Your 2015-16 Lakers schedule is out, and if you’re like me, this means you can plan your life … at least through April. Below is a breakdown of the schedule highlights, lowlights and everything in between:
The latest of Kobe’s nicknames is most applicable to his 20th NBA season, which will be the most any player has played with one team in league history. Kobe has amassed, and cannot damage, one of the 10 best basketball resumes in NBA history. Among his extensive accolades: Five titles (two Finals MVPs); 11 All-NBA first-team appearances; nine All-NBA Defensive teams; 17 All-Star appearances; the league’s third all-time most points*. What more can he realistically add in what could be his final year? Well, despite how it’s been reported as “news” every month or so by a different media outlet, Bryant has said the same thing about when he’ll hang it up for the past few years: This final year of his contract will most likely be his last, but he really won’t know until after this season. Lasting skills remain: impeccable footwork, shooting range all over the court, complete knowledge of every scheme and how to attack it, ability to make plays for others, and so on.
* This year also marks the 10-year anniversary of Bryant’s 81-point game, the second-highest total in NBA history.
On the flip side, Bryant’s sheer mileage on the hardwood since 1996 has made it more difficult to play both ends of the floor for entire games, as he did for so many years. He can still find moments of brilliance, but doing it on a nightly basis like younger stars is unrealistic. Understandably so:
ALL TIME NBA REGULAR SEASON + PLAYOFF MINUTES
There’s no way to get around the time that’s accrued over all these years of basketball greatness. Head athletic trainer Gary Vitti – who happens to be in his own final season – won’t put a number on Bryant’s expected minutes, but 25-to-30 max seems a fair guess, with few if any back-to-backs. That limitation, plus a full offseason of healthy legs that didn’t exist in the previous two (Achilles, knee), gives hope that we’ll see Bryant on the court far more than he’s managed in recent seasons. Again, his legacy is secure either way. But if this is Bryant’s last campaign, I’m sure you’ll want to be there in person to see him off … at least once … just in case.
A CHARMIN ULTRA-SOFT START
Last year in San Antonio, Nick Young and I debated the best type of toilet paper. I went with Charmin Ultra Soft, while Swaggy P stated his preference for Scott, because it’s “a little rougher,” which is how he said he played after hitting a game-winning three on the Spurs. In 2015-16, only four of L.A.’s first 12 games come against teams that made the playoffs last season, and two are against Dallas, which lost Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler and has two players with major offseason surgeries (Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons). That leaves Brooklyn, not among the East’s stronger teams, and Toronto, who got younger amidst a series of roster moves. The schedule always evens out, but it can’t hurt for L.A. to have a chance to get something positive going early on against light opposition.
PEANUTS, PRETZELS or A COOKIE?
OK, if I’m being honest, it’s more like some variation of chicken, beef or fish, plus all kinds of healthy appetizers and some (relatively) healthy dessert options catered by Whole Foods and masterminded by Lakers strength and conditioning coach/budding nutritionist Tim DiFrancesco. Those of us in the back of the plane are major beneficiaries of the Lakers fueling their players with good food. Why are we talking about food on the plane? We’re going to be eating a TON of it until the year turns. The Lakers are on the road more during November and December than Bruce Springsteen, or whoever puts on the most shows these days (Taylor Swift? Rihanna? Imagine Dragons? Phish, still?).
I’ve never seen a schedule that has L.A. out of L.A. so much early in the season.
Oct./Nov./Dec. Home Games: 11
Oct./Nov./Dec. Road Games: 22
Within this double-up are one five-game trip (BKN, NYK, MIA, ORL, DAL), and one eight-game mega-trip (PHI, WAS, ATL, DET, TOR, MIN, SAS, HOU), the latter being the team’s longest roadie since 2007-08. The good news: Once January comes, the Lakers will spend a great deal of time at home, including a 12H/5A split in January (one road game being “at” the Clippers) and a 12H/3A split in March. In fact, the Lakers have a 19-day, eight-game homestand from March 4-22.
