Lakers’ five most interesting games to watch

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Mark Medina looks at the Lakers' 2023-24 schedule and pinpoints the five most interesting games to watch.

Through both NBA championship runs and rebuilding seasons, the Lakers remain an attractive team to feature in marquee games.

Not surprising then the Lakers will appear in 40 nationally televised games in the 2023-24 season after making the Western Conference Finals with LeBron James and Anthony Davis (12 with NBA TV, 11 both with TNT and ESPN, six with ABC). Which games are most riveting, though?

Frankly, there are too many to select. But here are the five most interesting Lakers’ games to watch.

Lakers vs. Boston Celtics (Christmas Day, 2:00 pm PT, ABC)

This matchup will always rank No. 1 as either an early Finals preview or just a game that produces additional joy and rage. This season, the NBA’s greatest rivals will square off in a regular-season game that carries extra meaning.

The Lakers-Celtics matchup will be among the NBA’s marquee Christmas Day games for the first time since 2008, nearly six months after the Celtics dispatched the Lakers in the 2008 Finals in six games. After both teams failed to advance to the Finals last season, the Lakers and Celtics don’t have that same history for this Christmas Day game. The Lakers, after all, have played in 25 consecutive Christmas Day games with Boston as the opponent only once. Nonetheless, the game could offer both a “Finals preview” and clarity on which team could be more equipped with winning the championship arms race. (The Lakers and Celtics are currently tied at 17).

The Lakers ensured continuity around James both with securing a max extension with his co-star (Davis) and incumbent role players (Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell). The Celtics continued to prioritize the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown duo, while trading their trusted defensive leader with an inconsistent shot (Marcus Smart) in exchange for a versatile scorer with durability issues (Kristaps Porzingis). Undoubtedly, health will largely determine both teams’ championship fortunes. The Christmas Day game could also foreshadow whether continuity (Lakers) or changes (Celtics) will become a better title-contending formula.

Lakers at Denver Nuggets (Oct. 24, 5:30 pm PT, TNT)

The Lakers won’t appear tired in this opening-night matchup, a stark contrast to their decisive Game 4 loss to Denver in the Western Conference Finals. Not only will James, Davis and their supporting cast feel more refreshed after having time this offseason to heal their bodies. They will look rejuvenated to unseat the NBA champions both because of their hardware and loose lips.

It bothered the Lakers enough that they failed to advance to the NBA Finals before seeing the Nuggets win their first league championship in franchise history. It bothered the Lakers even more when they heard Nuggets coach Michael Malone talk trash about the Lakers. Malone continuously lamented the extra attention the Lakers received both during and after their playoff matchup. Malone poked fun at James for considering retirement after the Nuggets eliminated them. And Vic Lombardi, the Nuggets’ studio host, referred to Malone as the “Lakers Daddy” before introducing him to speak during the team’s championship parade.

Interestingly, the Nuggets’ players themselves didn’t talk trash about the Lakers. Nonetheless, Denver’s title success and Malone’s gloating should produce enough fuel for both Lakers coach Darvin Ham and his players to play this game with extra juice.

Lakers vs/at Phoenix Suns (Oct. 26; Nov. 10, 7 pm PT, ESPN)

Perhaps we see James and Kevin Durant finally compete against each other again. Perhaps we receive clarity on if the NBA’s In-Season tournament will be compelling.

James and Durant have not gone head-to-head since 2018 because of overlapping injuries, a variable that appears unlikely to factor into the Lakers’ second game of the regular season at Arena (Oct. 26). The James-Durant matchup won’t mirror the intensity they showed in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals, but James and Durant should be at their best and healthiest for a competitive showdown.

When the Lakers and Suns meet again in Phoenix on Nov. 10, not only will we possibly see another fun James-Durant showcase. We’ll witness the opening round of the NBA’s In-Season tournament. Time will tell whether this new format and cash incentives will motivate teams enough to treat this tournament seriously. Expect all teams to give the inaugural tournament a chance, though.  That starts with James and Durant, who will try to set a tone with that as respected, veteran stars. That hinges, though, on James and Durant staying healthy.

Lakers at San Antonio Spurs (Dec. 13, 7:00 pm PT, NBATV; Dec. 15, 6:30 pm PT, ESPN)

This game won’t bear any long-term implications. It will produce some memorable moments, though.  

Though it appears likely the Spurs will miss the NBA playoffs next season, their game against the Lakers will bear significance for prized rookie Victor Wembanyama. Not only will Wembanyama face a generational star (James). Wembanyama will also match up against one of the NBA’s best big men (Davis). 

Look for James to want to show Wembanyama that he will have to wait  before fully becoming one of the faces of the league. Also expect James to lavish Wembanyama with advice and praise afterwards. Anticipate that Davis will have one of his best two-way performances to prove a point against the hyped rookie. Also predict that Davis will embrace how Wembanyama played the game the right way.  Good thing for Wembanyama that he will have an introduction to the Lakers’ stars at home as opposed to the brighter lights at Arena. 

Lakers at Golden State Warriors (Jan. 27, 5:30 pm PT, ABC)

Since when will we ever tire of James competing against the Warriors? Never. For four consecutive years (2015-19), the Warriors and James-led Cleveland Cavaliers produced insatiable competitiveness and drama. The Warriors and Lakers made the 2021 Play-In tournament game with limited fans feel like a high-stakes playoff game. And the Lakers unseated the defending champs in the second round last season because of better consistency between their stars and role players.

The Warriors’ core players (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) should feel more revitalized following an extended offseason. Although questions remain about his durability, veteran Chris Paul should help the team’s chemistry far greater than young guard Jordan Poole could. Meanwhile, the Lakers appear bullish they can build off the strong foundation they formed following last season’s trade deadline.

Why not Lakers-Clippers? (Nov. 1, Jan. 7, Jan. 23, Feb. 28)

Lakers fans will have reason to watch every game, including the four regular-season matchups against their cross-town counterparts. Although the Lakers would like to snap the Clippers’ 11-game winning streak against them, the storyline seems played out.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will actually show up to play. Clippers coach Ty Lue will make genius strategic adjustments. And the Lakers may or may not bring their best performance. Though the Lakers should finally rectify this streak, history has proven these regular-season results foreshadow very little in the playoffs.

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