LeBron James huddles up his Laker teammates in the season opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. Steve Dykes/Getty Images

LeBron James got his first taste of what it means to be a Los Angeles Laker on Thursday, debuting for his new team in a losing effort on the road to the Portland Trail Blazers, 128-119. It seemed appropriate that James got his start in L.A. while donning the Lakers' throwback jerseys from the Showtime Era — a time when the Lakers were fast-breaking their way to eight trips to the finals in the 1980s while taking their lumps in the grueling West.

The Western Conference has been loaded with depth for decades, and though the Blazers' title drought dates back to 1977, they once again proved they are a pesky thorn in the Lakers' side. Despite capturing 10 championships since 1980 — and with a bevy of basketball legends likes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant — the Lakers have just a 118-106 all-time head-to-head record against the Blazers. Only the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers have a stronger record than the Blazers against the Lakers.

On Saturday, James will face another long-time Lakers nemesis in the West: the Houston Rockets.

While the Blazers are expected to reach the playoffs, the Rockets are considered one of the elite teams in the league, meaning James, who spent his first 15 seasons in the East, will get his first true Western Conference test. Many experts believe the Lakers will be on the outside looking in when the conference championship rolls around and that there will be another showdown between the Rockets and the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

There is good reason to believe Houston will make a serious push this season. The Rockets, coming off a league-best 65-17 season, boast a stellar backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul, and in the offseason added veteran Carmelo Anthony.

Houston, however, dropped their season opener at home to the New Orleans Pelicans, 131-112. Both the Lakers and Rockets are expected to give a spirited performance at Staples Center in hopes of avoiding a 0-2 start.

James has consistently stressed the word "patience" to describe this Laker team. Indeed, the roster is saturated with both very young players and veterans in their first year with the club.

And while the rest of the NBA has embraced the three-point shot as the most coveted scoring strategy, the Lakers started off the season by missing their first 15 shots from beyond the arc. It was an ominous beginning to a season in which the Lakers are looking to turn the corner after five consecutive seasons without a .500 record and a playoff appearance.

Luke Walton's squad will no doubt end their playoff drought with James on the roster and complemented by Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo and others.

There is also the interest in keeping this roster prepared to make a deep run once they reach the playoffs. Walton addressed the concerns of playing James too many minutes in the regular season.

"We want to make sure we're not only playing at our best come the end of the season but that he's fresh," Walton said. "And that's a goal for us. And it's a goal that we're on a journey and it's not a one-year journey. We're continuing to try to and be our best season by season, but also as each one goes on.

"And obviously he gives us the best opportunity to be at our best."

But a victory over Houston would go a long way to building confidence. In 2017-18, the Rockets defeated the Lakers in three out of four games.

Betting Odds: Rockets by 3.5 points

Over/Under: 235 points.

Prediction: Rockets over Lakers, 118-110