The NBA has released the 2014-15 schedule, and there are only 74 days remaining until tip-off! One particular matchup that is sure to reach the headlines and garner tons of attention is the Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets game on opening night.
Both of these teams experienced a disappointing offseason, as they failed to successfully recruit superstar level talent. As a result, the Lakers and Rockets will likely approach the new NBA season with something to prove — not only to the league, but especially to each other.
With copious amounts of stories and drama pervading the Lakers’ and Rockets’ seasons during the past couple of years, it’s difficult to know which stories to give ear to. Here are the top three storylines that are swirling around their pervading season opener against each other.
Kobe Bryant vs. Dwight Howard
Bryant and Howard will finally get a chance to square off for the first time since Howard’s departure from Los Angeles in 2013. As teammates, the very obstinate and determined Bryant clashed with Howard and his half-hearted, happy-go-lucky disposition in a season impregnated with doom.
Sure, Howard exhibited a solid season to anyone who merely glanced at the stat sheet during his time with the Lakers; however, it was clear to anyone who observed Laker games at that time that — despite coming off of back surgery — Howard was disgruntled and apathetically trudged on the court all season. Subsequently, Bryant expressed that he would teach Howard how to be a winner during the Lakers’ final pitch meeting to the big man, but Howard was clearly repelled by his former teammate’s demanding and hard-driving tendencies.
On Oct. 28, Howard will look to punish Bryant’s Lakers and spoil their season opener in front of the Los Angeles crowd, who will look forward to continue discouraging him.
Kobe Bryant vs. James Harden
James Harden is widely considered to be the best shooting guard in the game, but the prevalence of this notion can be partly attributed to Bryant’s injury-riddled season last year. During the 2013-14 season, Bryant appeared in a total of six games in which he accumulated lousy averages of 13.8 points and 5.7 turnovers per game on 42.5 percent from the field.
These numbers certainly are not indicative of Bryant’s capabilities, despite his older age and despite the fact that it was expected for Bryant to have a few bad games before acclimating to his new team on the basketball court. He was finally getting into the swing of things when the Lakers took on the Memphis Grizzlies — scoring a season-high 21 points on 50 percent shooting — before suffering a season-ending knee fracture late in the game.Now that he’s healthy, many Lakers’ fans expect Bryant to unleash his “Mamba” venom against James Harden while he reestablishes himself as the league’s best 2-guard. With Harden exhibiting a lackadaisical effort on defense and Bryant no longer capable of guarding opposing wings effectively, the battle for greatest shooting guard will come down to who performs better offensively.
As he enters his 19th NBA season at the age of 36, Bryant seeks to sustain his excellence on the court with his impeccable footwork, embellished post game, and astonishing shooting touch. Harden relies heavily on driving to the basket, drawing fouls, and utilizing his step back jumper beyond the arc.
If the 2012-13 season is of any factual indication, Bryant is superior to Harden in terms of putting the ball through the hole and creating plays. Though old and worn out, Bryant played one of his best seasons that year, and he surpassed Harden in points, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage.
Nevertheless, it is yet to be determined if the 2014-15 version of Bryant is still one of the league’s premium shooting guards.
Jeremy Lin vs. Houston
Jeremy Lin is returning to his native state after the Rockets dumped him — for basically a bag of chips — to the Lakers in a futile attempt to sign Chris Bosh. This came after the Rockets disrespected Lin by adorning the Toyota Center with photo shopped pictures of Carmelo Anthony in a No. 7 Rockets jersey (Lin’s number).
Albeit slighted by the way the Rockets treated him, perhaps nothing would assuage his indignant feelings more than avenging the Rockets with an outburst of Linsanity on opening night. Lin’s stats took a dip during his time with the Rockets for two main reasons: his numbers regressed to the mean after his explosion in New York, and coach Kevin McHale proved unable to effectively utilize his skill set.
With a fresh start in L.A., Lin will look to make the Rockets regret trading him, while Harden will presumably try to prove that Lin is nothing more than a measly role player by shutting him down with his defensive prowess — oh, wait.
This Western Conference battle that is intertwined with numerous headlines and vengeance will certainly be a spectacle for any basketball fan, and it’s taking place on the very first night of the NBA’s new season. How many days are left until opening night again?