2011-12 Schedule Breakdown
You’ve waited so patiently for the NBA season to begin, it was only fair for Santa Stern to debut the 66-game schedule with a big bow on Christmas Day’s nicely wrapped openers, here highlighted by L.A.’s battle against reigning MVP Derrick Rose and Chicago.
For we who follow the NBA, getting the schedule really does compare to opening a cool present, if one that requires you to read the directions before you can assemble.
You need to know when your favorite opposing player comes to town, how a 10 percent decrease in rest due to increased back-to-backs might affect Kobe and Co’s legs, what six Eastern cities L.A. will skip in 2011-12 and why that makes the Lakers’ schedule among the league’s most difficult.
- December: 5, (4h/1a)
- January: 17, (9h/8a)
- February: 13 (4h/9a)
- March: 17, (9h/8a)
- April: 14, (7h/7a)
For starters, throw out any comparisons to monthly schedules of the past few years, when the Lakers would be in L.A. so much you’d have trouble not spotting player X in Manhattan Beach after practice. If 17-of-21 home games to start 2009-10 was unbalanced like your annoying little brother inexplicably dating the prom queen, this season is more like Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, because February aside, the purple and gold (or white) uniforms will be adorned in alternating fashion.
Having four of five games at home in late December seems beneficial, at least until recognizing that three of them come in the firstfive nights of the season, with a road game (@SAC, 12/26) smack in the middle of a back-to-back-to-back. February, as always, will pit the Lakers on the road for all but four games, out of thirteen, as the Grammy Awards take over STAPLES Center, while Mike Brown’s bunch will finish with an even seven and seven (not the drink!) split in April.
Hot starts have been the rule for Kobe and Co. in recent years: L.A. opened 2008-09 on a 14-1 spurt, 2009-10 at 18-3 and rolled off eight straight W’s to start last season (13-2 on Nov. 23), a collective winning percentage of .882. Making that more difficult this season is the 5-game suspension to beserved by Andrew Bynum for his elbow of J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the WesternSemi’s last season.
- Sunday - 14 games, (10h/4a)
- Monday - 5 (2h/3a)
- Tuesday - 11 (7h/4a)
- Wednesday - 10 (2h/8a)
- Thursday - 7 (2h/5a)
- Friday - 13 (8h/5a)
- Saturday - 6 (2h/4a)
We have a proposition for the Lakers wives/girlfriends club: turn Wednesday into a movie, bowling or beach bonfire club night – if “Basketball Wives L.A.” isn’t on, of course – because your men will not be home. Cities like Dallas, Utah, Washington and San Antonio willhost the crew on eight Wednesday’s (including 3-of-4 in March and April).
On the other hand, Sundays at home have become a tradition in L.A., featuring 10 more contests in 2011-12, while Tuesday (7) is another day Jack Nicholson can catch his squad in person. Many of those Sunday games (vs. Miami, Boston, Dallas and OKC in March and April) will be seen nationally, as will several of L.A.’s seven Thursday games thanks to TNT (at Boston, at OKC, at Miami).
L.A. rarely played on Mondays or Saturdays in prior years, but this season will bump up from three to six games (Saturday) and from four to five (Monday). Hey, they had to fill in the extra games somewhere!
- Dec. 25/26/27 - CHI/@SAC/UTA
Some teams were handed three back-to-back-to-backs, so the Lakers are fortunate to be left with just this one. Bynum will only be out for seven days on the calendar, but that still puts more early miles on the legs of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, for the second straight year. As such, acquiring another big for Mike Brown to utilize is a stated priority for GM Mitch Kupchak during training camp.
This seems a good time to check out a related article featuring the expertise of Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, who detailed the potential impact of a compressed season here.
Last season, L.A. had the league’s fewest number of back-to-backs, and got work done like Aaron Rodgers against everybody’s secondary, going 10-5 in the first game and 12-3 in the second. This season’s motley crew of B2B’s includes one of the home/home variety (which never happens) and six of the home/road type.
Extra credit: you know the Lakers can’t wait for the @MIL/@MIN B2B. Wisconsin and Minnesota in late January!!! Negative 15 degrees!!!! This is sure to elicit a slew of complaints on the team plane.
THE LONG, NOT-SO-STRANGE TRIP
Usually, we travelers have to figure out how many suits/shirts/ties to pack for two long trips of 11 or 12 days, but this season there’s only one trek of more than three games:
- Feb. 3-12: @DEN, @UTA, @PHI, @BOS, @NYK, @TOR
Phil Jackson always liked to use these trips to hand out books and propagate some team bonding, and we can imagine Mike Brown looking forward to some Kumbaya moments himself, particularly after such a short camp in which teaching has to be the focus. On L.A.’s last long trip (Feb. 2011), they beat four playoff teams (NOH, MEM, BOS and NYK) before tiring mentally and falling to Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland heading into the All-Star break. Not amused, and recharged, they ran off the ridiculous 17-1mark out of the break, crushing everybody with Bynum dominating the paint defensively. Brown thinks that angry dragon is right there under the surface.
In a normal 82, teams play four opponents in their ownconference three times instead of a typical four, and each team in the opposing conference twice. This season, however, the Lakers will play 12 Eastern teams only once, skipping six road cities (Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and New Jersey), while six other teams (Detroit, Milwaukee, Orlando, Philadelphia, Toronto and Washington) won’t get to spend their per diem at Boa, Venice Beach or the Comedy Store.
With apologies to Dwight Howard and John Wall, the teams not coming to STAPLES have just about the least collective star power in the NBA. Instead, Lakers fans can be happy to see the Heat, Celtics, Bulls,Knicks and Hawks in person … it’s just that L.A.’s strength of schedule goes up considerably as a result.
SCHEDULE OF DEATH?
OK. It’s a bit dramatic to compare L.A.’s schedule to the proverbial “Group of Death” in a given year’s major soccer tournament (incidentally, it’s Group B’s Germany, Holland Portugal and Denmark in Euro 2012). But by removing one game against CHA, CLE, IND, N.J., WASH, TOR, PHI, MIL and DET, and still playing all of the best of the West a minimum of three times, a majority of L.A.’s games will come against playoff teams from last season (34). Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing for L.A., who played far better last season against quality opposition, and struggled with some of the “should wins.”
Chasing the No. 1 seed, always L.A.’s goal, won’t be easy, but the talent is surely there if the hunger Brown anticipates hasbeen lingering since the Dallas sweep can match it.
With all the quirks of the 66-game schedule, the bottom line is simple: that basketball is back.
Five Feature Games
- Jan. 16 vs. Dallas
- Jan. 19 @ Miami
- Feb. 23 @ OKC
- Mar. 11 vs. Boston
- April 20 @ San Antonio