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Volume 25 No. 177
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NBA Schedule Release Shows Lakers' Return To National Prominence

The NBA released the early part of its schedule yesterday, and the "least surprising -- and most telling -- thing" is that the Lakers are "officially back square in the public eye," according to Dan Woike of the L.A. TIMES. The Lakers are "once again in the main event, playing the role of hated rivals to just about every team in the league." With LeBron James in a Lakers uniform, it "doesn't matter who they play or when they play." The NBA "knows what we already know -- it's going to be a big deal." The early schedule release also gives fans a "glimpse as to what the NBA thinks of the upcoming season, and it's clear that they're betting heavily on a wave of change at the top of the league." While the Warriors are the "safe bet to win another NBA title, James' move to the Western Conference means it's a new day in the East." The Oct. 16 opening night doubleheader on TNT features 76ers-Celtics at 8:00pm ET followed by Warriors-Thunder at 10:30pm, and it is a "little surprising that the Warriors and Rockets weren't slated for one of these top spots, especially since their seven-game series last spring served as the de facto NBA Finals in the eyes of many." Meanwhile, it is a "little surprising the NBA resisted throwing the Lakers and the Celtics together -- especially on Christmas." Also that the league would have the Lakers "open on the road instead of Staples Center," with James making his debut Oct. 18 on the road against the Trail Blazers (L.A. TIMES, 8/9).

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN: The NBA's Christmas Day slate includes 76ers-Celtics, Thunder-Rockets and Lakers-Warriors, and in DC, Tim Bontemps writes the schedule for the day was "such a missed opportunity." There are "compelling games among the five-game slate" and 76ers-Celtics "makes complete sense." So, too, does having "marquee attractions" in the Warriors and stars including James, Rockets Gs Chris Paul and James Harden and Thunder G Russell Westbrook "all take the stage." Despite "largely being a wreck for two decades, the Knicks have remained a staple on Christmas Day simply because they play in New York and bring a large audience as a result." Meanwhile, the "obvious omission from the Christmas schedule" -- having the Raptors and F Kawhi Leonard play his former team, the Spurs -- is also "undoubtedly a market-based decision." While Toronto is one of the largest cities in North America, its television audience "isn't factored into American television ratings" because it is outside the U.S. There is "no other reason that a team that won 59 games last year and added one of the league's most talented players ... wouldn't be made a central component of the league's Christmas slate" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/9). In Toronto, Doug Smith writes the Raptors were "never going to get a home game" on Christmas Day because of "TV ratings concerns." Smith: "I guess they see other rivalries as better ones to exploit and traditions -- New York at home -- to uphold." A Bucks-Raptors matchup or Raptors-Spurs "would have been sexy games to the local fan base," but apparently "not to the league or its broadcast partners" (TORONTO STAR, 8/9).

NOT-SO-HAPPY HOLIDAYS: CBSSN's Adam Schein called the Christmas lineup "as bad a slate, as irresponsible a slate, and as bad a PR nightmare as you can have." He asked how the NBA did "not give" fans Lakers-Celtics or Warriors-Rockets because "that's what everybody wanted." Christmas is "always the signature date for the NBA" and the league is "so smart when it comes to being PR savvy, but they fouled the whole thing up." Schein: "The NBA ruined Christmas. Bah humbug" ("Time to Schein," CBSSN, 8/8).