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Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  December 15, 2013

For over a month, the Lakers built an identity without Kobe. They finally had it figured out it seemed like, as they were 10-9 and had momentum.

The identity of the Lakers was forced to change once Kobe came back this week, though. The Lakers struggled – losing their first three games with Kobe in the lineup before finally winning last night in Charlotte.

It’s important to note that Kobe has not played with many of the new guys on the Lakers squad like Nick Young, Shawne Williams, Wesley Johnson, and Xavier Henry. Kobe didn’t have training camp with these guys and as a result, there may be a little bit of rust.

Kobe is averaging 65 touches per game. The league leader, John Wall, is averaging just over 100. One would think Kobe would be closer to that based on his history of taking control of a game. However, we haven’t seen that Kobe yet.

We’ve seen a combination of facilitator Kobe (13 assists in loss to Thunder), rusty Kobe (6.3 turnovers per game), and clutch Kobe (huge shot and free throws in fourth quarter in win at Charlotte).

But we haven’t seen dominant Kobe. It’s as if the Lakers have been trying to maintain their identity as a balanced scoring team with Kobe in the mix. This is a very new concept for Kobe and as a result, the chemistry just hasn’t been there yet and it will take time to develop.

For the next 20 games, expect the Lakers to be just as up and down as they were in the first 20. They’re going to be searching for an identity yet again and I have a hunch that we’re going to be seeing a more Kobe centric offense as the season progresses. The Lakers simply can’t win with Kobe getting only 65 touches per game. Kobe won’t allow it either. He’s an alpha male and he hates losing.

Finally, now is the time to rant on D’Antoni’s obsession with recency bias. His coaching decisions have been incredibly interesting this past season. One player has a great quarter? Oh, let’s start him. One player has a lousy stretch of six minutes of play? DNP. Coach’s decision.

Take Robert Sacre for instance. After a few solid efforts off the bench, all of a sudden he was in the starting lineup. However, after a poor nine minute effort in Sunday’s game. He was benched at home against the Suns.

I understand that the team is trying to develop an identity by trying out different lineup combinations. But how is a team supposed to develop continuity when there is constant change in the lineup.

We’ve seen the same thing happen with Jordan Hill and Jordan Farmar (when he was healthy). Their playing time would get significantly cut when they had a bad game and vice versa when they had a great game. These are two players that should be starting every game. The numbers show they have been two of the most effective Lakers this season. They should not having their playing time fluctuate so drastically.

We even saw it last year with the benching of Pau Gasol.

With Kobe back in the lineup, at least we’ll have one constant – Kobe will get his playing time and his touches.

The Lakers have another tough week ahead of them. Their road swing continues as they play Atlanta and Memphis back to back. Then they return home for a tilt against Minnesota before heading to the Bay to play Golden State.

It’ll be interesting to see if we see more of “Dominant Kobe” this week especially after his great play in the fourth quarter at Charlotte. We may have to if the Lakers are going to go above .500 again.


Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  December 7, 2013

After splitting a pair of games this week, the Lakers are just 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the Pacific Division. This is great news considering the Lakers have been playing without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

That’s about to change, though, as Kobe announced that he will be in the starting lineup Sunday night when the Lakers play host to the Raptors.

What a fitting opponent to return against, too. The Mamba has shredded the Raptors throughout his career. In 29 career games against Toronto, Bryant is averaging 28.3 points per game (second-most against any team).

He’s also provided impressive heroics against the team from up north. We all know about the 81 point explosion back in 2006. However, Kobe has also hit a trio of game winners (2010, 2012, and 2013) against the Raptors.

There are many questions surrounding Kobe’s return. How long will Mike D’Antoni play him early on? How effective will he be? How healthy is he? All of these questions will be answered this week. That said, even if Kobe is 80 percent of what he once was, he’s going to be a major boost to the Lakers.

The Lakers dynamic will surely change with Bryant in the lineup. In last night’s win over Sacramento, six different players scored double figures. With Kobe in the lineup, we may not see that again. Hopefully, it’s not going to be the Kobe show where he shoots 30 times per game.