Relatedly important: A focus for every schedule article is what gets packed for the long trips, like, how many suits will I bring on the eight-gamer? I’ll try to get away with three (black, grey and blue) with eight ties and eight shirts, but may have to add a fourth suit (brown or tan) to be safe. In an ideal world, I can fit everything into one bag, which is easier with just one pair of dress shoes (black only if I can avoid the brown or tan suit). This is a solid number in between your radio play-by-play voice John Ireland’s six suits and your TV voice Bill Macdonald’s two or three. Also: Our Spanish broadcasters for TWCS Deportes, Adrian Garcia Marquez and Francisco Pinto, are handsome enough that they could wear the same combo for every game and nobody would care. Yet, they still dress and look better than us.
J.B.’S ROAD-TRIP RESTAURANT BONUS:
Our food critic/correspondent for the Schedule Preview article, Lakers VP of Public Relations John Black, provided these options for those who would like to join the Lakers on the eight-game trek:
Philly – Davio’s
Washington – Café Milano
Atlanta – Rathbun’s
Detroit – McDonald’s*
Toronto – Sotto Sotto
Minnesota – JD Hoyt’s or Murray’s
San Antonio – McDonald’s*
Houston – Chick-fil-A
*Apparently John isn’t a fan of any restaurants in Detroit or San Antonio. I, on the other hand, recommend Pappasito’s in San Antonio, and Townhouse (burgers) in Birmingham, Mich., where the team stays.
BACK-TO-BACKS AND GEOGRAPHY
The NBA made a big push this season to make the schedule a bit easier as far as travel goes, and while the Lakers actually have two more back-to-backs than last season’s 16, they are more geographically sensible. For example: @MIA/@ORL, @DET/@TOR, @SAS/@HOU and @CHI/@MIL. Meanwhile, the Lakers have only one stretch of the dreaded four games in five nights set, from Nov. 28-Dec. 2 (@POR, IND, @PHI, @WAS).
Speaking of geographic sensibility: Last year, the Lakers traveled about 55,000 air miles, second only to Portland’s 60,000 in the entire NBA. But this season, the Lakers will cover 44,992 miles, a drop that has them about 1,000 away from the league’s minimum (43,832), and far below the league-max 55,827. We do have to add a few miles for training-camp’s destination, Honolulu, where the Lakers for a spell went every other preseason. But overall, the schedule still offers far more time for analysts Mychal Thompson and Stu Lantz to be at home watching baseball (Mychal’s youngest son Trayce plays for the White Sox) and football (Stu is an NCAA/NFL savant).
THE LOTTERY PICKS
Throw away the inevitable Summer League overreaction to both positive and negative aspects of what D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle did in Vegas. What I saw: Russell had spots of forcing action, adjusting to the physicality, and he didn’t shoot well, but the Louisville native ultimately showed flashes of the potential that made him the No. 2 pick. His passing was so good at times as to be surprising for his young teammates; his ability to create in screen/roll situations made me think of a young James Harden with the shiftiness, craftiness, size and left hand; and he was better defensively than I expected. It’ll take some time, but the potential is very clear.
Randle, despite being very frustrated by the strict 20-minute limit enforced by head athletic trainer Gary Vitti’s lieutenants, showed promising signs as well. For someone of his strength and size, 2014’s No. 7 pick (who fractured his leg in the first game of his rookie year) has a remarkably quick first step, which he used to beat every four or five man who tried to guard him. His finishing wasn’t always great as Randle searched for game rhythm, but he did show off the improved jumper that many have seen him crafting at the team’s practice facility. Now, he didn’t make much of an impact on defense, which Byron Scott will surely address. On the other hand, when Randle did grab rebounds, he was terrific at pushing the ball up the court and creating offense either for himself or for teammates, and his ability to make plays for others when he got the ball in screen-roll situations was also impressive.
GRAMMY TRIP DEAD:
Every February since I began covering the team in 2008-09, the Lakers have vacated Staples Center to accommodate the Grammy Awards, and I’ve used the previous year’s “Best Rap Album” winner to break down the trip. Well, this year, there is no Grammy trip, since the Awards take place during the extended All-Star break (Feb. 11-18). This ends up being a good thing, however, since 2014 wasn’t the best year for rap albums. The nominees included: Iggy Azalea “The New Classic” (she got Swaggy P’s vote!); Common “Nobody’s Smiling”; Childish Gambino “Because the Internet”; Wiz Khalifa “Blacc Hollywood”; ScHoolboy Q “Oxymoron”; and Eminem “The Marshall Mathers LP 2”. Eminem won (for a rap record-smashing sixth time), but wouldn’t have gotten my vote. I’d have probably gone with ScHoolboy Q, or Ghostface Killah’s “36 Seasons,” though I’m biased to Ghost due to long-held Wu Tang Clan loyalty.
WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT
Who are the new faces you’ll get to know better throughout this schedule?
WELCOME: Brandon Bass, Anthony Brown, Roy Hibbert, Larry Nance, Jr., D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams
THANKS: Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, Ronnie Price
Bass: The solid 10-year NBA vet posted averages of 10.6 points (50.4 percent FGs) plus 4.9 boards in 23.5 minutes per game for Boston last year, playing in all 82 games for the second straight season.
Brown: As the 34th overall pick, this rookie out of Stanford hopes to emerge as a three-and-D threat, looking to carry his 44.1 three-point percentage from college into the NBA.
Hibbert: The 2012 and ‘14 All-Star has long been a defensive force at the rim. Entering his eighth season in the NBA, he comes in motivated – even losing 16 pounds in the offseason – after a rough 2014-15 for the entire Indiana Pacers team. He is entering the final year of his contract.
Nance, Jr.: The 27th overall pick was the 2015 Mountain West co-Defensive P.O.Y. while posting 16.1 points, 7.2 boards and 1.2 blocks, and he put up some of the best athletic metrics the Lakers have seen in recent years during his pre-draft workout.
Russell: The consensus first-team All-American as a freshman at Ohio State shot up draft boards throughout the season behind his 19.3 points, 5.7 boards, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals, then wowed several teams during workouts with his unique combination of size, skill and vision. The result was the 19-year-old chosen No. 2 overall.
Williams: There’s a narrative that Williams is only a scorer and will struggle to play with Nick Young off the bench, but we forget that Lou has averaged as many as 4.2 assists per game (2009-10 in Philly) and is capable of creating offense for others in addition to his well-known ability to get his own shot.
ALL-STAR KIDS BREAK
Particularly with how heavily road-slanted L.A.’s schedule is early in the season, the break from Feb. 11-18 will be long-awaited, especially for those of us with kids at home. With my nearly 10-month-old twin boys (Jett and Talan), I know how crazily the dads miss their kids during the long trips, no matter if the kids are pre-teens like Kobe’s (Natalia and Gianna), toddlers like Nick Young’s (Lil’ Swaggy) or babies younger than mine like Ryan Kelly’s (Nile). Now, you surely don’t need to have kids to look forward to All-Star. Some players simply need that rest for their bodies, and some need a release with a little vacation to put their feet up. Either way, the extended break is great for all of us.
Sidenote: Eight of L.A.’s 10 opponents in February were playoff teams last season.
SEE YOU THRICE
Every year, teams play four squads within their conference only three times, and 10 teams four times. This season, the Lakers will travel to Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas (Nov. 13) and Andrew Wiggins’ Minnesota (Dec. 9) just once, while Anthony Davis’ Pelicans (Jan. 12) and Damian Lillard’s Blazers (Nov. 22) come to Los Angeles one time apiece.
Last season, the Lakers played only once on Saturday--but on 21 Sundays. This season, you’ll see the Purple and Gold on six Saturdays, each one coming on the road, and 17 Sundays. Sunday is still primarily a Lakers day at Staples Center (12), with the Clippers and Kings typically seeing Saturdays on their schedules. In exchange for fewer Sundays at home, the Lakers play on two more Tuesdays and three more Wednesdays than in 2014-15.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
- Oct. 28 vs. Minnesota: No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell debuts against No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns.
- Nov. 24 at Golden State: L.A.’s first taste of the defending champs, against whom Kobe had one of his best games of the season last year (28 points, six boards, two steals).
- Dec. 25 vs. the Clippers: Christmas Day in L.A. to see who’s naughty and nice on national TV.
- Dec. 30 at Boston: Could this be Kobe’s last trip to play the Celtics?
- March 13 vs. New York: It’s Phil Jackson, Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Rasheed Hazzard and Derek Fisher’s only trip to play their former team at Staples Center.