The new-look Los Angeles Lakers are ready for their championship pursuit.
Or, perhaps, the old-look Lakers are ready for such a pursuit.
After all, the Purple and Gold became the league's oldest team after adding a number of veteran pieces this offseason in Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore, among others.
Even with younger additions such as Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn, many of the newest contributors are in their 30s and joining a team led by the 36-year-old LeBron James and a 28-year-old Anthony Davis who is coming off an injury-plagued 2020-21 campaign.
Question marks abound for this team, but it is also a realistic championship contender. That makes Los Angeles one of the most intriguing squads in the league as the 2021-22 season approaches.
Here is a look at the schedule it will face.
2021-22 Lakers Schedule Details
Season Opener: Oct. 19 vs. Golden State Warriors
Championship Odds: +400 (FanDuel)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Phoenix Suns (First game: Oct. 22)
The 2021 playoffs may have unfolded quite differently if Davis stayed healthy.
After all, the Lakers led the Phoenix Suns 2-1 in the first round and appeared to be on their way to another playoff victory as they defended their crown. However, Davis played a combined 24 minutes in Games 4 and 6 and missed Game 5 entirely while Los Angeles dropped three straight.
Phoenix advanced all the way to the NBA Finals, where it lost to the Milwaukee Bucks.
These regular-season matchups stand out as an opportunity for the Lakers to prove they are still the team to beat in the Western Conference when healthy. They also offer plenty of star power between James, Davis and Westbrook on one side and Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton on the other.
Positioning in the loaded Western Conference will also be on the line with a chance to pick up some key tiebreaker advantages with head-to-head wins.
And on top of all that, it could be a Western Conference Finals preview.
Los Angeles Clippers (First game: Dec. 3)
It still hasn't happened.
It being the playoff showdown between the two Los Angeles teams after the Lakers landed Davis and the Clippers brought in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George prior to the 2019-20 campaign.
First it was the Clippers blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in that first season to prevent a Western Conference Finals showdown. Then it was the Lakers losing to the Suns in the first round last year, although Phoenix went on to defeat the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals as well.
Still, it is appointment viewing any time the two Los Angeles teams face each other.
Like the showdowns between the Suns and Lakers, there will be positioning in the Western Conference standings on the line. There will also be that star power with Leonard and George attempting to counter all the notable names in Purple and Gold.
And, of course, city bragging rights will be on the line before a potential playoff matchup that will be three seasons in the making.
The Lakers may be the most difficult team to project in the entire NBA.
On the one hand, they have enough talent to win the championship. After all, James and Davis already proved they can do as much inside the Walt Disney World Resort bubble during their first season together, and now they have a nine-time All-Star in Westbrook as an overqualified third option.
It would surely be unsurprising if everything clicked and Los Angeles won the title.
However, there are also plenty of concerns outside of the age issue.
Injuries derailed the Lakers' championship defense a season ago, and spacing could be something of an issue given Westbrook's career shooting clip of 30.5 percent from three-point range. It isn't particularly difficult to envision him taking ill-advised shots down the stretch of games instead of looking for James or Davis to take over in crunch time.
The Western Conference also features a number of legitimate contenders between the Suns, Clippers, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and perhaps Golden State Warriors.
Everything may have to break right for the Lakers to take home the championship, and the thought here is that they will use plenty of caution during the regular season with an eye on maximizing their chances at perfection in the playoffs.
That means resting players at even the slightest sign of minor injuries and managing minutes as the season progresses.
The result will be an up-and-down regular season, middle-of-the-road seed in the Western Conference postseason and a healthy, star-studded roster primed for a potential championship run.
Record Prediction: 50-32
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