2021-22 Lakers Schedule Breakdown
Arenas full of fans? A complete 82-game schedule? Oh, and six future Hall of Famers?
After two truly unique NBA seasons from all standpoints due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the 2021-22 version represents a return to a typical schedule.
The idea of LeBron James and Anthony Davis – now joined by buddies Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, not to mention Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol manning the middle – getting to sport the Purple and Gold in front of a rocking Staples Center is pretty appetizing.
Speaking of LeBron ... having a little extra motivation isn't the worst thing!
THANK YOU! As if I didn’t need more to (gas) ME! #Washed— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 19, 2021
Here’s everything you need to know about the 2021-22 Lakers Schedule:
BLOCKBUSTER OPENING NIGHT
LeBron. Steph. AD. Draymond. Russ. Klay? No need to wait for a big game! On Oct. 19, the Warriors come to town for a rematch of last season’s play-in game, featuring two teams that have a good chance of meeting far later in the 2022 postseason. Our guy Mychal Thompson’s son, Klay, won’t be ready to go just yet coming off an Achilles injury suffered last November, but Golden State is loaded up with a mix of vets and three young lottery picks.
Neither James or Curry, at their respective ages of 36 and 33, have regressed off their past MVP-level performance. Steph was an easy choice for All-NBA First Team, and LeBron was a leading candidate for both MVP and First Team before a high ankle sprain suffered in March dropped him to Second Team. Meanwhile, Green was terrific for Team USA in their Olympic gold run in Tokyo, while Davis has it all to play for after a frustrating 2020-21 that ultimately fell victim to calf and groin injuries.
That said, the opener could be more about L.A. native Russell Westbrook. If you can, get eyes on Russ just before tip as he goes through what’s often an elaborate routine with teammates, and then sprints over to a corner for a final pump of his chest, and to make sure the building is ready for the explosion of energy and athleticism that’s going to hit the court.
HOME HEAVY START
One thing that could help the Lakers out of the gate, serving as a counterweight to the lack of cohesion that’s going to come with so many new faces: they’ll barely leave Los Angeles until November 17.
In fact, 12 of LAL’s first 15 games will be at Staples Center. A road B2B at SAS and OKC (Oct. 26/27) and 1-game trip to POR (Nov. 6) are the only three road games until a 5-game trip takes the team into Thanksgiving.
Now, there was almost no home court advantage last season for the Lakers, who spent most of the campaign without fans in the building. And, they had identical 21-15 records at home and on the road. Utah, on the other hand, had a large number of fans in attendance for a good chunk of the season, and they went 31-5 at home and 21-15 on the road.
This fact might be more important: of the first 12 home games, only three come against playoff teams from last season (PHX, MEM, MIA).
ON THE OTHER HAND…
The payback for the early home schedule comes in March, when the Lakers are on the road for 11 games (five at home). January also contains a 6-game trip, plus two other road games, for an 8-6 split. Yet and still, having more home games against teams with lower winning percentages from the previous season early on may be an advantage. Down the stretch, many different factors come into play. For example, veteran teams may be gearing up for the playoffs and backing off a notch in favor of peak rest/health, while teams out of the picture may start featuring young players later on. In other words, it can be harder to know what you’re getting from an opponent in March and April than in October and November.
RESTED AND RECOVERED
The biggest issue with the 2020-21 Lakers was … the 2019-20 Lakers, and the resulting lack of a real offseason ... and the fatigue and injuries that come along. In fact, there are still nearly two months to go until we reach Oct. 11, the 1-year anniversary of L.A.’s 2020 NBA championship in the Orlando Bubble. The returning Lakers had just 60 days before the Dec. 11, 2020 preseason opener. Call it the “Bubble Tax,” which was also paid by Conference Finalists Miami (swept in Round 1) and Denver (swept in Round 2) plus East Finalist Boston (4-1 loss in Round 1).
L.A.’s 2021 Game 6 loss to Phoenix came on June 3. And, their 2021-22 preseason opener is set for Oct. 3, at home against Brooklyn. That doubles last season’s offseason from two months to four for L.A.’s key holdovers (LeBron, AD, Gasol and THT). Several new Lakers also lost in Round 1 on their previous teams: Carmelo Anthony (POR); Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn (MIA); and Westbrook (WAS). A few new players didn’t make the postseason: Malik Monk (CHA), Wayne Ellington (DET) and Kent Bazemore (GSW). In fact, only Dwight Howard (PHI) got to the second round. All that should result in a group of hungry, rested players, at least relative to the rest of the NBA contenders.
BACK TO 82
Last season, since there were only 72 games, each team played opponents within their own conference three times. This season, it’s back to 82, meaning teams play 10 of the 14 opponents within their conference four times, and the other four teams three times. That means LAL will visit two Western road arenas – New Orleans and Utah – only once, with two West teams – Dallas and Denver – coming to Staples just one time.
