Each schedule release brings with it a sense of excitement for a new season, and heavily hyped matchups among newly-constructed teams — like this year’s Lakers — and existing contenders. And while they’re always prominently featured on the NBA schedule each year, the addition of Russell Westbrook will make the Lakers even more of a must-see attraction.
It also creates more storylines and intriguing matchups across the league. In Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers have three superstars with grudges, rivalries and histories with players and teams across the NBA.
With that into mind, here’s a look at five of the most intriguing and exciting games the purple and gold will play this season.
Lakers vs. Nets, Christmas Day
The individual storylines. The talent. A potential Finals preview. Everything about this matchup will be must-see TV.
First, the two sides are the prohibitive favorites in their respective conferences coming into the season, making this a potential NBA Finals preview. Last season, neither the Lakers nor Nets were at full strength in either regular season matchup. In the year prior, Kevin Durant was recovering from his Achilles injury, meaning the Nets weren’t at full strength then, either.
So this season, health-willing, will be the first time the James-Davis Lakers would play the Durant-Kyrie Irving Nets. And each team’s third star carries plenty of drama as well. Westbrook’s history with Durant has been littered with pettiness, and he spent a season in Houston alongside Harden before bother players asked out.
Pair those storylines with James and Irving’s past, and this game sells itself on so many levels. Throw that game on primetime at 8 p.m. EST on Christmas Day and all eyes will be tuned in on this contest. In fact, it would be a shock if this was not the most-watched NBA game of the regular season in 2021-22.
Lakers vs. Suns, Oct. 22
The Lakers’ playoff exit was equal parts frustrating and disappointing. Through three games in the series, the Lakers looked to be in control, dancing on the sidelines as James dominated. Unfortunately, the playoffs are not a Best-of-3 format, and things turned quickly for the Lakers after Anthony Davis got hurt, culminating in a series loss in six games.
Making matters more frustrating was the ensuing run the Suns embarked upon as they fell in the NBA Finals to the Bucks. The trash-talking from Phoenix after the series and postseason adds to the intrigue. While few Lakers remain from the team that lost to the Suns in the playoffs, James and Davis are more than enough to set the table for a fiery contest.
The first matchup between the two will come in the second game of the year as part of a three-game homestand to start the season for the Lakers. If there was ever going to be a carryover from that playoff series, the tensions would be highest early in the season.
Plus, did you know LeBron James was in Chris Paul’s wedding? If not, the broadcast will make sure to remind us at least 27 times.
Lakers vs. Bucks, Nov. 17
Even before these two sides became the last two NBA champions, Giannis Antetokounmpo versus James and Davis was a fascinating duel. Then, Milwaukee cleared their past mental hurdles in the playoffs last season — led by Antetokounmpo’s brilliance — to capture a ring.
Now, with both sides looking to quickly return to the summit, this Bucks-Lakers and Lakers matchup should be even more fascinating.
Lakers vs. Warriors, Opening Night
Even if James wasn’t a fan of it, the play-in game was a smashing success last season, headlined by a Lakers-Warriors game that went to the wire. James’ late 3-pointer sealed a Lakers win and played a part in the Warriors failing to even make the postseason.
Any Steph Curry-James matchup is going to draw huge audiences until one of them retires. Klay Thompson’s return should also make the Warriors a playoff contender once more, and help revitalize a matchup that has lots of potential to be exciting and could have big playoff seeding implications throughout the year.
While fans will be treated to this matchup four times this year, it’ll be the match-up on Opening Night of the season that should be the most highly-anticipated of the bunch.
Lakers vs. Celtics, Dec. 7
The one matchup that will always matter, no matter the records of either team each season, will be the Lakers-Celtics game. Add in both teams being contenders and the intensity and emotion of the game increases.
One of the biggest talking points in this year’s matchup will be Dennis Schröder. After turning down a four-year, $84 million extension with the Lakers, Schröder eventually signed for just one year and $5.9 million in Boston.
It’s an added level of intrigue this season to the most storied rivalry in the NBA, as each franchise continues to chase banner No. 18. The Lakers (and LeBron) have never had any love lost for the Celtics, but Schröder’s inclusion to the other side of this rivalry makes this year’s matchups even more rife for theatrics.
Agree? Disagree? Think another game should have been included? Let us know which games you’re most excited about in the comments below. And for more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.