(J Alexander Diaz/Los Angeles Lakers)

2019-20 Lakers Schedule Breakdown

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

After the Lakers conclude a 6-game preseason from Oct. 5-18 featuring a trip to China, they open their 2019-20 regular season on Oct. 22 with an away game against the Clippers, and finish on April 15 at Phoenix.

We dissected the complete schedule and summarized what you need to know:

BOX OFFICE BLOCKBUSTERS
Oct. 22 @LAC: The debut of LeBron James + Anthony Davis in games that count is enough of a tune-in factor, but the opponent across the hall increases the intrigue. Even with Paul George’s potential absence (offseason shoulder surgery), Kawhi Leonard will be there with his new teammates.
Nov. 13 vs. GSW: Steph Curry, Draymond Green and former Laker D’Angelo Russell come to town, so, buzz remains even without Klay Thompson (ACL surgery) and Kevin Durant (Achilles rupture, free agent exit).
Nov. 27 @NOP: The return of AD to New Orleans would be enough, but we also check in on Lakers draft picks Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart.
Feb. 23 vs. BOS: Lakers-Celtics sells itself no matter how good the teams are, but both have a good chance to be in the top four of their respective conferences by February. Boston lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford but added Kemba Walker and a number of draft picks, and will expect development from their young wing duo of Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
March 12 vs. HOU: Russell Westbrook and James Harden hope to have the Rockets in strong contention as the race for West seedings tightens. This game is also the first of arguably LAL’s toughest 3-game stretch, leading into a B2B vs. DEN/@UTA.

DYNAMIC DUOS
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the only teammates to both rank in the top six for MVP odds (via Caesars) next season. Houston also has two in the top 10, and the Clippers two in the top 11. The duo set to wear Purple and Gold have a combined 15 appearances on the All-NBA 1st Team (LeBron 12, Davis 3), and a chance to share the honor as teammates, which only seven teammates have done since 1980.

LeBron and AD draw James Harden + Russell Westbrook (HOU) three times (Jan. 18, Feb. 6, March 12) and Kawhi Leonard + Paul George (LAC) four (Oct. 22, Dec. 25, Jan. 28, March 8), in the battles of new partnerships. Meanwhile, Steph Curry + Draymond Green (GSW), Damian Lillard + CJ McCollum (POR) Donovan Mitchell + Rudy Gobert (UTA) and Nikola Jokic + Jamal Murray (DEN) pose a significant threat as returning combinations.

Of the three new pairings, James and Davis form the most natural partnership, with LeBron handling the ball on offense and AD setting the screen and deciding whether to roll or pop, and LeBron in turn choosing whether to shoot, pass or drive to the rim. All options = dangerous. Defensively, Davis protects LeBron’s backside at the rim, and can rotate out to the perimeter capably on switches and swallow up smaller players, controlling games on that end as LeBron ratchets up his defensive pressure and impact as the season rolls on.

Harden and Westbrook’s fit on both ends is intriguing, if less obvious, while George and Leonard promise to be terrific defensively on opposite wings, and maybe take turns initiating the offense.

MEAT IN THE MIDDLE
Last season, the Lakers opened with eight of their first 11 games against playoff teams, not to mention five of their final six. That equation has flipped this season, as L.A. will see only four 2018-19 postseason teams in their first 11 games, while the final 10 games include only three playoff teams.

2018-19 Playoff Opponents By Month:
October: 2 of 4 (.50)
November: 6 of 15 (.40)
December: 9 of 14 (.64)
January: 9 of 15 (.60)
February: 6 of 11 (.55)
March: 10 of 15 (.67)
April: 3 of 8 (.38)

October/November and April look quite light. Eleven of L.A.’s first 19 opponents missed the postseason last year, and two of the eight games against playoff teams are against OKC, who lost George and Westbrook while adding Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Shea Gilgeous-Alexander plus a truckload of first round picks. Of course, things always balance out, and in March, the toughest month, there’s a stretch that includes eight straight playoff opponents from the 3rd to the 18th (PHI, MIL, @LAC, BKN, HOU, DEN, @UTA, UTA).

The significance? One school of thought says it’s better to play higher level teams early, since some playoff teams can take a foot off the gas after the All-Star break in deference to rest and health. On the flip side, for a team with a lot of new pieces like the Lakers, perhaps it’s a good thing to have some of the tougher stretches later in the year, once L.A. has had more time to gel.

