With the training camp around the corner, we asked a group of local and national roundball experts to weigh in on some of the big questions about the Lakers heading into the 2010-2011 season. Call it a preseason prognosticationpallooza.
Our panel: Dave McMenamin (ESPNLA.com), Elliott Teaford (L.A. Daily News), Kevin Ding (O.C. Register), Kevin Arnovitz (ESPN TrueHoop), Eric Pincus (Hoopsworld), Chris Clark (Silver Screen and Roll), J.A. Adande (ESPN.com), Darius Soriano (Forum Blue and Gold), Kurt Helin (ProBasketballTalk.com), Mark Medina (L.A. Times.com), Andy and Brian Kamenetzky (ESPNLA.com Land O'Lakers Blog)
How many games will the Lakers win this season?
Average projection: 63.42
Highest projection: 68 (Ding)
Lowest projection: 59 (Helin)
My take: First things first: Get any visions of 73 wins out of your head. I don't think they'll get there, and neither did anyone on our panel. The Lakers won't push for records, nor should they. But assuming everyone stays reasonably healthy, the Lakers have all the ammunition needed to pile up plenty of victories. Star power, elite coaching, great balance, and an improved bench. It's all there. The road will still contain enough bumps (and moments of boredom) to keep the victory total from growing truly ostentatious, but the results won't exactly be weak sauce. 63 wins.
Ding: 68. This being [Phil Jackson's] last season will help immeasurably in getting the team consistently to play properly for the internal satisfaction of playing great – something even the past two championship teams have been unable to pull off.
Soriano: I have the Lakers winning 62 games this year. While I understand how the Lakers' ability to win the title with a lesser win total last season could create a coasting mentality this year, I also think the team understands three key factors: 1). Home court in the Finals is a major advantage. 2) Last season the Lakers were a bit lucky in that they avoided facing a team (Orlando, Cleveland) in the Finals that would have had [home court advantage] over them. 3) The combination of Phil's last season and Miami's "super team" formation will give the Lakers that extra motivation that may have been lacking at times last year. So, I think a big push for a higher win total and the Lakers clearing that 60 win mark.
Andy: The Lakers are coming off a 57 win season despite a slew of injuries, Ron Artest's integration, and an oddly ineffective Lamar Odom. It's hard to figure they won't be somewhat healthier in 2011. In the meantime, Ron-Ron has a year under his belt and the roster is deeper. Plus, I have a hunch everyone will be motivated to ramp up the regular season urgency, this potentially being Phil Jackson's swan song. Throw it all together and I'm thinking 62 games for the Western Conference champs. (Look, two predictions for the price of one!)
Pincus: I see the Lakers winning 60 games but that number is going to be dependent on how well the best teams in the East are doing. LA wants home court so I could see Coach Phil Jackson pushing harder to get that – or easing back if possible.
Clark: 64. They'll win a lot more because the bench won't give up as many leads, but I expect the general progression of last season to remain in tact: Fast start, mediocre middle, though I do expect the Lakers to finish well this season, on account of a pretty easy end schedule.
Let's say the Lakers win the panel's average of 63.42 games. (Where they get four-tenths of a win is a question for another post, though I do hear the NBA will award only fractional victories for defeating the T-Wolves this year. Zing! Oh yeah, I went there...) The follow up question is pretty natural:
Will it be enough to secure the NBA's top record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs?
Hard to say. It would have been enough every year between the '00-'01 and '04-'05 seasons, but only once since (last year). Everyone expects the Lakers to take the Western Conference, so attention must be tuned eastward. Obviously the Cavs, owners of the league's best record for the past two seasons, won't be putting up an encore to their encore. Thanks to a healthy, appropriate instinct for self-preservation, Boston, who could still end up the Eastern Conference's best team, won't have the best record unless the magic number is unusually low. Orlando won 59 last season and has the talent to do more. Chicago should be good, but not 64 wins good.
That leaves the SuperTeam! in Miami. Can they jell fast enough to lead the NBA in victories?
I think it'll be tight. LeBron won 61 with a less talented group last season, and 66 in '08-'09. Mid-60's certainly seems possible for the Heat. Doesn't mean they'll rep the E.C. in the Finals, just that Miami has the best shot at the conference's best record. My gut, currently filled with soup and mahi-mahi, says the Lakers will need somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 wins to earn home court throughout. Could I be giving the Heat too much credit? Absolutely.
At the same time, it's worth mentioning the team with the league's best record in each of the last two seasons didn't actually make the Finals.
Next: Which Western Conference team has the best chance of beating the Lakers in a seven game series?