If you’re like me, the time to plan your life for the next several months has arrived!
Here’s (more than) what you need to know about the 2022-23 Lakers schedule:
(MOSTLY) HOME HEAVY START
Last season, the Lakers opened with all but three of their first 15 games at home. It was an on-paper advantage they largely failed to capitalize upon. They went 8-7, including home losses to GSW, PHX, OKC and CHI. That mark was pretty disappointing, as only three of those first 12 home games came against playoff teams from 2021.
OK, enough history! This season, the Lakers start heavy at home again, with all but five of the first 15 at Crypto.com Arena. Of those 10 in L.A., four are against 2022 playoff teams: DEN (10/30); NOP (11/2); UTA (11/4); BKN (11/13). Two others are expected in playoff contention this season: LAC (10/20) and CLE (11/6). Away from L.A., the five road games are all challenging: @GSW (ring night, 10/18); @DEN (10/26); @MIN (10/28); @UTA (11/7); @LAC (11/9).
BETTER ENJOY HALLOWEEN
First, the good news: the Lakers are home and off on Halloween night (Oct. 31), thus able to partake in the rituals that have been unavailable for ... a while. In fact, the last time I went trick-or-treating with my nearly 8-year-old twins was 2015, when they were one (Talan = monkey, Jett = tiger).
Also: LeBron’s been known to throw a mean costume party from time to time, and if he so chooses to this year, it can be on the actual All Hallows’ Eve!
Now, the not-so-good news: LAL will be gone for basically every other holiday. It’s San Antonio for Thanksgiving, Dallas for Christmas and either Atlanta or Charlotte for New Year’s Eve (depending upon if the team decides to stay an extra evening in Georgia). Since the squad won’t return to Los Angeles until Jan. 3, I imagine several traveling folks will celebrate X-Mas a day early; the flight to Dallas will likely be scheduled for later in the afternoon or early evening on Christmas Eve than is typical.
The Lakers open the season more West than Kanye, with eight straight, and 16 of the first 20. With how strong the West should be, even compared to last season, there will be no opportunity for the Lakers to ease into the schedule … though, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In many years, veteran teams feel good about several games on paper. Those advantage matchups typically come against the younger, re-building type opponents. Last season, OKC and Houston stood out when perusing the schedule in August, but there were others: New Orleans started 1-12, San Antonio 4-13 and Sacramento 6-12.
This year, the only one of those teams expected to take a step back is San Antonio. And of the playoff teams, Utah is the only one that’s weaker on paper. In other words, there aren’t going to be many games that any Western team can take for granted.
L.A.’s roster was even more vet-heavy last season; sometimes vets have too much perspective early in a season, when the league’s young teams are too naïve to think they can’t stack a few wins. It’s typically better to draw one of those young opponents after the All-Star break, when 2023-24 may be more on the mind, and some franchises stress development over winning. More on that in a bit.
Your annual deep dive into schedule minutia:
- The Lakers will fly approximately 43,000 miles this season, which is 4,000 fewer than 2021-22. The West average is 45,000 this season, with 50K at the top, and 37K the bottom of the conference.
- L.A. have 12 back-to-backs, four of which have no travel: @SAS/@SAS; @BKN/@NYK; vs. PHI/vs. HOU and vs. LAC/vs. SAS). This is slightly below the league average of 13.3 B2B’s. Only three have a time zone change (league average 3.5).
- Most Laker home games fall on Friday (12) and Sunday (12), with seven on Wednesday, and none on Saturday.
- L.A. have a nice advantage in terms of rest this season, with 14 games considered “fresh,” meaning they don’t play the day before a game, but their opponent does. They’ll be “tired” for eight games, with the opposite effect in play, with 60 games “even,” where both teams either did, or did not, play the day before. That nets out to a +6.
- The longest road trip is 10 days (six games, 12/2 – 12/11) and the longest home stand is 10 days (five games, two times).
- The Lakers play four teams in the West only three times: the Grizzlies and Thunder (2H/1A) and the Rockets and Wolves (1H/2A). Memphis and OKC are two of the more boisterous road arenas, though the Grizzlies (2nd) and Thunder (14th) finished on opposite ends of the standings last season.
