With the NBA recently releasing the schedule for the 2012-13 regular season, it’s that time of the year again where I try to predict the Lakers record for the upcoming year. First, let’s get some basics out of the way:
The Lakers have a total of 16 back-to-backs. With reports out there that some teams have as many as 22 B2B’s and as few as 13, the Lakers are definitely on the low side, as has been the case for many previous years. Also, the 4 West teams that the Lakers play only 3 times this year are San Antonio, Utah, Minnesota, and Memphis. Since there will only be three games in the season series, all the games against both San Antonio and Memphis could have huge implications for playoff seeding, since season series is the first tie-breaker if two teams finish with the same record. Lastly, the Lakers only have 1 stretch of having 4 games in 5 nights, so their schedule is pretty well spread out.
Quick Start: Oct 30 – Nov 18 (DAL, @POR, LAC, DET, @UTA, GS, SAC, SA, PHO, HOU).
The Lakers start off the season with a gamut of Western conference teams, notably hosting Dallas on opening night then flying to Portland the next night. While playing at home against the likes of Detroit, Golden State, Sacramento, Phoenix, and Houston shouldn’t present any problems, the Lakers have always had trouble going up to Portland and to Salt Lake City. However, with only 4 games against opponents that made the playoffs the previous year, the Lakers have a fairly cushy start to their season.
Three Road Trips: Nov 20 – Dec 16 (BKN, @SAC, @MEM, @DAL, IND, DEN, ORL, @HOU, @NOH, @OKC, UTA, @CLE, @NYK, @WAS, @PHI).
The Lakers then embark on three separate road trips. The first starts with a B2B with the new-look Brooklyn Nets at home then at Sacramento, followed by trips to Memphis and Dallas. Then after a match-up with Orlando at home (perhaps with or without Dwight Howard?), the Lakers go to Houston, New Orleans, and then Oklahoma City. After going home to play Utah, the Lakers head east, traveling to Cleveland, New York, Washington, and Philadelphia. This is definitely one of the toughest stretches the Lakers have this season, with 3 B2B’s with both games on the road. The Lakers have always struggled on the road (at least compared to at home), so I have no doubt that this is when the trepidation will start seeping into the minds of Laker fans.
Prediction: 10-5 ; Record: 18-7
Holidays: Dec 18 – Jan 1 (CHA, @GS, NYK, @DEN, POR, PHI)
For the holidays, the Lakers get a relative reprieve from previous years. Having played Chicago, Miami, Cleveland, and Boston the past 4 years on Christmas Day (with only 1 win against the hated Celtics), the Lakers should be relieved to not be facing the top team in the Eastern Conference for a 5th consecutive year. Instead, they face the Knicks (and if the Knicks are #1 in the East, something went terribly wrong in Miami, Chicago, and Boston). However, the Lakers also have a game the following night, crossing time zones to Denver. Heading east on a back-to-back is always dreadful, but doing so on Christmas Night will probably be worse, so even a strong showing on Christmas Day may be negated by a poor outing the next day.
Prediction: 5-1 ; Record: 23-8
Make or Break: Jan 4 – Jan 29 (@LAC, DEN, @HOU, @SA, OKC, CLE, MIL, MIA, @TOR, @CHI, @MEM, UTA, OKC, NOH)
After the holidays, however, the Lakers have arguably their toughest stretch of the season. They start off facing the Clippers in a de facto home game, but then have to make trips to San Antonio, Chicago, and Memphis, while hosting Miami and Oklahoma City twice. If the Lakers are really a championship contending team this year, this will be the stretch that they either put fan’s minds at ease, or put them on edge. While the Lakers get nights off before both OKC games and against Miami, the games in San Antonio and in Chicago will be on the 2nd night of back-to-backs.
Prediction: 10-4 ; Record: 33-12
Grammy Trip: Jan 30 – Feb 10 (@PHO, @MIN, @DET, @BKN, @BOS, @CHA, @MIA)
The Lakers annual Grammy road trip features two back-to-backs, with seemingly annual visits to Boston and Miami. Steve Nash will also be making his return to Phoenix on the front end of a B2B with the Lakers traveling to Minnesota the next day. The game in Boston is on the front end of one of the B2B’s, but the back end is a dreaded visit to Charlotte, the game that perennially makes the Lakers look like a D-League team.
Prediction: 5-2 ; Record: 38-14
The Most Important Game of the Season (Maybe): Feb 12 – Mar 10 (PHO, LAC, BOS, POR, @DAL, @DEN, MIN, ATL, @OKC, @NOH, TOR, CHI)
In this stretch of the season, there are some fairly difficult games, but only one really comes to my attention. If the Lakers are competing for a top seed in the West, they will almost certainly be jockeying with Oklahoma City. The last game of their season series takes place on March 5th in OKC, and may well be the difference between winning, tying, or losing the season series (I can’t imagine either team being up 3-0 at this point). This may be the most important game of the season, as it may be the difference between having home court or not having home court against OKC in the playoffs. The Lakers also have a tough back-to-back against Dallas and Denver, while also having to face a young New Orleans team in New Orleans the night after playing OKC. And while it may not be the most important game, the Lakers will face Boston in LA right after the All-Star break; Two well-rested teams that loath one another could make for an instant classic.
Prediction: 8-4 ; Record: 46-18
Road Warriors: Mar 12 – Mar 30 (@ORL, @ATL, @IND, SAC, @PHO, WAS, @GS, @MIN, @MIL, @SAC)
In March, the Lakers play a total of 10 out of 15 games on the road, but it will mostly be against lower tier teams. While Indiana may continue their success from the previous season, teams like Orlando, Atlanta, and Phoenix are in the process (or will be in the process) of rebuilding, while Golden State, Minnesota, Milwaukee, and Sacramento are in that awkward phase between being terrible and being average. There may be a few scares and sketchy defeats in here, but I expect the Lakers to mostly take care of business while prepping for the stretch run to the playoffs.
Prediction: 8-2 ; Record: 54-20
Closeout: Apr 2 – Apr 17 (DAL, MEM, @LAC, NOH, @POR, GS, SA, HOU)
The Lakers end the regular season with 9 straight games against Western Conference opponents. After season series record, the tie-breaker is record against Western Conference opponents (unless the two teams share a division, which makes record against Pacific Division opponents the 2nd tie-breaker), so this stretch of the season could heavily influence playoff seeding. With match-ups against Dallas, Memphis, the Clippers, and San Antonio, the Lakers playoff seed could go anywhere from 1st to 5th or 6th, with tie-breakers settling many of the seeds. The past 3 years, the Lakers have performed very poorly during this portion of the season. This is partially because they’ve rested some of their stars, and with the team adding old vets like Nash and Jamison, with Bryant and Gasol getting a year older, I expect no different from this years team.
Prediction: 4-4 ; Record: 58-24
To be honest, these predictions have been much harder to make than the previous two I’ve done (08-09 and 09-10). With Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison coming on board, it’s not clear if they help or hinder the Lakers greatest weakness in the regular season: letting mediocre teams back into games. Nash and Jamison certainly provide offensive firepower, but it is generally solid defense that will hold down the less-talented teams, especially on the road. If the Lakers use their training camp to develop solid defensive schemes, the Lakers should cruise to a record like the one I’ve predicted. But if the Lakers D is lackluster and sporadic, they may struggle to put away weaker teams and force their starters to play longer minutes.