Jan 8, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) is guarded by Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Wesley Johnson (11) during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers: Opening Season at Home vs. Houston Rockets

The NBA Schedule release lives to be an enterprising part of the offseason, doesn’t it?

Teams figure out where they’ll be spending their holidays, who they’ll have to prepare for, and how many grueling back-to-backs are in front of them.

Blatantly, though, the NBA’s scheduling isn’t the same as college, or any other sport for that matter.  You play the same teams each year, relatively the same amount of times.  In your conference (East or West), you’ll play fellow conference members three or four times.  In your division, you’ll play each team four times.  Against the opposing conference, there’s just two meetings each year.

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers have already realized playing through the debilitating West is going to equal a season full of disappointment.  Does Bryant want to acknowledge that the playoffs are out of reach?  San Antonio, Oklahoma City, the rival Clippers, Golden State, Portland, Memphis, Houston, and Dallas are favorites to make up the postseason bracket.

Los Angeles Lakers

Apr 8, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young (0) is defended by Houston Rockets forward Francisco Garcia (32) and guard James Harden (13) at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

How many is that?  Eight?  Thought so.  It’s just not imaginable for the Lakers to squeeze past one of them.

Opening night for Los Angeles will mirror the first night of the 2010 opener, in which the Houston Rockets visited Staples Center.

Except, now there won’t be any banner raising, ring celebrations, or joyful smiles.

Kevin McHale and the Rockets enter this season with a mixed grin on their faces.  Losing Chandler Parsons to Dallas, missing out on Carmelo Anthony, never having a chance at LeBron James, getting shocked by Chris Bosh, losing their backup point guard … it all just piled up.

Signing Trevor Ariza assuaged the bleeding a little, since he shot 3.7 percent better from deep than Parsons in the regular season.  In the playoffs, Ariza was also 8.5 percent more effective from the outside than Parsons.  Isn’t that what Houston is all about, letting them fly and jacking up 24-26 footers?

On the Lakers’ end, it’s a “back to business” type of mood.  Really, that’s how Kobe Bryant is approaching the year, as he was forced to miss 76 games due to the Achilles recovery and a fractured lateral tibial plateau in his knee.

Anyone who knows Bryant’s mentality when it comes to competing for a spot in the upper-echelon of the conference, would understand how much it’s killed him to watch the Lakers struggle.

Now, on October 28 (about two and a half months from now), he’ll get to unleash what he’s been holding back.  Or, whatever he has left in him.

This matchup with Houston to begin the year is much more than just the Lakers hosting the Rockets.  It’s now been blessed with an abundance of storylines that couldn’t have been matched by any opening night experience.

Dwight Howard returned to Staples Center last season on Feb. 19, knocking his former Lakers into another stratosphere.  This came after Steve Blake buried Houston with a 3-pointer from the left corner, one that flew over the out-stretched arms of Howard.

Los Angeles Lakers

May 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) last second shot in the second half in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center.Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

What we’ve yet to witness in regards to these two franchises, however, is the first Bryant vs. Howard duel since the Dwightmare Version II.  While it seems such a long time ago, Howard flabbergasted everyone when he left Hollywood (who does that?) to join a team that’s been off the radar for a number of years in the Rockets.

Bryant unfollowed Howard on Twitter immediately after the free agency decision was made, and publicly said he didn’t “give a sh**” about his big man hitting the road.

To many fans, it appeared to be a coward’s way out, with Howard taking the easy road to have a better shot at a title.  To others, it was a generous gesture, since Howard was never the ideal center option for the team, in their eyes.

He’s rarely ever serious about his job, he lacks the central leadership qualities you look for in a 11-year veteran, and his post moves aren’t up par with what they should be.  Defensively, he’s a god, affecting the most shots near the rim and ranking third in defensive rebounding at 8.9 per game.  So, there’s that positive aspect of it that sort of matters more than anything.

Bryant wants his revenge, per say.  His mindset has always been to prove his opponents wrong, showing them why doubting No. 24 is similar to shooting yourself in the foot.  You’ll regret it as soon as it happens, and later on down the road.

There’s also the underlying battle, both concrete and media-based, between Bryant and Rockets’ shooting guard James Harden.

Harden gets the ballyhoo for being the league’s top tw0-guard, only due to Bryant being injury-prone last season.  During the 2012-13 campaign — when both were completely healthy — it was Bryant that out-scored Harden, won more games, and tied Carmelo Anthony for the most 40-point nights (8) of anyone.

Harden is much better at driving the ball and getting to the line, as that’s one of the two ways he gets his points.  The other?  Outside shooting, living off layups and triples.

That’s where Bryant has the edge over Harden when they’re completely healthy, even if Kobe will be age 36 in just over a week.  He’s excelled in the mid-range game for 15 of his 18 years in the league, excluding his rookie and sophomore seasons and last year’s absence.  He doesn’t eliminate that area out of his game, and has shown the ability to come up bigger in late-game situations.  In terms of basketball IQ, you have to consider the massive age difference, and comprehend that it also points heavily in Bryant’s favor.

Yet, there’s still a huge battle over who’s the best at their position.

Harden believes it’s him.  What 25-year-old with the strongest beard in the world wouldn’t be that cocky and haughty?  After all, he expressed this offseason that he and Howard are the “cornerstones” of the Rockets, and implied that everyone else on the team didn’t matter towards their future.  Did he explicitly say that?  No, but his tone was one that he wishes he could take back.

Jeremy Lin, now point guard for the Lakers, also will have some beef to take out on the Rockets when the season opens.  Linsanity played one season with Houston, lost his starting spot to a defensive hound, and was dishonored by the Rockets’ attempt to appease Carmelo Anthony on his free agency tour.

Los Angeles Lakers

Jul 24, 2014; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak introduces Jeremy Lin during a press conference at Toyota Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Not only did Lin feel hurt when they showed Anthony in a No. 7 jersey (the number Lin wore), but they traded him away for nothing in return.  It was during the attempt to grab Chris Bosh, which failed miserably.  Lin wasn’t ever in their future outlook, and he knows that.  They overpaid him, forcing themselves into a struggle to find trading partners once his production fell off the map.

You never should count out a Linsanity moment, since he occasionally has terrific scoring nights.  Doing that against the team that sent you packing would be another form of retribution a member of the Lakers could grab on opening night.

Last year, Los Angeles was out-scored by a mile against Houston in four meetings, 490-436.  In points per game, it marked 122.5 for Houston (yes, LA was that horrific on defense), and 109 for Los Angeles.

The Rockets aim for a better record than last season (54-28), while the Lakers hope to just shock everyone out of their shoes and get a final slot in the playoffs.  Neither is happening, and you can take that to the bank.  But, what a story for the late-night folks watching on October 28.

Let the games begin already.





Tags: Byron Scott Dwight Howard James Harden Jeremy Lin Kevin McHale Kobe Bryant Lakers Opener Lakers Opening Night Los Angeles Lakers

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