LAKERS MANAGER OF TRAVEL OPERATIONS
That’s the title of Brady Stuart, the man who not only starred as a college football kicker, but also: ensures our entire traveling group is taken care of through 43,000 air miles on the lovely Delta Air Lines charter plane; schedules scores of bus trips to and from airports, hotels and arenas; and manages to keep the group well fed.
Here’s a little insight from Brady about some of the planning that goes into getting the Lakers through a demanding road schedule:
- My job covers flights, buses, hotels, ground transportation, and food.
- The team travels 65-plus people per road trip on a Delta Air Lines charter plane, and everyone sits in a first-class seat – and yes, we do get local food on the plane! We travel around the road cities with three buses. Sometimes we travel by train, which is surprisingly easier than you’d think … when things go according to plan.
- Planning for each road trip takes place the minute the schedule is out to public. Trying to connect with each hotel from the first preseason game all the way to the last regular season game. Planning for playoffs starts in the same fashion, from the moment that schedule is released each round.It gets tricky with these play-in games now. Sometimes there are a few places a team could travel to and we may not know exactly where we are headed that night, so we try to plan the most we can by preparing with a few different hotels at once. By failing to prepare, here, is preparing to fail.
- We need about 75 rooms and four meeting rooms per hotel (this includes extra rooms for the training staff that are set up to treat the players).
- I have a general questionnaire that I send to each hotel to run through with that hotel about a month before our stay – that covers all logistics and movements during our stay. It’s about 40 questions and grows throughout the season based on players and staff needs and requests.
LEBRON’S 20TH SEASON
When LeBron takes the floor against Golden State on Oct. 18, he will join only nine other players in NBA history that have done so: Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Moses Malone, Vince Carter, Robert Parish, Kevin Willis and Jamal Crawford.
LeBron had, by far, the best season of any of those players in Year 19. He ranked first in points (30.3 to Kobe’s 22.3), second in assists (6.2, to Stockton’s 7.7), second in rebounds (8.2 to Malone’s 8.7) and first in threes made (2.9 to Carmelo Anthony’s* 2.2).
*Anthony, in LeBron’s 2003 Draft class, completed his 19th season in 2021-22.
For Year 20, how many games will he play, coming off seasons of 55, 67, 45 and 56? How many first quarters can he be expected to bring optimal defensive energy towards after playing 63,174 combined regular season and playoff minutes?
It’s fair to expect LeBron to also have the best 20th NBA season ever … but how close to even his 2019-20 form can he reach? Alongside the health and availability of AD, that remains the most important question for the Lakers this season.
Speaking of LeBron…
The great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points still top the all-time NBA chart, but LeBron is only 1,325 behind. So, if LeBron maintains his scoring average of around 30.0 points per game from last season, he’d surpass Kareem in his 44th game, which would come in mid-January if he didn’t miss a game.
If LeBron dips down to 25.0 points per game, he’d surpass Kareem in 53 games, which would come in early February.
DARVIN HAM’S DEBUT
We know that NBA stars have a lot of say, none more so than LeBron James, and for good reason. Yet, when it comes to the schedule, the final vote typically goes to the head coach. Darvin Ham will likely be the one making the call on what hotel the Lakers stay at in each city. He’ll decide when and where they’ll practice on the road, and whether or not the players need to report for a morning shootaround on a given game day.
With that said, people like Brady are there to take much of that work off the coach’s plate, because Ham will need to be thinking more about what his rotation is going to be than whether or not the team will stay in Milwaukee after the game on Dec. 2, or if they’ll fly directly to the next city (Washington, D.C.) ahead of the Dec. 4 matchup.
Training camp will be the place where Ham’s rotation comes to fruition, and when July and August depth charts get tweaked. Nonetheless, here’s one way of looking at it:
PG: Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, Scottie Pippen, Jr. (two-way)
SG: Lonnie Walker IV, Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker, Max Christie
SF: LeBron James, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Troy Brown, Jr.
