The 2010-2011 NBA season gets up to full speed for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the month of November. But, the basketball gods (and NBA headquarters) have shined down on the Lakers and given them what appears to be an easy road for the first month of the Lakers’ NBA title quest.
The journey to a three-peat NBA championship for the Lakers is less sprint and more “marathon” as head coach Phil Jackson loves to point out. And, for this section of the race, the road looks flat and easy.
For the Lakers, the only month that truly matters is June. This November will be cruising time. It will allow for Kobe Bryant to continue to heal and get to 100 percent on his surgically repaired knee.
And, the easy road will also allow the newly acquired Lakers like point guard Steve Blake, forward Matt Barnes, and back-up center Theo Ratliff ample time to learn the triangle and gel with their new teammates.
What a flat road also does is give the Lakers momentum. Sure, the NBA season will balance out on the Lakers with stronger opponents and more road games as the months progress, but an easy start gives the team confidence when the days get tougher plus a cushy record that then can afford some losses.
But the start seems like a gift, although not as nice as last season. The Lakers opened the '09-'10 campaign with 17 of their first 21 at Staples. This season, things are far more balanced, with nine road games among the first 19. But, the quality of opponents is not high nor will the Lakers be taxed with a hard schedule. 20 out of the first 28 games the Lakers play this season are against non-playoff teams from last year.
And, the Lakers have the league’s fewest back-to-back games at 15 (note: Last year, the Lakers were among the league leaders in B2B's, with 20.) and, for this upcoming month, will only play two.
This is great news for Laker fans as it looks like by the time the games start to get harder (and more exciting like Christmas Day versus the Miami Heat), the team will have rolled through November, Kobe will be back at full strength, the new players will be clicking with the old, and injured starting center Andrew Bynum will be that much closer to a return in December.
So, here are each of the Lakers’ games in November, key factors of each contest and the predicted outcome.
Prediction: Win but closer than you think. Here’s why.
Memphis is a team on the rise. They have all the key positions filled with strong players.
At center, Memphis brings Marc Gasol to go against his older brother. Marc's a big boy and a banger. He might not get the best of Pau but he'll sure make him feel it the next day.
At forward, Rudy Gay is tough to handle. But, fortunately, the Lakers have both Ron Artest and newcomer Matt Barnes to defend Gay. They'll need to be on top of their game as Gay has potential to go off.
On the perimeter, OJ Mayo is a rising star. The key here will be if Kobe Bryant is closer to 100 percent. If not, Mayo will run Kobe around on the defensive end.
But, the Lakers have too much firepower. As usual, Lamar Odom will be key. And, the Laker bench, which has already proven to be reliable.
Lakers take this one. Win.
Prediction: Win. Here’s why.
This might actually be a tough road game for LA. It comes as a back-to-back, which while in the same state, still doesn't change the fact that the Lakers have to play a game the day after another.
Tyreke Evans, last year's Rookie of the Year, will be another perimeter player the Lakers will have to contend with. Fortunately, not only will Kobe guard Evans but so can Ron Artest, Matt Barnes and even Shannon Brown.
Sacramento has another Rookie of the Year contender in DeMarcus Cousins. He's a beast on the block and will be fun to watch as he gets better with every single game.
But, the Lakers' strength is in the paint and that's where Pau Gasol will make the Kings pay.
This one might be close, Sacramento might even lead for a solid part of the game, but Lakers take this one.
Prediction: Win. We'll call this one “Rest Starters in 4th.” Here’s why.
With superstar Chris Bosh now in Miami, the Toronto Raptors are in a race of their own—NBA Lottery pick No. 1.
This home game for the Lakers should be a cake walk. Look for a blowout. If Phil Jackson doesn't get to rest his starters in the 4th Quarter, something went seriously wrong.
Prediction: Win, but won’t be easy.
As in season's past, the Portland Trailblazers again look like a team that will give the Lakers fits. Portland is nearly two-deep at each position. And, if and when (that's a big IF) center Greg Oden ever returns to the lineup, Portland will be that much more dangerous.
Right now, they will be a tough W for the Lakers. But, look for the Lakers inside duo of Paul Gasol and Lamar Odom to be the difference in this one.
Also, I have a funny feeling that newly acquired Laker Steve Blake may go off from the three-point line against his old team in Portland.
This one will be a fun one to watch. Brandon Roy is special and will give Kobe a run for his money.
Look for the Lakers to win a tight one here.
Prediction: Win but Twolves are better than expected.
This is the battle of Triangles. The Minnesota Timberwolves run a weak rendition of the Lakers' vaunted triangle offense. But, T-Wolves Coach Kurt Rambis has his team playing far better this year.
Look for Kevin Love to get a double-double versus the Lakers even though he is undersized. He's a workhorse.
Newly acquired Michael Beasely of the Timberwolves will have a solid game. He's the forgotten aftermath of the LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami Heat explosion this past summer. Beasely ended up going to Minnesota for cap room.
The T-Wovles got a steal. A top five pick for nothing. That might be up there with "steals and deals" in NBA history. Look for Beasely to continue to improve under Rambis.
But not in this game. The Lakers have too much in every area and Kobe Bryant will be getting near 100 percent.
Look for the Lakers to take this one. Their bench will be a difference maker, likely led by Steve Blake and Shannon Brown.
Lakers take this one, but might be a single digit win.
Prediction: Loss, in a super close one. (Unless Melo has been traded, then all bets off and therefore, see Toronto notes from earlier slide.)
To start, had to go with the picture in this one of Melo hacking Kobe, even though this game will be a road game for the Lakers.