OK, here’s a deep dive…
- Back-to-back contests have gone down year after year over the last several seasons, to a low of 12, which is what the Lakers have on the books once again. That matches their 2019-20 output, and remains below the league average of 13.7 B2B’s. It’s also considerably down from 18 in 2015-16, which was about average at that time.
- Of those 12 B2B’s, two of them feature no travel, with a home B2B vs. SAS and CHI (Nov. 14/15), and then vs. POR and "at" LAC.(Feb. 2/3).
- L.A.’s longest road trip will last 10 days, spanning six cities from Jan. 21-30: ORL; MIA; BKN; PHI; CHA; ATL.
- The longest homestand is from Dec. 31 to Jan. 9, covering five games (POR, MIN, SAC, ATL and MEM) and 10 days. They have another 5-gamer from Nov. 8-15 (CHA, MIA, MIN, SAS and CHI), with that one lasting eight days.
- The Lakers are set to fly nearly 47,000 miles this season on their Delta charter, leaving plenty of time for film breakdown, social media monitoring, movie watching, sleeping, podcast consuming, magazine reading or ... eating. The fewest miles any team in the West will fly is 39,000, and the most 51,000, leaving LAL towards the heavy end.
- In February, the Lakers don’t have a single game outside of the Pacific time zone. Road games are at LAC, at POR and at GSW.
- With National TV games always heavy for the Lakers, L.A. has 56 percent of their home games coming on Friday (11), Saturday (3) and Sunday (9), well above the league average of 45 percent. That leaves the Lakers just two home games on Thursday, and four on Monday.
- Speaking of TV … national exclusives aside, all Laker games will be on Spectrum SportsNet, with Bill Macdonald and Stu Lantz on the call, and yours truly on the sideline.
With only four players returning from last season’s rotation, head coach Frank Vogel and his staff have plenty of work to do as they sort out possible lineups and rotations ahead of training camp.
Granted, when you have two of the best and most versatile players in the NBA, with both LeBron and AD able to play multiple positions, there are several different ways to get the job done.
Here’s one of many options, representing only this writer’s initial stab at a fluid situation:
Starters: Russell Westbrook, Kent Bazemore, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol
Bench Rotation: Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, Talen Horton-Tucker, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard
Utility: Trevor Ariza, Malik Monk
Two Way: Austin Reaves, Joel Ayayi
Open Roster Spots: Three
At center, Howard is also of starting caliber, and L.A.’s best lineup will typically feature Davis at the five. But the most open spot is likely at SG, where I gave Bazemore the initial edge because he represents both the three (40.8% for GSW on 2.7 attempts last season) and the D (led GSW in DEF EFF). With that said, Ellington (best shooter), THT (most upside) and Nunn (most versatile on offense) can each make a case for the spot. And who’s to say how the 23-year-old Monk’s game fits in … he represents some upside as well.
Because the Lakers have 12 guys who are good enough to be part of an NBA rotation, and still have spots to fill, Vogel may well use more than the typical 10-man group that many coaches settle upon, as he did last season … at least until money time!
FOUR FEATURE GAMES
Oct. 22 vs. Phoenix: LAL don’t have to wait long for a chance to avenge their Round 1 loss to the eventual Western champs. The Lakers felt like they had the series in control until Davis hurt his groin, but the Suns will boast superior continuity to start the season after bringing almost their entire roster back.
Nov. 17 at Milwaukee: Like the 2020 champion Lakers, the 2021 champion Bucks were a team more about force, athleticism and defense than shooting. MIL ranked 14th in 3-point % in the playoffs (32.1%) and 10th in makes (11.2), after LAL ranked 12th (35.4%) and 11th (12.1) in the Bubble. Add Westbrook’s attacking style to the mix, and watch that rim on both ends!
Dec. 25 vs. Brooklyn: We don’t need to spend a lot of time on why this is an enticing game. How about LeBron and Kevin Durant’s first matchup* since Dec. 25, 2018, when KD was with the Warriors … plus they’ve swapped former PG’s in Kyrie Irving and Westbrook!
*Durant was injured in 2019-20, and also missed the February meeting in 2021 (for BKN), while LeBron missed the April matchup.
April 10 at Denver: The Nuggets were the hottest team in the NBA after acquiring Aaron Gordon around the All-Star break … but then they lost PG Jamal Murray to an ACL tear, essentially negating Nikola Jokic’s MVP season. Will Murray be back up to speed by the season’s final game? Will Jokic keep the Nuggets high enough in the standings to avoid the most difficult playoff draw? Where will that leave them amongst other Western contenders like the Warriors, Suns, Jazz and Mavericks? Lots of questions to be answered!
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