It has been three years since the L.A. Lakers won an NBA title, but if you do a quick scan on the marquee matchups for the 2013-14 season the Lake Show is right in the middle of it.
The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks lead the league in nationally televised appearances with 33 apiece, and the Lakers are fourth on that list with 29 behind the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 30. By comparison, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat are slated to have just 27 of their games seen by a national audience.
The Lakers are part of a three-game showcase to celebrate opening night on Oct. 29. The season tips off with the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers followed shortly by the Chicago Bulls and defending champion Miami Heat, and then the Lakers and the Clippers cap off the night at Staples Center. The Bulls-Heat game and the battle of L.A. are both on TNT.
As for the Christmas Day showcase, the Lakers and Heat headline a five-game hoop-a-palooza that also includes the Bulls-Nets, Thunder-Knicks, Spurs-Rockets, and Clippers-Warriors.
The Lakers may not be favored to finish the season in contention for a title, but they’re still a team with plenty of star power in global icon Kobe Bryant, and international stars in Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. And they have one of the largest fan bases in the league, while playing in the second-largest market in the country.
Somehow Dwight Howard ignored all that and decided to skip town and join the Houston Rockets. Howard faces the Lakers on Nov. 7 in Houston, but the one everyone is circling on their calendars is the Feb. 19 showdown at Staples Center. Lakers fans will surely let Howard know how much they miss him . . . or not. The boos will rain down on Howard like never before, even worse than the booing Shaquille O’Neal received in his first game back against the Lakers as a member of the Heat.
Drama seems to follow the Lakers every year, and that’s why you’ll see them playing in plenty of nationally televised games. Another thing to keep in mind here is that NBA TV games are included when counting up the national TV schedule — which means these numbers will change before the season is through.
NBA TV has fans vote on which game it will televise on Tuesday nights throughout the season. So, if the Heat (or even the Lakers) are one of the options, you can expect them to get the nod more often than not — again, due to the level of star power and market size much more than simply because of either team’s projected level of success.
There is one major sidenote is the availability of Bryant, especially early in the season. There’s a good chance Bryant may not be ready until January after undergoing surgery on his Achilles heel in April. Recovery time normally takes 6-9 months, but Bryant says he’s already ahead of schedule.
The league may know something we don’t because Kobe and Co. are on the national stage early and often this season.