While Nuggets Nation has obsessed over how the Nuggets will stack up against division rivals Portland and Utah, we've overlooked the tragic comedy (for the rest of the Western Conference) that is the Lakers 2009-10 schedule.
Discussed ad naseum on TNT last night was the fact that the Lakers will play 17 of their first 21 games at home, and their four road games are at Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver and Golden State. And those 17 home games? 12 are against teams anticipated to be .500 or worse. In fact, the Lakers toughest home opponent will be the Mavericks or the Jazz. I'm sure Kobe Bryant is quaking in his Nikes with fear right now. TNT analyst Reggie Miller went as far as to say that anything short of a 20-1 start for the Lakers will be shocking. I hate to admit it, but I agree with Reggie.
Pardon my language, but this is a fucking joke.
Before diving into my rant, let the record state that I understand some favoritism is warranted to the NBA's marquee franchises. And perhaps they deserve it for the tickets they sell, the sponsorship they draw and the TV ratings they improve. Frankly, I'm ok with some favoritism thrown their way. But 17 of 21 games to be played at home out of the gate - against sub-par competition no less - is blatant incompetence at best and collusion at worst. Is the NBA this desperate to get the Lakers into the Finals in a bad economy? Are you telling me that in 2009 there's not a software scheduling program available that takes into account arena conflicts and national TV games while also balancing schedules among the 30 NBA teams to be relatively even?
Before you say (as Charles Barkley noted during last night's post-game show) "everybody in the NBA plays the same teams" and "it evens out over 82 games" (my Benedict Arnold Lakers fan of a brother's favorite retort on this now annual topic) let me stop you right there. Yes, we all know that everyone in the NBA plays the same teams. But no, it doesn't even out. When you play certain opponents matters. Even against crappy teams. Try playing in Sacramento on a Saturday on the second of a back-to-back versus a Monday when you've had a full day's rest. It's a completely different game.
Here's why scheduling really matters, though: confidence. Confidence is the biggest X-factor in sports. And while an easy early schedule boosts a teams confidence, a tough early schedule can decimate it for the entire season. We only have to look to our own Denver Broncos as proof of this. A team that was deemed by the "experts" (and yours truly) to win somewhere between four and five games miraculously won its first game at Cincinnati and then had the benefit of two easy games - home against Cleveland and at Oakland - to end up surprisingly being 3-0. Suddenly, whether they were a legit 3-0 or not, the Broncos had the confidence and mentality of a 3-0 team and exhibited it against the Cowboys in Week 4. And they won. And then, entering Week 5 against the favored Patriots the Broncos played like a 4-0 team and won again. By the time Week 6 at San Diego rolled around, the Broncos were exhibiting the confidence of an undefeated team and remain so. It's all about confidence.
So while the 2009-10 Nuggets bear the weight of championship expectations with 13 of their first 23 on the road - including an opening season back-to-back against Utah tonight and then at Portland tomorrow - the Lakers get to work out the kinks with new acquisition Ron Artest from the cozy confines of the Staples Center 17 of 21 times.
And yes, there will be a stretch where the Lakers have to play an inordinate amount of road games to make up for their season-opening home stand. But by then they'll be so far out in front in the Western Conference that they'll play loose and confidently and never skip a beat. Meanwhile, should the Nuggets stumble just a bit as they hit the road continuously in those first two months, so much heat will be on the players and the coach that the rails could come off early. I don't foresee this happening as I believe the Nuggets are mentally stronger than they've ever been, but their schedule is set up for this type of scenario.
Call me a whiner, a homer, an excuse-maker, a loser, etc. All I'm asking for is a fair fight.
Photo courtesy of AP: Chris Carlson.