SCHEDULE QUIRKS
Some of the finer points of the schedule…

  • After two straight seasons with 13 back-to-backs, 2019-20 offers 12, including one with no travel (@NYK/@BKN, Jan. 22/23). The league average for B2B’s is 12.7, down from 13.3 in 2018-19. This has been a major point of emphasis for the NBA, as noted by the Lakers having 18 B2B’s as recently as 2015-16.
  • Each year, teams play four squads in their own conference only three times. This year, L.A. travels to Minnesota and Houston only once, while hosting San Antonio and Portland once apiece.
  • There are three different blocks in the schedule where the Lakers will be in Los Angeles for extended time periods: Oct. 22-31; Dec. 29-Jan. 8; and April 5-14. If you’re an out-of-town fan looking to fly in for a game at Staples Center, you’ll have 13 games to choose from here, plus the “road” opener (@ LAC, Oct. 22).
  • Of the aforementioned 12 B2B’s, L.A. have three that include a time zone change (league average is 4.0), and one of over 750 miles of travel (2.6). That would be the @POR/vs. DAL combo on Dec. 28/29. With a 7 p.m. start at Portland, L.A. will likely arrive back in Los Angeles somewhere around 2 a.m. after 834 air miles (about 2.5 hours). The Lakers do often land at LAX from road games between midnight and 2 a.m., but don’t often play the next day.
  • A prime TV team even in years where they don’t boast LeBron+AD, LAL play 30 national TV games this season, and that’s not counting NBATV pickups. Only 12 are national exclusives, while Spectrum will air the rest as side by sides. LAL have always played a lot of home Sundays, and it’ll be 12 again this season, compared to the league average of 5.2. Meanwhile, L.A. doesn’t play a single home game on Saturday this season, after two last year (league average: 6.6). On the opposite end, the Lakers play a ton of Saturday road games: 11, including nine in 2020. The weekend games represent ESPN/ABC’s nationally televised games.
  • Last season, LAL had four home games on both Monday and Tuesday, eight on Wednesday, five on Thursday and eight on Friday. This year, Monday goes down to two, Tuesday way up to 10, Wednesday down to six and Thursday to three, with Friday staying the same. Eight of the Tuesday home games come in 2020, as do three of the Thursday games, with those two days representing TNT’s national days.

DELTA MILES DOWN
The schedule makers managed to trim 10,723 miles off the total distance traveled from last season (53,455), to equal 42,732. The data doesn’t go back too far here, but this is the fewest the Lakers have been in the air in years, with the previous mark of 44,992 coming in 2016-17. For some perspective, it’s 2,611 miles from Los Angeles to Boston, so the Lakers are basically saving two round trip flights across the country. Now, the Delta plane is great, and accommodations are made to provide the players and staff with high quality food, making the private travel less strenuous than some might expect. But with that said, air miles can take their toll on players from a recovery standpoint. In short, the fewer miles the better.

FRANK VOGEL’S ROTATION
Typically, NBA head coaches make final decisions on the optional things around the schedule. New head man Frank Vogel’s preferences will make a difference on things like whether the Lakers stay in a city on the night of a road game vs. fly onto the next stop after the game, or what hotels the team stays in. But Vogel’s most important decision making this season might be how to structure his rotations around stars James and Davis. GM Rob Pelinka has definitely given Vogel and assistants Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins and Phil Handy a lot of talented options. As the Lakers have yet to hold a single practice with almost all new players, the rotation isn’t an area upon which Vogel’s commented, though he and his staff have surely been watching film and theorizing about what might work.

Keeping in mind that positions are less and less meaningful in the evolving NBA, and really more about what spot a player is defending … here are my personal thoughts at how a depth chart could look, with some explanatory notes to follow:

PG: Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook
SG: Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Troy Daniels
SF: LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Talen Horton-Tucker
PF: Anthony Davis, Jared Dudley, Kostas Antetokounmpo (2-way)
C: DeMarcus Cousins, JaVale McGee

  • The PG depth chart is the most fluid. All four guards could start … or be left out of the rotation on certain nights. Bradley and Caruso are the better defenders and can play a complementary role on an offense that’ll be run by LeBron. Rondo can still orchestrate a game and lead a team even as his net rating dropped last season. And Cook provides the most elite specific skill of the bunch with a 41.8% career 3-point percentage (BTW … so does Troy Daniels, at 40.0%).
  • James, Davis and Green stand out as the three clear starters and finishers. Since Davis prefers to play PF (even while acknowledging that he’s happy to play the five when needed, either Cousins or McGee will likely start at C. Cousins provides more spacing as a capable shooter, is a good secondary playmaker, is the stronger rebounder of the two bigs and the better post-up threat. McGee is the better roller to the rim, faster in transition and more prolific as a weak-side rim protector. McGee had bright moments last season, though the upside to a healthy Cousins might be the biggest X factor for LAL.
  • P.S.: with LeBron and AD attracting so much attention and needing space going to the basket, the 3-point shooting of Cousins (35.9% in New Orleans) becomes a bigger factor. McGee could also finish off lobs from potential 2nd unit point guards like Caruso or Rondo.
  • Kyle Kuzma would start for many NBA teams, but most rosters don’t boast two All-Star forwards. Though he may come off the bench, Kuz could finish many games with Davis moving to the five. He’s the player on the roster with the most room to grow, and could benefit considerably from Team USA experience should he secure a roster spot for the coming World Cup.
  • Caldwell-Pope’s ability to contribute on both ends of the floor as a 3 and D wing could end up being more important than some expect. He’s been inconsistent in his two years with the Lakers, but should benefit with a clarified role focused on his ability to get out ahead in transition, spot up for threes and defend the 1, 2 or 3.
  • Jared Dudley is an ideal veteran fit who detailed many of the ways he can help a team in his initial conference call. Super sharp, Dudley can be trusted by Vogel to execute the plan in any moment, and a career 39.2 3-point percentage doesn’t hurt either. At age 34, Dudley won’t be playing big minutes every night, but he’ll likely find a way to help on and off the court no matter how often he’s used.
  • We’ll have to wait and see what THT and Antetokounmpo show off in training camp to determine their role, but there’s plenty of talent there for each.

