Top five Lakers games to look forward to in 2015-16

It is finally official. After bits and pieces of it being leaked for the past couple of weeks, the entire NBA schedule has been released.

With rosters virtually set and game dates officially announced, fans can begin circling dates on their calendars. Opening night for the Los Angeles Lakers still remains a distant 77 days away, but it’s never too early to look ahead and start building excitement for a season that features the franchise’s youngest core group in several years.

Now without further ado, here are the five regular season matchups that intrigue me the most this season — assuming mentioned players are healthy at the time.

5. Opening night: LA Lakers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (October 28)

There is nothing quite like opening night. It’s a fresh start for all 30 teams in the league. Excitement and buzz is spread throughout the entire league, filled with different levels of hope and aspirations for every team and their fans. Goals and expectations seem to projecting upward movement for this young Lakers squad, after recording the worst campaign in franchise history a season ago.

The renewal of some optimism aside, this should actually be a fun contest with attractive matchups on the floor. Obviously, it features the top two picks in Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, although they won’t truly match up against one another. Instead, Russell will be up against a strong perimeter defender in Ricky Rubio while Towns will draw the assignment of the similarly defensive-minded and possibly rejuvenated Roy Hibbert.

We got a taste of the Jordan Clarkson-Zach LaVine matchup in summer league play, one that could be extremely fun to watch for many years to come. Then of course at small forward will be one of the best players the game has ever seen as Kobe Bryant takes on a potential future superstar in Andrew Wiggins.

It will also be just the second regular season game overall for Julius Randle and first since his devastating leg injury on opening night last year. If he happens to be the starter from the get-go, he could be lined up against Kevin Garnett, which has “popcorn” written all over it.

4. Christmas Day: LA Lakers vs. LA Clippers (December 25)

Whether you consider this a rivalry or not, there’s a lot of bad blood between these two fan bases. At the very least, it will make for an interesting Christmas night on social media.

But it happens to be the first time both teams meet this season, and we will all get a look at how Russell and Randle handle their respective matchups against Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Plus, the two old guys will get to battle again like they have for so many years, as Bryant and Paul Pierce should be guarding each other.

Last but not least, it marks the return of Wesley Johnson to the purple and gold Staples Center floor. No? Okay, never mind.

3. First crack at the champs: LA Lakers at Golden State Warriors (November 24)

Everyone wants a piece of the champs, right? Well, maybe the competitive nature in you does, or perhaps the difference in established talent makes this game less intriguing for you. Either way, seeing the Lakers potential future star point guard take on the reigning league-MVP in Stephen Curry could be a real treat.

The perimeter matchups in this one also include Clarkson and Klay Thompson, along with Bryant and Harrison Barnes. Then of course there is Randle against another versatile power forward in Draymond Green.

The abundance of youth for Los Angeles indicates that this game is likely a loss waiting to happen, but you better believe a ton of people will be tuning in to see how these young Lakers perform against top competition.

2. Rivalry renewed: LA Lakers at Boston Celtics (December 30)

This one is pretty self-explanatory. The Lakers and Celtics have formed one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, dating back to the outset of the NBA. A number of Hall of Famers and all-time greats have been a part of this rivalry, making it’s tradition truly rich.

Despite both teams not being anywhere close to being title contenders, each of them seem to be trending in the right direction, thanks to the young talent gathered. The Celtics drafted their presumed future point guard last year while the Lakers got theirs back in June, so this will be the first time we get to see Russell (Notice a recurring theme, yet?) against Marcus Smart.

It could also be the last time we see Kobe play against the hated Celtics, which takes us to No. 1 on the list.

1. Kobe’s last game? LA Lakers vs. Utah Jazz (April 13)

Nothing is set in stone, but this could be — and probably will be — the final season for arguably the greatest player to ever don a purple and gold uniform. If that proves to be true, this would mark the final game in Kobe’s illustrious 20-year career, unless the Lakers overachieve and earn a spot in the playoffs.

It would be fitting, considering it was against the Jazz that an 18-year-old Bryant hoisted up airball after airball down the stretch of an elimination game, transforming him into the assassin we have come to marvel.

The end of an era that has truly spoiled all of us Lakers fans is pretty damn depressing to think about. However, the emotion poured into this game from Bryant, the fans and people from around the league should make this a sad, but special day, as we appreciate everything that No. 24 has done for this franchise.

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