From what we’ve seen early on, the Lakers have a lot of players who can produce. Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar (when he’s healthy), Pau Gasol, Shawne Williams, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Steve Blake, and Jodie Meeks have all had shining moments during this season.

In fact, the Lakers have had nine different leading scorers in their 19 games this season. No Laker to this point has cracked the 30 point mark this season. Such a notion would be unheard of had Kobe been healthy.

Kobe could easily become the leading scorer every night for the Lakers, but there’s no doubt that he’s excited about the fact about having great help on his team. Kobe is always most effective when he’s a facilitator. When he takes a lot of shots, it’s usually a sign that no one is helping him and he has to take over the game on his own. This year’s squad has a plethora of players that can make shots. Kobe doesn’t have to take over games anymore.

The Kobe-less Lakers were pretty much asked to just stay afloat at .500 until their star returned. Going into Sunday, they’re one game above .500 and they’ve won six of their last eight games. In fact, they’re a game better than they were last year at this point and that was with Dwight and Kobe.

They showed great heart against the West’s best Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night, coming back down from two double-digit deficits only to run out of gas late in the fourth quarter of that game.

Then, last night the Lakers were down by as many as 10 points in the 3rd quarter. It didn’t matter. They roared back to outscore the Kings 25-13 on the road to win by six points thanks to a three-point barrage by Jodie Meeks.

Last year’s Lakers were entitled and flaky for many. This year’s team has shown resilience, heart, and has dealt with adversity in ways no one imagined.

Take Robert Sacre for instance. He was drafted 60th overall in 2012. People can badmouth the Lakers draft day decisions all they want, but Sacre has been a great pick. He has battled hard and he was rewarded with his first start of the season on Friday night. He had three starts last year, but that was because the team was riddled with injuries. He earned last night’s start.

In limited action, Sacre is averaging over a block per game and is shooting over 54 percent from the field. This week, in two games he averaged 11.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and shot 66.7 percent. Plus, for the season, when Sacre has been on the floor the Lakers’ efficiency marks have been outstanding. They have boasted an offensive efficiency of 121.2 and a defensive efficiency 95.4 during his minutes. This is a small sample, but it certainly contributed to why he has seen an uptick in minutes lately.

His hard work, though, is a microcosm of the entire Lakers team. Most of these guys are fighting for contracts. Many of them play for the league minimum and are working feverishly to get a fat paycheck over the summer. It’s moral hazard at its best.

And now Kobe makes his long awaited return. The Lakers play four games this week. After their tilt at home with the Raptors on Sunday, they’ll play host to the Suns on Tuesday before heading out to Oklahoma City and Charlotte to finish off the week.

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  November 30, 2013

Well, what do you know? The Lakers have won five of their last six games and find themselves at 9-8 as November comes to an end. All of this without Kobe Bryant, who signed a two-year extension this week and will likely remain a Laker for life.

That being said, the Lakers still have plenty to work on – especially in the paint defensively, where they had two major letdowns this week.

First, they let Nene score 30 points in their lone loss of the week against the Wizards. Then, they allowed 76 points in the paint to the Pistons in what eventually turned out to be a win. In fact, the Pistons didn’t score a single basket outside of the paint until the third quarter.

The Lakers are just too easy to penetrate against. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First of all, they take a lot of long distance shots. They are second in terms of shots taken from beyond 24 feet and 10th in terms of shots from 16-24 feet. While they make a lot of them, they miss plenty, too. The misses usually result in long rebounds which lead to transition points from the paint.

Secondly, they’re pretty average in terms of defending the rim. Pau Gasol allows a 49.3 percent field goal percentage at the rim. It’s not awful (DeAndre Jordan allows a 61.9 percent field goal percentage at the rim), but it’s nowhere near good either (Roy Hibbert allows a 36.5 percent FGP at the rim).