PF: Anthony Davis, Stanley Johnson, Cole Swider (two-way), Wenyen Gabriel
C: Thomas Bryant, Damian Jones, Jay Huff (exhibit-10)
We know that LeBron and AD can play multiple different positions within the course of one game, which makes the whole chessboard look different. For example, Davis could start at PF but be the regular backup – and closing – center, leaving Bryant and Jones to battle for the starting spot (Bryant’s skillset is a nice fit with AD, but he played limited minutes in only 27 games last season). That would open another wing rotation spot for players like THT, Walker IV, Johnson, Brown Jr. and JTA to compete. Or, Ham could opt to be bigger for longer, keeping AD at the four more often, limiting the wing and backcourt spots further.
The backup PF spot is pretty open, and could be filled by Johnson, or Toscano-Anderson sliding up a spot, or even undrafted rookie Cole Swider, who shot the lights out in summer league ... if he can hold up defensively. With Davis playing only 76 combined games the last two seasons, the lack of proven depth behind him could be an issue.
LeBron could play more PG on offense, as he did in 2019-20, opening up more minutes for shooting and defense on the wings … or James could play more backup center, trimming the big man minutes further … much of that depends on how some of the unknown quantities play.
I’d like to get Reaves – who can easily slot in at PG especially if Nunn isn’t ready for 5-on-5 at the start of camp – into the starting lineup at SG after his impressive rookie year, but Walker might get that first shot from Ham. THT has some impressive skills as a driver and shot creator, but isn’t a great fit next to Westbrook. Brown Jr. – a former lottery pick who played better than some might think last season – could emerge as a nice three and D option at the two (or three) as well, as the player type that’s most comparable to how KCP occupied the two on the 2020 title team.
AFTER THE BREAK
This season, there are more young/rebuilding Eastern teams than Western teams, and from a stacking-wins standpoint, it can help to get those types of squads late in the year. Yet for the Lakers, they play only five games against East squads after the All-Star break, with the other 18 coming against the West.
Of those five, only ORL (3/19) fits the rebuilding model, with CHI (3/26 and 3/29), TOR (3/10) and NYK (3/12) all trying to win now.
Of L.A.’s 10 total games against the younger teams in the East (IND, DET, WAS, ORL, CHA) half come in December, including two against the Wizards.
PAU GASOL JERSEY RETIREMENT!
On March 7, the Lakers will face Memphis at home. An exciting game, no doubt, but the real draw will be Pau Gasol’s jersey retirement ceremony. A beloved Laker who joined up with big brother Kobe Bryant to take the Purple and Gold to three straight NBA Finals appearances, and two titles, immediately after he was acquired from Memphis in a trade, his No. 16 will take its rightful place in the rafters.
FIVE-GAME TRIP FETISH
The Lakers have not one, or two, but three sets of five-game road trips in 2022-23, not to mention a six-gamer through the East (Dec. 2-11). Here’s how they break down:
- Dec. 25 – Jan. 2 (DAL, ORL, MIA, ATL, CHA)
- Jan. 28 – Feb. 4 (BOS, BKN, NYK, IND, NOP)
- March 29 – April 5 (CHI, MIN, HOU, UTA, LAC)
Longer trips can be bonding experiences for teams … but they can also just be hard (And, well, it’s also more difficult to bond on teams that aren’t as good!). Each of these three sets of five feature a balance of difficult games alongside some that a healthy Lakers team will be favored to win.
Meanwhile, the geography is mostly sensible for the first two trips, going from west to east, and then east to west with a finish down south. The third jumps around a bit more, but none of the trips feature the non-sensical type ones that we’ve seen in the past.
An example of a bad schedule: Monday @ORL, Wednesday @BKN, Friday @CHA. Nah.
Typically, the NBA will try and be more efficient with travel directions, like: ORL-CHA-BKN; or BKN-CHA-ORL.