Melo and his Nuggets will look to chop the Lakers in this game, too. Denver has both the size and speed to match-up with LA. And, a motivated Anthony makes Denver tough in this one. That is the wildcard all the way and makes this one tough to predict.
But, Denver might not make the playoffs this year if Anthony is traded, so they will want to give the Lakers as many shots as they can in the regular season.
This could go two ways: Nuggets run Lakers out of town and back to sea level. Or, super close one that Denver squeaks out.
Either way, Denver takes this one in a very, very close Loss for LA.
The Lakers beat the Suns in Phoenix spoiling the Sun's home opener in late October. Since this game is in LA, look for a solid win for the Lakers.
The Suns simply can't matchup with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. As long as LA pounds the paint and keeps the pace slow, they beat the Suns every time.
Throw in a healthier Kobe Bryant and this one could even be a blowout.
The Laker bench stepped up in the first meeting between these two teams in Phoenix—look for LA's reserves to rise again.
Easy win at home against what used to be a massive Laker rival that is fading in the desert.
Prediction: Win, but Bucks can play. Will be a nail-bitter.
This is game one of a short East Coast road trip for the Lakers. Always tough to get off the plane from a long flight and get ready to play on the road.
The Bucks are better than most people think and will be in this one, too. They have some size to handle the Lakers' bigs and an assortment of perimeter players to do some damage. The Bucks also play defense and work hard. That is always a key and makes for a competitive game.
Brandon Jennings is explosive and look for Phil Jackson to possibly put Matt Barnes on him as Jennings could man-handle Derek Fisher. Reserve Steve Blake will also give it a shot, but look for Jennings to score over twenty in this one.
The real question mark will be the Buck's Andrew Bogut. If he is not only in the lineup but at full speed, he makes the Buck's a tough out. If not, this one won't be that close.
This one will be tight all the way. I'll say it comes down to a Kobe Bryant last second shot for the win—his first game-closer of the new season.
Prediction: Win. See Toronto slide from earlier.
The only saving grace for the Detroit Pistons in this one is they catch the Lakers in a back-to-back game. That won't be a big factor as the Pistons are playing for the first pick in next year's Lotto.
The Pistons don't have much firepower these days—except for Rodney Stuckey.
Look for the Lakers to pound the ball inside. Pau Gasol could get close to thirty in this one, but he won't be on the floor for much of the fourth as this one has Laker blowout written all over it.
Prediction: Loss. End of short road trip. Twolves have improved. Teams play same offense.
The Lakers played the Timberwolves earlier in November at Staples. I predicted that one to be a win, but this one, on the road, will go differently for LA.
Could former Laker assistant and current Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis get a win against his former team and former mentor, Phil Jackson?
As the last game of this short road trip, LA will have one of those games that they would like to forget. This one has lack of effort written all over it.
Look for the T-Wovles to beat the Lakers by possibly double digits.
Prediction: Win, in a track meet.
The Lakers possess all the advantages down in the paint. Look for coach Phil Jackson to preach pounding the paint. But, as always, the Lakers won't help themselves and still get caught up in the Warrior's pace.
That means a track meet. But, it won't matter. LA's got too much for the Warriors even though Stephen Curry might go off in this one. I see him getting open looks as the Lakers focus their defense on Monte Ellis.
Lakers take this one with Pau Gasol possibly getting over thirty.
Prediction: Win, as long as Carlos Boozer isn’t back from broken hand injury.
The Bull's improved over the summer adding some key players. But one of them, Carlos Boozer, broke his hand before the start of the season. So, the Lakers probably won't see the complete new Bulls in this one.
As a result, the Bulls won't have enough firepower to handle LA. Although Derrick Rose will do his speed thing (He's FAST as his shoe commercial points out!), blowing by Laker after Laker, it won't matter.
LA will pound the ball, run Kobe all over the place and the Lakers' depth will take the Bulls down.
This one shouldn't be as hard as it appears.
Prediction: Simple. This one is a Loss.
The Jazz somehow got better this year, even with losing Carlos Boozer to free agency. Utah got the gift of the summer (outside of Minnesota getting Michael Beasley) when the Jazz signed Al Jefferson.
That was huge. And, Jefferson fits Utah head coach Jerry Sloan's archaic offense like a glove. His addition to go along with arguably the best point guard in the league, Deron Williams, makes the Jazz tough to beat anywhere.
But on their homecourt—the Jazz are nearly unbeatable.
This one should be close all the way. It could be Kobe missing a game winner or the Jazz simply squeaking out close win.
Either way, it's a Laker Loss.
Prediction: Win, but Pacers will compete.
The Pacers have some players. Can't wait to see how Darren Collison plays in the former UCLA Bruin's return to LA. After being traded from New Orleans after being a backup to Chris Paul—Collison now gets to run the show with Indiana.
Danny Granger is always dangerous but the Pacers just don't have enough bullets to take down the Lakers.
Look for a balanced Laker attack in this one, with both Kobe and Pau Gasol going over twenty.
Lakers in a Win.
Prediction: Loss. This is a very good team and Lakers will absorb a road loss.
The two teams played earlier in the month at Staples. Now, the Lakers have to go down to Memphis. That is tougher than it used to be.
Memphis has the inside out game that most teams don't. With Marc Gasol pounding the interior and then OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay out on the perimeter, the Grizzles are a dangerous team.
Look for this one to be close, but Memphis might lead the entire game.
The wildcard in this one is by this point in late November, I expect Kobe Bryant to be back to 100 percent from his knee surgery. I mean, really back, lift and all. This could mean Kobe is due for a breakout game.
If so, Lakers might pull this one out. I predict Kobe goes off and scores over thirty, maybe for the first time all season.
But, Memphis still wins in a close one.
Laker Loss to close out the month of November.