NATIONAL TV WEEK
The most blatant example of how often people around the world without NBA League Pass can watch LAL comes on a 5-game road trip in January:

Jan. 18 @ HOU: ABC
Jan. 20 @ BOS: TNT/Spectrum SN
Jan. 22 @ NYK: Spectrum SN
Jan. 23 @ BKN: TNT/Spectrum SN
Jan. 25 @ PHI: ABC

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Load up for the roadie

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(MOSTLY) HAPPY HOLIDAYS
The good news for the Lakers players, especially those with kids, is that L.A. will be home on Thanksgiving (Nov. 28), Christmas (Dec. 25) and Easter (April 12). They’re off for Turkey Day, and play at Staples at 5 p.m. on X-Mas and 6:30 p.m. on Easter, allowing plenty of time for presents and egg hunts. On the other hand, the squad will be out of town for prime Trick-or-Treating on the eve of Oct. 31, since there’s a Nov. 1 game at Dallas. The Lakers will also be on the road for Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 20 @ BOS), while they’ll be home for New Years Day (vs. PHX.)

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Rajon is good at this. #LakersHoliday

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WE MEET AGAIN
The following games could mean just that bit more for selected players:

  • AD returns to New Orleans on Nov. 27 and March 1.
  • Danny Green may have to wait to get his ring from Toronto on March 24, while heading back to San Antonio on Nov. 3 and No. 25.
  • LeBron is in Cleveland on March 26, and Miami on Dec. 13.
  • Cook and Cousins head to Golden State on Feb. 8 and Feb. 27.
  • Dudley will go back to Brooklyn on Jan. 23.

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Entering the Land

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TRAVEL PRIORITIES
When it comes to flying around the country, vets like Green, Dudley and LeBron are likely considering what will help their body recover more than a rookie like Horton-Tucker. Young players can be more likely to carry an X-Box or PS4, and veterans assured to have film of opposing players loaded on their devices. Vets also know what to eat before and after games to maximize their metabolism, while some young players don’t know if they feel differently regardless of what they eat.

For those of us that are covering and not playing in the games, priorities are different. My last thought before leaving my house is always to double-check that my computer (for writing/tweeting during games and after practices) and iPad (for watching games of opposing teams … not to mention downloaded TV shows and movies if there’s downtime) are in my bag. My other main priorities: bringing a fresh suit/shirt/tie/pocket square/shoes combination for every game (harder on a 6-game trip) and bringing work out clothes for the hotel gyms.

Here’s what a few of my back-of-the-plane travel mates prioritize, which will be most significant on the longest trip of the season, from March 21-30 (CHA, DET, TOR, CLE, WAS, MIN):

Spectrum SportsNet TV Play-by-Play Voice Bill Macdonald: iPad for PXP/game prep, board shorts, Rainbow sandals and some Vans. “No matter how cold it gets, I always want it to feel like the endless summer,” said Billy Mac.

710 ESPN Radio Analyst Mychal Thompson: iPad for watching his son Klay and old music videos (my observation!), plus: “Wine, Kettle Chips and workout clothes.”

710 ESPN Radio Play-by-Play Voice John Ireland: Computer for prep, and working on his 710 ESPN midday show, ‘Mason and Ireland’. Also: “Workout gear, especially shoes. As many ties as there are games (you can repeat suits, even shirts, but people notice if you double up on ties); Reversible belt.”

Spectrum SportsNet TV Producer Mark Shah: “Have to make sure I’ve got my favorite movies and music on my phone and my most comfortable pair of walking shoes to explore each city in. Also have to have my formats (rundowns) ready for each show.”

And that'll do it ... October is coming soon!

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