2011-12 Lakers Schedule: Toughest stretch

While just about every team in the league, save for the Thunder and its fresh legs, was dreading the release of the schedule to see how many wicked back-to-back-to-backs they would have to endure, the Lakers ended up with the most agreeable three-in-a-row scenario imaginable.

The Lakers have to play only one three-peat and they do it to start the season in Games 1-3 of the 66-game schedule when their enthusiasm will be palpable and their focus reigned in. For a team that's already been quick out of the gates (8-0 last season; 7-1 the season before that; 7-0 the season before that), this a gift.

Now, Christmas Day hasn't been kind to the Lakers as they've dropped their past two to Miami and Cleveland, but the energy at Staples Center when the season tips off against the Bulls should keep them from laying a coal egg again. They follow with a game at Sacramento on Dec. 26 against a team that was 24-58 last season and finish back at home on Dec. 27 against the Jazz, who the Lakers regularly dispose of in L.A.

No, the toughest stretches for the Lakers are actually three games in five days, from January 16-20, when they play home against Dallas followed by a back-to-back at Miami and at Orlando and five games in nine days from March 21-29 when they play at Dallas, home against Portland, home against Memphis, at Golden State and then home against Oklahoma City.

The first stretch will give the Lakers an early test against the league's top two contenders. The second stretch will show if the Lakers belong in the top echelon of teams late in the season or if they're just another team in the running.


The five most anticipated games

Who (or rather what) is missing?