The NBA, slowly letting dates and games for the next season to be known, aren’t waiting around to give the people one of the most anticipated matchups of next season, scheduling the first meeting between the Houston Rockets & Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers & Kobe Bryant to November 7, less than two weeks into the new season.
The next NBA season begins on October 29, which Bryant should be already in fighting form for. While matchups that involve plenty of personal tension usually take place on Opening night or Christmas, the NBA decided to fill its second Thursday of the season with.
This isn’t the first time a departing Lakers center was paired up with Kobe Bryant, mostly thanks to the personal tension. During the first couple of seasons after Shaquille O’Neal left to the Miami Heat, the NBA tried to to all it possibly could to build up the rivalry.
And while there’s obviously a lot of things going on between the two players and pretty much anyone involved with the Lakers and Dwight Howard, on paper it doesn’t seem like too much of a fair fight. Last season, the two teams met each other four times, with the Lakers winning the first and last games, while Houston grabbed the sandwiched two. The Rockets were on the rise, and should be even better next season. The Lakers?
While they’ve made additions that at least fill up their lineup with Chris Kaman, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson, it’s hard to believe they’ll manage to sneak into to the playoffs like last season unless Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol have some kind of monster season without any injuries and set backs. However, how they manage to defend any team and specifically the Rockets, which they struggled with last season, still remains to be seen.
Bryant loves games in which he has something to prove, and when you bring in the personal connection of feeling like the Lakers were wronged somehow by Howard who actually dared prefer a different team, and you’ll get a very motivated Bryant, and probably in that mode in which he doesn’t see anything and anyone but the rim, trying to fulfill some personal vendetta without a lot of help from anyone else.
The Rockets are going to be the most intriguing team to watch next season, at least early on, with all eyes pointed at Howard and how his connection with James Harden is going to work out. Harden, like Bryant, is a shooting guard that loves the ball in his hands, but the big question is how willing is he to share it with another star, paving the way for a much better relationship than what the Lakers had between the two last season.
The surprising factor is the NBA choosing to put the game in Houston, although there are scheduling conflicts to consider, because the atmosphere in Los Angeles for this kind of game would have been a lot more, well, brutal. Maybe NBA execs didn’t want to hear too many boos so early in the year.