IRELAND’S FIVE UNDERRATED ROAD CITIES
I started traveling with the Lakers in 2008, so this will be my 15th season going through the process. Of course, there are a few people in the traveling party that have been on Lakers planes even longer than me, with our fearless leader – the man Mychal Thompson calls “The General” – atop the list: Stu Lantz. But I didn’t want to give Stu any homework in August, so I bugged Lakers radio PXP man John Ireland, instead, to get his five most underrated NBA cities. Here’s John’s e-mail response:
After traveling full-time with the Lakers for the last 21 years, the question I probably get the most is “what are the best road cities?” And I think almost anybody* will have this list, in no particular order: Miami, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix. That’s it. That’s the list.
[*Editor’s note: my list IS slightly different, but, this is John’s guest column, so I’ll spare you.]
So when Trudell asked me to give him my five most underrated road cities, I took those five off the list. Those are the best, and everybody knows it. But here are five that I look forward to going to every year, for a lot of different reasons:
So you hate the Celtics? Guess what: they hate us. The rivalry is real, and it’s spectacular. There is nothing like beating the Celtics in the Garden. When we go there for the Finals, the games start after 9 p.m., and most of the crowd is over-served. It makes for a great atmosphere, and if the Lakers win, there is nothing more satisfying. Chris McGee and I spent a week there together covering the Finals in 2010 and I don’t think we went to sleep. Ask him.
(Editor’s note again … I asked Geeter. He offered his high school yearbook quote in response: “From birth until the end it’s Lake Show for life … And Celtics suck.”
You’ve heard the saying, “Everything’s bigger in Texas”? It’s true. The hotel where we stay is right in the heart of the city, and there are a million things to do. I’m a history buff, so I’ve been to the Sixth Floor Museum a bunch of times and it gets better every year. I used to live in Texas, and Dallas is right up there with Austin as the best city in the state.
You ever wonder where the most Lakers fans are outside of LA? The ATL is it. It’s basically a Lakers home game. There are more purple and gold jerseys in the stands than anywhere else we go, and both Mychal Thompson and Stu Lantz say it has been that way forever. A guy I know who works for the Hawks tells me that as soon as the schedule comes out, that game sells out almost immediately. On top of that, great people who revel in “Southern Hospitality.”
Remember I said I was a history buff? No town scratches that itch like our Nation’s capital. This is how nerdy I am: every year, no matter the weather, I go on what I call a “monument walk.” I start at our hotel in Georgetown, and walk for miles around the city. From the Washington Monument, to the Lincoln Memorial, all the way to the White House. I always download an old presidential speech to listen to while I walk, which might make me the biggest geek ever.
The best Italian restaurant in the league is in Salt Lake City, and it’s not close. David Locke, who is the radio voice of the Jazz, introduced me to Valter’s Osteria years ago, and I’ve been back every year since. It’s one of Gregg Popovich’s favorites, and the rest of the league has followed. On top of that, the rooms at the hotel where we stay are HUGE. Bigger than some apartments I’ve lived in. Park City is 45 minutes away, and it’s less than a two-hour flight from LAX.
THREE TITILLATING TOSS UPS
Oct. 28 at Minnesota: In L.A.’s fifth game of the season, they face the new-look Timberwolves, featuring the league’s biggest frontcourt with newly-acquired Rudy Gobert. How will Darvin Ham decide to match up against the Stifle Tower + Karl Anthony-Towns? Will we see a heavier dose of AD and LeBron at the five to counter Minny’s big look, or more Jones, Bryantand even Huff than usual?
Jan. 28 at Boston: As John Ireland and Chris McGee may have mentioned, “at Boston” is always going to be high on this list, as could be Boston’s trip to L.A. (Dec. 13). The Lakers have a massive advantage in the rivalry from 1980 onward, of course, with 11 championships for L.A. to Boston’s four. Or, if you prefer, six to one since 2000. But it’s the Celtics that go into this season’s matchup as the likelier title pick – depending upon trades, of course – having come off a trip to the Finals last season, and with young stars Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown entering their respective primes.
Feb. 23 vs. Golden State: L.A.’s first game out of the All-Star break, like their first game of the season, comes against the defending champions. The Feb. 23 version could be telling, as the Lakers roster could look quite different by then as they try to assemble a team with the best chance at making a playoff run. The Warriors should be a good measuring stick, with their veteran core intact, and a talented group of young players looking to emerge as the campaign drags on.