Lakers’ 2015-16 schedule not easy, but plenty interesting

The Lakers’ 2015-16 schedule largely reflects the team’s prospects after an offseason finally infused with some hope. Nothing figures to come easy – 17 of their first 24 games are on the road, including an eight-game road trip in December – but the intrigue is exemplified by a season-opener pitting Timberwolves overall No. 1 draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell at Staples Center.

Should next season be Kobe Bryant’s last, there will be plenty of interest beyond watching the development of youth the likes of Russell, Jordan Clarkson and a healthy Julius Randle. March 10 could be the last time Bryant and Lebron James share the same floor if Kobe retires following the April 13 regular season finale when his two-year, $48.5 million contract expires.

Coming off the worst season in franchise history, the schedule makers still consider the Lakers a draw. They will be on national television 28 times, including a Christmas day home game on ESPN against the Clippers, part of a marquee lineup that includes an NBA Finals rematch between the Cavaliers and Warriors

The Lakers and Clippers’ four matchups include back-to-back games April 5 and 6, part of a difficult stretch to end the Lakers’ regular season. One scheduling concession for both teams is the absence of the annual Grammy Awards roadtrip. Staples Center will host the event during the extended all-star break Feb. 11-18.

That is the only solace for the Lakers during an eight-game stretch in February that includes just one home game among two matchups with the Spurs and meetings with 2015 playoff teams, the Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Pelicans and Bucks.

Should the Lakers’ fate include a run at the postseason – if they miss the playoffs, it will be the first time in franchise history the Lakers were left out of the postseason three consecutive years – the home stretch will be difficult beyond simply keeping Bryant healthy. Aside from the regular season finale versus the Jazz, the preceding six-game stretch consists of all playoff teams from a season ago and a back-to-back against the Rockets and Thunder.

Of the Lakers’ 18 pairs of back-to-back games next season, three are packed into an eight-game road trip in early December. The Lakers early-season schedule, however, is relatively soft. Only four of their first 12 games are against playoff teams from a year ago, two against a depleted Mavericks team that finished seventh in the Western Conference last season. In other words, the Lakers look like a safe bet to eclipse their 1-9 start a year ago.