This is interesting to keep in mind because both of those atrocious performances in the paint have come with Chris Kaman out of the lineup. He missed a few games with a back injury but he’s been cleared to play over the last two games. However, he has yet to see the floor. Why would Kaman help? Because in terms of players who see at least five field goal attempts at the rim per game, he has the THIRD BEST opponent field goal percentage at the rim (37.7 percent). He comes in right after Roy Hibbert and Brook Lopez on that list.

That being said, all of this is nitpicking. The Lakers are playing well and they’re playing hard. After all, the reasonable goal for Laker fans is for the team to play .500 ball until Kobe comes back. They’re doing better than that and let’s not forget – they’re doing it without Nash, too.

Pau Gasol continues to play well offensively as we highlighted last week. Through the last six games, he’s averaging vintage Pau numbers – 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

Nick Young has proven to be effective over the last two weeks. Not only is he scoring, but he’s playing well on both sides of the ball as evidenced by his plus-minus. He’s recorded a “plus” over eight of the last nine games. Over the last six games, he’s a plus-62.

After a sluggish start to the season, Shawne Williams is also beginning to play better and as a result he’s earning more minutes. He’s a plus-43 over the last six and after not being able to make more than three field goals in any given game this season, he exploded for 20 points against Detroit. In that game, he hit six threes.

Finally, there’s Jordan Farmar once again. I can’t stop talking about this guy. He averages fewer minutes than Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, and Wesley Johnson but he averages more points than all of those guys. Give this man some playing time, please. Farmar is a plus-67 in the last six games. He’s only played 20 minutes per game in that span, but he’s averaging 13.2 points and 5.0 assists per game. Let’s not forget how efficient he’s been either – he’s made 57.4 percent of his shots and he’s a guard. Farmar is also apart of the top five most efficient (in terms of plus-minus) Laker lineup combinations. Don’t think he has a factor in that?

The Lakers will carry their momentum to a huge game against the surprising Portland Trail Blazers Sunday night at Staples before getting four consecutive days off. It’s a light week for the Lakers, who will also play on Friday night at Sacramento – a team they defeated earlier this week.

The Portland game looks tough on paper, but the Lakers have done well against contenders this season evidenced by their wins against Houston and the Clippers. They also played the Spurs tough at home and barely lost to the Grizzlies. It’ll be a tough test and it’ll show us whether the Lakers have actually improved, or just dominated a bunch of cupcake opponents.

Lakers Coming In: The Lakers are on a three game winning streak after defeating Detroit, Golden State, and Sacramento at Staples Center. Two of those opponents may have been inferior, but beating the Warriors was a huge confidence booster for the team.

What’s great for the Lakers is that they’re finally receiving great play from Pau Gasol, who struggled mightily throughout the first handful of games this season. He is finally living up to his role as the Lakers’ top player with Kobe out. They’ve also received solid output and production from role players like Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar, and Xavier Henry.

While Laker nation is pumped that their team is on a three game winning streak, the biggest news out of Los Angeles this week was Kobe Bryant signing a two-year extension through the end of the 2016 season to stay with the Lakers. The Lakers will be paying him top dollar for his services and while this may not seem such a great idea considering the stringent salary cap rules and the uncertainty surrounding Kobe’s Achilles, it’ll be great to see the Mamba retire as a Laker, especially if he returns to the floor at a high level.

The Lakers land in the nation’s capital for their first east coast swing of the season. This brief three-game road trip will take them through DC, Brooklyn, and Detroit. Last season, the Lakers defeated the Wizards, 102-96, in their only visit to the Verizon Center before losing to them at home, 103-100.

Wizards Coming In: The Wizards have an atrocious 5-8 record which would be bad enough for 13th in the Western Conference. However, because they’re in the weaker Eastern Conference, they find themselves just percentage points behind Philadelphia for the eighth seed. Despite their poor record, the Wizards have won three of their last four games.

