Los Angeles Lakers: Biggest Games on NBA Regular Season Schedule by Month
Most years, the start of Lakers training camp means a trip to Hawaii for the likes of Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson.
This time around, the Purple and Gold is taking its preseason act to the east, across the Atlantic, as part of the NBA's Europe Live event.
For now, the Lakers remain focused on getting back in shape for the long haul of the NBA season while spreading the league's good will around London and Barcelona.
Once back in the states, it'll come down to brass tacks, with the grind of an 82-game schedule looming before LA has any shot at defending its last two titles with a third.
With that in mind, here are the seven biggest games to watch for on the Lakers' season slate, one for each of the months leading up to the playoffs.
Oct. 26 vs. The Houston Rockets
The Lakers will open their campaign for trophy No. 17 five days before Halloween against the Houston Rockets, in what presumably will be the return of Yao Ming after a year lost to injury.
Supposing Yao can stay healthy throughout the regular season while restricted to 24 minutes per game, Houston could turn out to be the biggest threat in the West for the Purple and Gold.
It was less than two years ago that Rick Adelman's Rockets nearly knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs with Ron Artest and a merry band of role players.
Adelman has long been one of the best coaches in the NBA, and he'll certainly have a chance to prove it with a loaded roster, led by Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, newcomer Courtney Lee and, of course, Yao.
And while the Lakers won't be at full strength against the Rockets, with Andrew Bynum out until late November, they'll still be able to get a close look at what should be one of the more dangerous teams in the Western Conference.
Nov. 26 at The Utah Jazz
Andrew Bynum is expected to make his season debut for Los Angeles in late November.
And by the looks of the schedule, the Lakers will certainly need him around.
Bynum's return should coincide with the team's first trip to Salt Lake City, where Kobe and Co. will be matched up with Deron Williams and the new-look Utah Jazz.
Jerry Sloan's squad looked to be on the way out of contention in the Western Conference after getting swept by LA in the playoffs and losing the likes of Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver to the Chicago Bulls.
Jazz management acted quickly retool the roster to keep the winning culture alive at EnergySolutions Arena, drafting Gordon Hayward from Butler–a veritable Matt Harpring clone–and trading for Al Jefferson, the former Timberwolves big man.
As long as D-Will is still in the fold and has some talent around him, the Jazz should be a tough team to handle, even for the two-time defending champs.
Dec. 25 vs. The Miami Heat
Unlike the other match-ups on this list, this one doesn't require much introduction.
Christmas Day in LA.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh come to town to play Kobe, Pau Gasol, and the two-time defending champions.
The prematurely crowned kings against the reigning ring bearers.
Need anything else be said?
Jan. 17 vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder
The Lakers won't see the Thunder on the court until the calendar turns to 2011.
But by then, these two teams may already be tussling for the top spot in the standings.
Oklahoma City is everyone's pick this year to be the next great Western Conference power after winning 50 games last season and putting Los Angeles through hell in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
Fresh off of a gold medal performance in Turkey, Kevin Durant is looking like the preseason favorite to take home the MVP award this season, while Russell Westbrook, his backcourt buddy, could find himself in the conversation for the title of "best point guard in the NBA" by the time the Thunder rolls into Staples.
The Lakers will get their first glimpse at whether or not OKC, with rookie center Cole Aldrich out of Kansas, has enough in the middle this time around to keep up, after Bynum and Gasol overpowered the Thunder's frontline last year.
And if that's not enough, there's always the Black Mamba facing off with the Durant-ula.
Feb. 10 at The Boston Celtics
The last time the Lakers paid a visit to the TD Bank Garden in Boston, they finished the night with a 92-86 loss and a 3-2 series deficit against the Celtics in the NBA Finals, even after a 38-point performance by Kobe Bryant.
Of course, what happened in Games 6 and 7 is also history, but the team's first return trip to Beantown should be interesting to watch.
Forget the shower of boos that Shaq is sure to endure when he and his new Gang Green play in LA.
The fans in Boston are known for the vitriol they espouse toward their biggest rivals, and a defeat to LA in last year's Finals should only add to the acidity of what's to come.
Supposing Kendrick Perkins is back in action for the C's by then, the Lakers would certainly like nothing more than to beat Boston and make coach Doc Rivers eat his words after claiming LA had never beaten his starting five.
Because the Celtics beat the Lakers' starters back in 2008, right?
Not so much.
March 12 at The Dallas Mavericks
While all the mid-March hype in the NBA will surround the Lakers' trip to Miami, the team's tilt in Dallas two days later may prove to be of much greater consequence.
The Mavericks have been bundled in as one of the three or four best teams in the West for the 2010-2011 season after claiming the second seed in the conference last year.
Of course, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs did little with such a prime position other than fumble it away to the seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the opening round of the playoffs.
Dallas should be at least as good come spring, if not better, thanks to the addition of shot-block specialist Tyson Chandler to a rather talented and experienced (not to mention old) group that includes Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Jason Terry.
Should the Purple and Gold struggle to pull away from the pack in the West, this game could have repercussions on who finishes the NBA's regular season with home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
April 8 at The Portland Trailblazers
Anyone expecting the Lakers to simply waltz into another title run needs to check the schedule again.
LA is set to finish the regular season with a gauntlet of games against Western Conference foes in the month of April.
None more harrowing than a Friday frolic at the Rose Garden, also known as the Lakers' House of Horrors.
LA won its most recent row in Portland, snapping a streak of nine consecutive losses in the Trail Blazers' building.
Add to that the possibility of the Blazers being a top-tier team in the West, should Brandon Roy's bunch finally manage to stay healthy for more than half a season, and this game could be an unexpected doozy before the postseason gets under way.