After their turbulent offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking forward to starting the regular season versus the Chicago Bulls on Sunday and leaving the events of the past month behind them. With a new season come new challenges, and believe me, there are plenty. But Mike Brown and his troops are surely up to the task.
Let the games begin in earnest.
Date: Sunday, December 25, 2011
Time: 2:00 PM PST
Location: STAPLES Center
TV: ABC (National)
Radio: 710 ESPN
Projected Starting Lineups:
|Los Angeles Lakers||Chicago Bulls|
|PG||Derek Fisher||PG||Derrick Rose|
|SG||Kobe Bryant||SG||Rip Hamilton|
|SF||Devin Ebanks||SF||Luol Deng|
|PF||Josh McRoberts||PF||Carlos Boozer|
|C||Pau Gasol||C||Joakim Noah|
Kobe Bryant says he "should be fine" for the season opener after suffering a ligament tear in his right hand in Monday's preseason tilt versus the Clippers. Bryant's teammates never doubted his availability despite sitting out of practice and their final preseason game this week. The best closer in the game will have to find a way to overcome yet another obstacle to start the season.
Pau Gasol will be shifting down to center in place of Andrew Bynum, who is serving a four-game suspension due to the flagrant foul committed on J.J. Barea in last year's playoffs. McRoberts will fill in at PF.
The NBA reduced Bynum's suspension from five games to four on Friday to account for the 20 percent decrease in games this season. Bynum will be expected to return for the Lakers' game versus the Denver Nuggets on December 31.
Head coach Mike Brown named Devin Ebanks the starter late Friday after deciding between Ebanks and Matt Barnes.
Rookies Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock were named to the Lakers' 15-man roster and will be available to play Christmas Day.
The Lakers and Bulls split their season series 1-1 last year, but this game shapes up to be entirely different.
Plot twists and roster changes this offseason have given the Lakers a new look, with three new veteran additions to the team in Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono, and two departures in Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have remained relatively intact, adding the veteran presence of Rip Hamilton to the bench for depth and scoring production.
The Lakers are hoping to get off to an auspicious start to the regular season after failing to acquire a big name in free agency and leaving a lot to be desired since their last full game of NBA action in the playoffs versus the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite going 0-2 in the preseason, Mike Brown was happy with his team's effort in picking up his new offensive and defensive systems, citing turnovers as their No. 1 problem heading into Sunday. The Lakers turned the ball over 21 times in their 108-103 loss to the Clippers in the preseason finale.
What To Watch For
All attention will be on Kobe this Christmas, who is sure to sport a protective brace around his shooting wrist to stabilize his right hand. Originally deemed by many as a two- to four-week injury, Bryant seems destined to play through this setback for the entire season.
Fighting through injuries is nothing new for the Mamba, notorious for overcoming physical setbacks and still finding ways to play at the highest level.
There truly is no one else like Kobe in sports.
Lakers fans will also be closely watching Pau Gasol as he attempts to anchor the front line without fellow seven-footer Andrew Bynum. Pau will need to assert himself aggressively in the Lakers' new twin tower offense and visibly play with passion in order to fend off the nasty trade rumors, speculation and doubts that have followed him during the rocky offseason.
Pau will get plenty of opportunity with Kobe at less than 100 percent and Drew sitting on the bench.
Christmas Day will also see the start to Devin Ebanks' 2011-12 campaign. Ebanks has generated serious buzz around Lakers circles and showed what the hype was all about with solid scoring efforts in the Lakers' first two preseason games. Lakers fans are hoping for big things from Ebanks this season.
Humanitarian Metta World Peace will start Christmas in a new role: king of the bench. As leader of the bench mob, MWP will need to have much stronger showing on Sunday to prove his 4-for-21 shooting during the preseason was an aberration and that he is truly capable of leading the second unit.
Christmas Day marks the first game of the Lakers' one and only back-to-back-to-back stretch of games this season. The Lakers travel to Sacramento to play the Kings on Monday and will return home to face the Utah Jazz Tuesday at STAPLES Center.
Ready or not, it all begins Sunday for the Lakers.