LeBron James will make his home debut for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Houston Rockets on Sunday morning, live on Sky Sports Arena at 3.30am.
Scene Setter – The moment Los Angeles Lakers fans have been waiting for all summer has finally arrived, with LeBron James set to make his home debut in the famous purple and gold uniform.
The fact that it comes against the star-studded Houston Rockets, with both teams having lost their opening games of the season, will only heighten the occasion at the Staples Center.
Along with reigning MVP James Harden, James’s good friends Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony will be out to spoil his party as last season’s Western Conference finalists look to find their feet after a summer of significant roster changes.
Whether the offensive prowess of new arrival Anthony can mask the loss of defensive specialists Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute remains to be seen, but the early signs were worrying as the New Orleans Pelicans eased to a 131-112 victory in Houston on Wednesday evening.
While the Rockets will be looking to mount another Championship challenge this season, the Lakers’ ambitions may be slightly more modest. Despite the addition of three-time NBA champion James, question marks hang over the mixture of young talent and eccentric veterans that have been assembled around ‘the King’.
Young trio Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma each displayed their potential by scoring 15 points or more in Portland on Thursday evening but even with James adding 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, the Lakers went down 128-119. Both teams will have plenty to prove on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Key Battle – Chris Paul (Rockets) v Rajon Rondo (Lakers)
There will be no shortage of trickery as two of the league’s wiliest veteran point guards go head-to-head. With 13 All-Star appearances between them, Chris Paul (9) and Rajon Rondo (4) have just about seen it all in the NBA.
The pair are both considered ‘pure’ point guards, a dying breed in the modern game. Content with facilitating for others rather than scoring themselves, a number of skilful assists are a given.
However, with both also having previously been honoured for their performances on the defensive end, creativity and patience will be required. Neither are shrinking violets either – look out for some not-so-friendly chatter between the pair.
Numbers Game – This game will see last season’s two top individual points scorers go head-to-head. James scored 2251 points in 82 regular season games last season, while James Harden managed 2191 points in 10 fewer outings. LeBron was more efficient with a field goal percentage of 54.2 compared to Harden’s 44.9. From three-point range, the pair achieved the exact same success rate of 36.7 per-cent.
One to Watch (Rockets) – After a disappointing season with Oklahoma City Thunder, Anthony will be looking to provide a reminder as to why he was once regarded as one of the NBA’s best offensive players. ‘Melo’, who was drafted in 2003 alongside James, will hope that his spot-up shooting and one-on-one isolation plays provide the Rockets with an additional dimension this season. At the age of 34, he is running out of time to secure a first NBA Championship.
One to Watch (Lakers) – With the spotlight on James for his home debut in Hollywood, it will be hard for anyone to take their eyes off the four-time MVP. Embarking on his 16th season in the NBA, James has shown no signs of slowing down, averaging 34 points, nine assists and nine rebounds for Cleveland Cavaliers in last season’s playoffs. Making his Western Conference debut, ‘the King’ will be eager to prove that he still wears the crown in the NBA.