The Wizards’ strength is their backcourt led by Bradley Beal and John Wall. Beal leads the team in scoring, averaging 20.6 points per game. Beal is a workhorse. He averages over 40 minutes per game and runs 2.9 miles per game, the highest average in the league. Beal also averages a speed of 4.3 miles per hour on the court, one of the fastest speeds in the league. Meanwhile, Wall runs 2.6 miles per game, tied for fifth highest. Wall is having a career year thus far. He’s averaging 18.6 points and 9.0 assists per game. His defense has improved markedly as he’s also averaging over two steals per game.

All that said, Wall will be without his running mate tonight as Beal has been ruled out with a leg injury that will sideline him for at least two weeks. Missing one of their best players is a major blow for the Wiz and a big break for the visiting Lakers. Meanwhile, in other injury news, coming back from his own ailments tonight for the Wizards will be old friend Trevor Ariza. Ariza won a title with the Lakers back in 2009 and he was averaging 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds before getting injured this year. He’s also shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc and averaging over two steals per game. His return to the lineup will make the Wizards more athletic.

Keys to the Game: The Washington Wizards are highly efficient from the paint. Marcin Gortat and Nene do a good job down low when they get the ball. However, they don’t really get many touches. The Wizards have the fifth best shooting percentage for shots between 0 and 8 feet in the NBA. The problem is, they only take 30.9 shots per game from that region – tied for fifth fewest in the league.

They take most of their shots from mid range and three point land. With Beal and Wall running the show, this is no surprise. The Wizards take the second most shots per game from 16-24 feet but they also have the second worst field goal percentage from that range. Beal and Wall are both young, dynamic players. It’s not unusual to see young players try to take over and take a high percentage of a certain team’s shots in a game. We saw it in Los Angeles when Kobe was young. While it’s exciting at times, it’s not always effective.

The key for the Lakers tonight defensively will be to force Wall to take plenty of shots from outside. By forcing low percentage shots, the Lakers will be able to limit damage from the paint. Getting off to a fast start may force Wall to start shooting from long distance early. They may see that they’re trailing early and they’ll feel forced to shoot from three point land. If they start missing a lot from long range, this one could swing toward the Lakers side quickly.

Offensively, the Lakers must take advantage of the Wizards’ lack of defensive presence in the paint. The Wizards have allowed the highest field goal percentage on shots between 0 and 8 feet this season. The Lakers must pound it inside to Gasol and Hill and have them do the dirty work.

It’s important that the Lakers don’t get into track meet with this team. Once again, Wall is very fast. No point guard on the Lakers can keep up with his speed, especially in transition. Therefore, the Lakers must make it a focal point to not shoot from far out that often because long rebounds could mean easy transition points for the Wizards.

Where To Watch: Tip off is at 4:00 PST on TWCSN and NBATV.

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  November 23, 2013

After slamming the Lakers in the last edition of Week At A Glance, the Lakers awoke from the dead and won two home games in convincing fashion. It marks the first time the Lakers have won consecutive games this season.

On Sunday, Steve Blake had 16 assists and Jordan Hill had a career night with 24 points and 17 rebounds as the Lakers cruised in their victory over the Pistons. On Friday, the trend of having a different hero every game continued as Pau Gasol cashed in with 24 and Nick Young scored 21 in the Lakers 11th consecutive victory at home over the Warriors.

For the third time this season, the Lakers beat a championship contender and they did it without Kobe Bryant. There’s a lot to like about what the Lakers did this week. But let’s not get too excited. This could just could be another “upward leg” in the Lakers’ roller coaster season.

Either way, the Lakers will take it, especially with their upcoming schedule this week. After a home tilt against the Sacramento Kings, the Purple and Gold will head to the eastern time zone for the first time this season to take on the Wizards, Nets, and Pistons. All four of their opponents this week are under .500 and three of the four are in last place in their respective divisions. If the Lakers play the way they did this week against Detroit and Golden State, they could go 4-0 and get their 10th win of the season before the end of the month.

The Lakers will get favorable results if they continue to see Pau Gasol playing like the Gasol of old. Since the win against New Orleans, Gasol has improved all of his offensive numbers. He’s been a major reason why the Lakers are 3-2 in their last five games. Here’s a breakdown:

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It also helps that he’s cut down on his threes. He took seven three pointers in the first five games of the season. Since then, he’s only taken two (and he’s missed both of them).

