Sometimes it seems as though every game of the Los Angeles Lakers' schedule is a highly anticipated battle, regardless of the opponent. The Lake Show just tends to draw a lot of national attention.
In fact, L.A. has 10 games set to appear on ESPN, which is a rather remarkable number for a team without realistic championship aspirations. That's one more than the Los Angeles Clippers, for example.
However, while all 82 contests are sure to draw coverage, 10 still stand out above the rest, and they aren't necessarily just the ones being broadcast on ESPN.
Rivalries and important games abound here, and they're the dates that you should just go ahead and circle on your calendar right now.
Any game against the Los Angeles Clippers is bound to be an entertaining one, but there are a few factors making this season opener even more intriguing than a normal battle for Los Angeles.
The first key is contained in the previous sentence.
It's the season opener. That's always one of the most anticipated games for any NBA team, regardless of which opponent is on the slate. It's the first opportunity for fans to see the new product in live action that actually counts, and it's usually at the culmination of a painful waiting period.
Secondly, no one knows what Kobe Bryant's status will be for this first battle against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the Staples Center residents. He may be ready to play after fully rehabbing his ruptured Achilles, but will he be at full strength and capable of dropping his typical 25-plus points?
But the true key is that the Clippers are trying to take over Hollywood.
Obviously, the Lakers don't want to let that happen, and they won't go down without a fight. Not even the biggest fan of the Purple and Gold should try arguing that the Lakers have more talent this year, but that may not matter in this season-opening clash.
This isn't just one of the most hyped games on the Lakers schedule.
It's going to be one of the most heavily promoted contests played between any two of the NBA's 30 teams.
Period. No exceptions.
Dwight Howard didn't have the most positive first go-around in L.A., but the organization still wanted to give him a second try. The big man was the offseason's primary target, largely because the front office didn't have any money to spend if he chose to go elsewhere.
This is going to be one heck of a grudge match, even if there's a large talent disparity. L.A. will be incredibly pumped up to shut down D12 and prove to him that he made the wrong choice, especially if there are still unpleasant feelings between a few key stars.
I have no idea who comes out on top in this game (which should say something about the motivations given the extreme contrast in expectations), but I do know one thing: Kobe will drive the lane and at least attempt to posterize Dwight.
KG and The Truth have engaged in too many battles with the Los Angeles Lakers, so it doesn't matter that they'll be playing for the Brooklyn Nets instead of the Boston Celtics. The feelings will still endure, and the Lakers will inevitably get pumped up for this tough matchup.
Here's where I have to turn to the NFL and admit that I'm a Jacksonville Jaguars fan.
I grew up watching Peyton Manning lead the Indianapolis Colts to two victories over my team each and every year. Almost without fail. And, as was only natural, I grudgingly had to respect him for his greatness, but that didn't mean I had to like him.
When he joined the Denver Broncos, I hoped that I could finally like the man who seemed to be a great human being and a hilarious personality on television. So I turned on the first game of the season, but the negative feelings came flowing in as soon as I saw him step onto the field.
The jersey didn't matter, and the same theory will apply for the newest members of the Nets.
Christmas games are always fun, and they're even more enjoyable when they're played between two of the most popular teams in basketball.
Plus, the Kobe Bryant-LeBron James matchup is always an entertaining one, as they have two of the more passionate individual fanbases.
The litmus test for basketball players involves going into a bar and mentioning the player in question's name. If an argument begins, you know that everyone feels strongly about that guy.
Right now, Kobe and LeBron would stir up the biggest debates.
Even though the Heat are hoping to three-peat while the Lakers are attempting to sneak into the postseason, this will still be a heated battle between two big-name teams.
Just don't expect it to be particularly close.
The first matchup between the Lakers and Celtics is going to be a strange clash.
Who on the Boston roster has actually been there long enough to evoke passion on the part of the L.A. fanbase?
Rajon Rondo certainly qualifies, as the All-Star point guard has been a crucial member of the team for a long time. But does anyone else? Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass are all C's veterans, but none of them have played big enough parts in the rivalry to truly stir up the crowd.
That's about it.
But it doesn't matter.
Something about the green jerseys of the Celtics just gets purple-and-gold blood boiling. No matter who wears the jersey, it still has the same effect.
This is the first huge home test for the Lakers against one of the true favorites in the Western Conference.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of the stronger teams in the West for a while now, and that's not expected to change anytime soon. Russell Westbrook will undoubtedly be at full strength for this contest—unless there's another injury, of course—and the combination of the point guard and the league's best scorer can take down anyone.
While the Lakers might not be on the same level as the Thunder right now, this is still a big game because it's a midseason barometer for the strength of this squad.
If the Lakers can compete with the Thunder—even if they don't emerge victoriously—then perhaps a playoff berth won't be out of the realistic realm of possibilities.
But if they get blown out, then it might be time to pull the plug on the season and start thinking about maximizing draft position.
Expect to be inundated with plenty of images like this leading up to the first clash between the Rockets and Lakers in the Staples Center.
The Kobe-Dwight relationship (or lack thereof) will be played up quite a bit, and this will inevitably be one of the hottest tickets in town. I'm sure just about everyone in Tinseltown will be eager for a chance to shower boos down on the head of the former Lakers center.
The November 7 contest between these two teams will draw more publicity, simply because it's the first meeting.
However, the intensity will pale in comparison to this meeting. Houston has no reason to get that pumped up for a meeting with the Lakers, but the same sentence doesn't apply when you reverse the position of those names.
I can't even begin to imagine how expensive seats on the floor will be for this game.
The Lakers and Celtics play just twice each year (unless they meet in the NBA Finals, and something tells me that ain't happening this year), so it's only natural that both of their matchups end up featured in this article.
Just think about the history between these two franchises.
They've met in the finals 12 times. That's an insane number considering there have only been 64 seasons in NBA history thus far.
Again, it doesn't matter who wears the jerseys for this game. Both teams could choose to play only their backups and still drum up an impressive level of excitement. That won't happen, of course, which makes it better for the NBA fans who don't particularly care for these two teams.
In other news, I apologize for including such an...interesting picture of Steve Nash, but there's been so much roster turmoil that it's almost impossible to find images that feature two current members of the teams.
By itself, this game isn't particularly appealing.
The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers have a nice backstory, but these two teams aren't exactly on the same level, and that will be readily apparent by the middle of March.
However, this is the end of a crucial stretch that could make or break L.A.'s season.
On March 6, the Lakers begin the gauntlet by taking on the Clippers within the friendly confines of the Staples Center. Things only take a step up from there.
Next, they travel to the Pepsi Center for a contest with the Denver Nuggets. After that, they get to play consecutive games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then back-to-back matches with the Spurs.
The Lakers have 10 games after their late-March game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but this could be a crucial contest for the team's playoff hopes.
Right now, the Western Conference seems like it has seven postseason locks: the Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors. That leaves only one spot, and it's one that will be fought over rather heavily.
Expect the Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and Lakers to be right in the thick of things, which makes a late-season clash between any two of the aforementioned teams rather important.
While L.A. does play the Blazers after this game, the 'Wolves should be the more competitive team of the two. Plus, this one is on the road.
If the Lakers hope to play more than 82 games, this could very well become a must-win situation.