roster for its first playoff run together. If Dallas is once again fighting for a low seed, this game could actually mean something. Whoever wins the battle at power forward may be decisive.
Lakers' Best-Case Scenario for April
With only eight games in April, there's really know telling what will happen. Some of these games could be nothing more than opportunities for the Lakers to rest up for their title push. If the games count for something, Los Angeles could take all eight of them.
Lakers' Worst-Case Scenario for April
The worst-case scenario for April may be the best-case scenario for the Lakers. If Mike Brown's club is sitting pretty atop the Western Conference standings, these games will be nothing more than a chance for the second unit to get some valuable experience while Kobe and company get some rest. If that's the case, the Lakers might split their April games 4-4. But, that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Final Record: 59-23
The Los Angeles Lakers may be better-equipped to win a championship than they were last year, but they'll take a few lumps during the regular season.
It will take some time for the team to acclimate itself to the additions of Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, and the Lakers may once again have to change their offensive philosophy and playing-calling: something the team already had to go through in head coach Mike Brown's first year.
Los Angeles may also continue to struggle on a couple fronts, even with their veteran additions.
The Lakers struggled on the road last year, and there's no reason to believe that will change. They were also just average on the defensive end of the floor, ranking 15th league-wide in points allowed. Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison certainly won't fix that.
There's also the risk that all the trade rumors surrounding Andrew Bynum could get inside his head a bit. If he isn't putting in his best effort, this team isn't nearly as elite as it could be.
On the other hand, if all goes well, Los Angeles will have an incredibly potent offense and could give the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs a run for their money.
They might just have to hold off that other team in L.A. to do so.