Jordan Hill is also finally getting the minutes he deserves. He’s played 30 minutes or more in the last four games and he’s played at a high level in all of those games. He’s also made 17 of his last 19 free throws after going through a three game stretch where he only made one free throw over 11 attempts. He works hard, he gets to the line, he cleans the glass, and he seemingly does everything right. If he continues this and Kobe comes back at a high level, it won’t be farfetched to see him being the X-factor in pushing the Lakers from just another playoff team to a contender.

One Laker who hasn’t had a bump in playing time despite playing well is Jordan Farmar. He did have an off week last week, but he’s bounced back big time in the last two games. He’s a +34 with 20 points and 13 assists over the last two games.

Finally, there’s Nick Young, whose shooting percentage has been through the roof over the last three games. He’s shooting 50 percent. Again, this is Nick Young shooting 50 percent, so we know they haven’t been high percentage shots at all times. It’s not sustainable and we will probably see him regress to his mean during this four game road trip, but the Lakers will take it.

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  November 16, 2013

The Lakers dropped three of four games this week and now find themselves in 12th place in the Western Conference. Laker fans have been slowly forced to admit the fact that the Lakers are just not a very good team without Kobe.

That said, the fact that Kobe is out gives the Lakers at least a glimmer of hope. We still can’t evaluate this team completely without Bryant in the lineup and things can change rapidly assuming the Mamba returns healthy and plays at a high level. But until then, the Lakers’ struggles may continue.

One of the most glaring stats so far this season is the Lakers horrendous free throw percentage. The team isn’t shooting as many free throws this year compared to last, but they’re shooting just 69.7 percent from the charity stripe – the third worst figure in the league. Apparently losing Dwight Howard hasn’t made a difference for the Lakers in that department. Last season, they shot 69.2 percent from the free throw line.

Making a couple of more free throws per game could really help in tight games like the one the Lakers lost on Friday night against Memphis.

Shot selection has also been a major problem for the Lakers. The team continues to take inefficient shots. The league wide probability to make a mid range jumper is far less than a shot from the paint and the value of both shots is two points. It’s an obvious concept – pound it in and take high percentage shots. But the Lakers have taken 29 percent of their shots from the mid-range, up five percent from last season. They have taken the second most shots in the NBA from that zone. To add salt to the wounds, the Lakers aren’t exactly great from the mid range either only making 33 percent of their shots from that zone.

In terms of individual performance, Pau Gasol continues to have an awful plus-minus at -8.4. Steve Nash is not far behind at -6. It’s surprising that the Lakers have even won four games thus far with Nash hurt and Gasol playing poorly. With Gasol and Nash playing poorly, the Lakers have desperately needed someone to step up and take over the team. Unfortunately, nobody has.

No Laker has even come close to scoring 30 points in a game. The highest individual point total by a Laker this season has been just 25 points. With players being so inconsistent, it’s become extremely difficult for Mike D’Antoni to have a set rotation. He’s had to rely on who’s hot and who’s not.

For instance, this week, we saw a lot of Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill. Meeks had an offensive rating of 108.9 and a true shooting percentage of 71.8 percent. Hill, on the other hand, has 2.3 blocks and 10.3 rebounds in the last three games. That’s great, but neither Meeks or Hill have shown they can sustain solid play over a long period of time. After all, Jordan Farmar had a solid stretch last week but only shot 20 percent this week. Would anyone really be surprised if Meeks and Hill fall in a swoon next week?

Gasol and Nash are the only ones capable of consistently playing well on this team. However, with Nash ailing and Gasol consistently playing awful, Laker fans can expect to see more L’s than W’s.

Fortunately for them, Kobe partook in his first practice since his injury today. The light at the end of the tunnel is near. The Lakers also only have two games this week so they can get some much needed rest after playing eight games over a stretch of two weeks. After a tilt with the Pistons tomorrow, the Lakers have four days off before a huge showdown against Golden State at home.

