Photo by Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers host the Dallas Mavericks in what is sure to be the most intriguing NBA season in the past 20 years. The Lakers come into the season with a problem that most teams would love to have: How will their new two-time MVP point guard and three-time Defensive Player of the Year center mesh with their already star studded core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace?

The journey to that answer and banner #17 begins tonight in the Staples Center as a depleted Mavericks team travels to L.A. without their superstar Dirk Nowitzki who is rehabbing his recently surgically repaired right knee. Joining Dirk in a suit on the bench will be starting center Chris Kaman who is dealing with a right calf strain. Starting in his place will be none other than everybody’s favorite NBA punch line, Eddy Curry. Curry is a big body looking to make the most of his latest opportunity and could have some decent numbers against a Lakers squad still trying to find its identity. However, this is a Lakers team itching to jump out of the gates quickly now that the Wild Wild West has become wide open.

The Lakers will start the season with injuries of their own. Kobe Bryant is still a game-time decision with a strained right foot, an injury that is much worse for older players such as Bryant. The Lakers don’t need Kobe against this Mavericks team (Lakers are 4-0 in season openers missed by Bryant), but he is needed on the court so that the starting unit can continue to play together and get better. The newest Lakers big man, Dwight Howard, will make his regular season debut for the Purple and Gold in what is sure to be the most watched debut of a free agent since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. Howard is dealing with an achy lower back after having off-season spinal surgery for a herniated disk. While Howard did look impressive in his two pre-season games, do not be fooled Lakers fans. Anytime a player goes under the knife it is risky business, but when that knife cuts into your back, it’s about as risky as it gets. I expect Howard to be just as good as he was when he won three straight Defensive Player of The Year awards, but not for another few weeks.

 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

The Mavericks lost two main cogs of their Championship run two years ago in Jason Kidd and longtime Mav Jason Terry, and they will struggle all season trying to fill the holes they left. Facing a Mavericks team without Dirk, Kaman, and recently waived Delonte West, the Lakers should dominate this game from start to finish. Last year the Lakers never closed the door on teams and therefore we never got to see the starters laughing on the bench in the 4th quarter with their knees iced and wrapped, a sight Lakers fans love to see every game. The bench has been an issue all pre-season, but I believe Coach Brown will do an effective job of having starters and substitutes on the court at the same time.

If Kobe misses this game look for Jodie Meeks to step up and have a big shooting night in his place. I’m also curious to see how Antawn Jamison and the rest of the bench will look playing with the starters in there after a shaky preseason playing with guys like Jeff Somogyi and Ronnie Aguilar (who? Exactly).

 

PREDICTION:

This season should be different than last year now that Mike Brown has had a full training camp to teach his system, as well as implement the Princeton offense to cater to Pau and Kobe who thrived in the similar Triangle. The Lakers swept the Mavs last year during the regular season (4-0) and I expect them to cruise to a W tonight at the Staples with or without #24. Final Score: Lakers 92, Mavericks 83.

 

Tip-off: 7:30 PM PST

 

Starters:

LAL: S. Nash, K. Bryant, M. World Peace, P. Gasol, D. Howard

DAL: D. Collison, O.J. Mayo, S. Marion, E. Brand, E. Curry

 

Television:

- TNT (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, David Aldridge)

 

Radio:

-LAL: 710 ESPN AM (John Ireland & Mychal Thompson)

-DAL: 103.3 ESPN FM (Chuck Cooperstein & Brad Davis)

 

Injuries:

LAL:

-Kobe Bryant: Probable (Strained Right Foot)

-Dwight Howard: Will Play (Back)

-Jordan Hill: Will Play (Back)

-Earl Clark: Questionable (Strained Left Groin)

 

DAL:

-Dirk Nowitzki: Out (Right Knee)

-Chris Kaman: Out (Strained Right Calf)