The Lakers franchise has played 64 years of basketball. That means 64 years of enduring an off-season with anticipation for the upcoming season.
While, it can be argued that no other off-season has made Laker fans uneasy while waiting for the season to start than this last one that lingered on due to the lockout and just passed us by.
But it is now in the past.
On to opening night. The first game of the season means business. It is an opportunity to get started on the right foot in the win column, rather than in the loss column.
In their storied history, the Lakers are 42-22 on opening night; 36-15 in Los Angeles.
Let us look back at the ten best opening night games in Laker history.
10. 2003-04: The Stars Align Themselves
The 2002-03 season saw the Lakers underachieve, and thus disappoint fans; this after winning three consecutive championships. Little could bring forth excitement leading into the following season. But whatever little it took, it was done; thanks to a recruiting effort by Shaquille O’Neal to lure super-free agents Karl Malone and Gary Payton to Los Angeles.
Both players sought a championship to conclude their careers, and seemingly were in the right place to achieve such a feat. The Lakers would also sign Bryon Russell and Horace Grant to complete the revamping of their roster.
Excitement reeked in the air of Los Angeles; but the question remained about whether or not four All-Stars could co-exist and win.
The answer would begin to be answered on October 28, 2003.
You may remember that the team was without Kobe for this game, who missed 18 games that season due to court appearances.
The moral of this game was that when you have four stars, you can spare one. Malone finished just an assist shy of his fourth career triple-double; contributing with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Aiding him was Payton, who led the Lakers in scoring with 21 points, and also added nine assists.
The team played much better with their new additions. Shaq, Derek Fisher, and Devean George all aiding the cause with 16 points apiece.
“Unbelievable. All that firepower. We’ve got cannons, rockets, missiles, you name it,” Lakers forward Bryon Russell said.
The Lakers cruised to a 109-93 victory on that evening; further exciting Lakers Nation. The team would enjoy two separate 10 game winning streaks during the season, as they would narrowly edge out the Sacramento Kings. Their hard work would pay off as they would defeat the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and top-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves to accomplish their goal of reaching the NBA Finals.
However, in a matchup with the “bad boys” of Detroit, the Pistons, it was the Lakers that would come out on the short end of a five-game defeat, and yet another failed attempt at a championship for Malone and Payton.
At the close of the 1982-83 season, the Lakers found themselves with two jewels, one more rare than the other; they were the NBA champions and also held the first-pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The eventual pick would be used on James Worthy from the University of North Carolina. This marked the only time in which the defending champions also selected first in the draft.
Naturally, the hype began to revolve around this kid, who had just won a national championship for the Tar Heels. Together with Magic and Kareem, the Lakers were set to dominate the rest of the decade.
The hype was built up for three months before the team finally opened the season on October 29, 1982 against the Golden State Warriors.
Perhaps it was the ring celebration, or perhaps the hype of three mega-stars playing, but the Warriors easily were able to outpoint the defending champions, 132-117.
The opening loss was quickly brushed off as the Lakers would win their next seven games. The Lakers would later go on to defeat the Warriors in each of their next five games that season.
However, the season turned disastrous when Worthy broke his leg in the last week of the regular season, causing him to miss the playoffs. The Lakers would defeat the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs before succumbing in four games to the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals.
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