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  November 9, 2013

The Lakers had their ups and downs this week, showing signs of promise but then following it up with several reality checks that tell us that this team still has a long way to go to even be considered a contender.

The Lakers are 3-4 – the same mark as last year after seven games – and two of those three wins have come against championship contenders. One of those was against Houston on the road in what will probably be remembered as one of the most dramatic victories of the season. Steve Blake’s game winning three pointer showed that the Lakers can still have a clutch factor without the Mamba.

One can even make an argument that had Kobe Bryant been healthy, they could’ve possibly beaten San Antonio at home.

Also, Jordan Farmar and Chris Kaman have proven to be solid acquisitions for the Lakers. Farmar’s On/Off Efficiency numbers are ridiculous.

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The Lakers are better both offensively and defensively when Jordan’s on the court.

Meanwhile, Kaman is showing that he can be a defensive stalwart.

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The Lakers offense doesn’t change much when Kaman leaves the floor, but their defensive efficiency rating balloons skyward when he sits. Kaman plays almost a dozen minutes less than Pau Gasol per game but he’s averaging 1.1 blocks per game and has the best defensive efficiency rating on the team. Who knew?

That’s the good news…here’s the bad news:

Pau Gasol might be the worst player on the Lakers right now.

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The Lakers are better both offensively and defensively when Gasol is not on the court. Their offensive efficiency rating is almost 13 points higher and their defensive efficiency rating is 14 points fewer when he’s not playing. Combine those two figures and Gasol adversely impacts the Lakers by over 27 points per 48 minutes.

Even if this total is inflated by the two blowouts the Lakers have suffered, one can’t deny the fact that Gasol has been off his game this year. Sure, he’s getting rebounds. But he also plays a lot of minutes. Jordan Hill has a higher Per 48 minute rebound average than Gasol. Also, Pau’s 35.2% shooting percentage doesn’t do him any favors. (Ahem…please stop shooting threes when your team is down by 16.)

Steve Blake has been atrocious offensively, too.

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This may be because he’s not playing his true position of point guard especially when Steve Nash is on, but the Lakers are 20 points better with him off the court offensively per 48 minutes. That’s pretty hideous. That said, Blake has been impactful on defense and making a game winning three pointer at Houston gives him a pass.

With all of that said, the Lakers are still finding ways to be in games and they’re making Laker fans say, “Well, if Kobe were playing we would’ve won.” The truth is, the team can’t be truly evaluated until the Mamba returns. They’re fighting hard, though, and that’s all they are asked to do. Their hard work even led to them being ahead of the Clippers in the standings for a night. Hey, can’t complain.

The Lakers will play four games again this week. Unlike last week, though, three of them will be at Staples Center. They won’t be easy games, though, as the Wolves are 4-2 and the Pelicans showed on Friday that they’re not an easy out. That said, they’re not against championship contenders.

The Lakers will then fly to Denver to take on the Nuggets, who are struggling. However, the Pepsi Center has always been a house of horrors for the Lakers. The Purple and Gold will wrap up the week with a home affair against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Lakers have the potential to head into that game with a 6-4 record, but it starts with Gasol. Will he continue to be a shell of himself this week, or will he finally rise up and take over the team like he’s supposed to do with Kobe out?

It seems like the nation may be underestimating the Los Angeles Lakers the same way they overestimated them last summer.

ESPN released its annual Summer Forecast for the Western Conference this week and the Lakers are projected to finish with 36 wins — 12th in the conference, and out of the playoffs. The projected standings were determined by a panel of 215 members – four of which are our very own and write for Forum Blue and Gold (Emile Avanessian, Philip Barnett, Rey Moralde, J.M. Poulard)

After the standings were released, Kobe Bryant took to Twitter and voiced his opinion.

Kobe’s obviously not pleased with the rest of the country thinking that his team is not playoff material. He will probably use this as fuel to ignite a fire we will see burning on the court when the season commences. He has every reason to disagree with the rankings.

36 wins?

The Western Conference has improved tremendously throughout the summer and the Lakers lost a major piece in Dwight Howard. However, the Lakers still have three sure fire hall of famers on their team in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. Not many teams can say that.

It’s easy to forgot all the problems the Lakers experienced that they most likely WON’T have to go through this year. Here are a few of them:

  • High expectations: I think the fact that they’re projected to finish 12th means that a simple two-game losing streak won’t be talked about constantly on Mason and Ireland for four hours like it usually does. Low expectations can be a good thing sometimes. The last time people were this down on the Lakers was in 2007-08 and they went to the Finals that year.
  • Lack of chemistry: A class with Breaking Bad’s Walter White wouldn’t even have improved the Lakers chemistry last year. They were a new bunch who never really found a way to play together. Transitioning from the Princeton Offense in training camp to D’Antoni’s fast pace system wasn’t helpful in ameliorating the situation either.
  • Dwight’s baggage: As awful as it is losing Dwight’s on-court production, it’s not necessarily bad that the Lakers won’t have to deal with the outside distractions that come with Howard. Having an upward bump in their free throw percentage will not hurt either.
  • New coach five games into the season: Surely Jim Buss can’t make the same mistake twice, right? Right??? Firing Mike Brown after a 1-4 start was simply wrong. First off, Brown never got a fair shake. Five games is equivalent to one NFL game. No one fires a head coach after just one full training camp after such a small sample size. D’Antoni was Buss’ handpicked guy and he needs to stick with him until the final game no matter what. A full training camp for D’Antoni and roster guys that fit his system like Chris Kaman and Nick Young doesn’t hurt either.
  • Pau at the 4: As Darius Soriano highlighted earlier this week, Gasol is best at the center position. Hopefully he will return there with Howard gone and his numbers will bounce back to where they should be. Also, since the Lakers are thin roster wise, Pau won’t be getting benched this year. There’s no doubt that his benching hurt his psyche last season.
  • Obscene amount of injuries: Injuries happen to every team and the Lakers core is one of the oldest in the league. There’s no doubt that Kobe, Pau, and Nash will miss parts of the season. That said, last year was not normal. Everyone was literally hurt or playing hurt. When Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock are starting in the playoffs, that tells you everything you need to know.

Despite all of this, the Lakers still won 45 games. This season, they will likely be able to get rid of all of those problems (including the injuries with some luck). Let’s not forget, every single Laker (other than Steve Nash and rookies) is playing for a contract. Whether or not moral hazard exists in sports, one has to surmise that if a championship isn’t a motivating factor this year, then hopefully money will be. Bottom line is that if the Lakers were able to win 45 games last year with all that tumult and turmoil, they should be able to win that many games again if they stay healthy and avoid distractions.

With Howard gone and D’Antoni coaching, the team’s biggest weakness will obviously be its defense. They’re not going to fool anyone — they’re going to try to score their way to victory every single night. That has its positives, though. Because of this, they already have an identity. One can make the argument that they never found one last year because of all the injuries and the lack of chemistry.

While teams like the Pelicans, Mavs, Wolves, and Blazers (who are all listed ahead of the Lakers in the projected standings) will be competing for a playoff spot, the Lakers have the talent to be a playoff team, and if they’re not, they’re going to be closer to the 8th seed than the 15th. Currently, Bet Online gives the Lakers the 9th best odds to win the Western Conference. This is still on the outside looking in, but it’s a lot better than being buried in 12th place.

Those odds also may be underrating the Lakers because of the public’s overreaction regarding Howard’s departure. Most people are probably staying away from the Lakers bet, so the bookmakers are giving great odds.

Again, this isn’t a championship caliber team, but let’s not make too much from these predictions. After all, these are the same soothsayers that said that the Lakers were going to be playing the Heat in the NBA Finals last summer.

The games still need to be played and heading into the season, one has to be pretty confident that a squad with three future Hall of Famers, no distractions, limited injuries, an identity, and a bunch of hungry players fighting for a contract will at least land the 7th seed or better.