Season Predictions

Serious Cat

This cat knows what time it is. You can see it in his eyes.

He's had enough of the preseason. Oh, sure, he's enjoyed the mouthwatering previewage we've dished up here at SS&R like so much sushi-grade tuna. Our positional previews - covering the Lakers' point guardsshooting guardssmall forwardspower forwardscenters and coaching staff - very much agreed with his palate. Ryan's review of the long history of Laker repeat attempts made him purr for hours. He rubbed his head affectionately against Chris's look at the top challengers to the Lakers' crown, and even found my piece on statistical trends to watch in the new season useful as a litterbox substitute.

But just look at him now: that cat's got the Game Face on. He's done monkeying around with our asses. He wants real basketball. He knows it's time to get serious.

We agree entirely, so to wrap everything up on Opening Night Eve, we're going on record with our bottom-line predictions for this season. Check ‘em out after the jump, and leave your own predictions in the comments.

Serious Cat will be unamused if you don't.

Josh Tucker

Lakers' Regular Season Record: 69-13

Will the Lakers reach the NBA Finals?: Yep.

Finals Opponent: Boston Celtics

Will the Lakers win the title?: Yes.

C.A. Clark did a great job earlier today of previewing the competition. In looking at each team, he took a look at each team's potential for both great success and failure - pointing out that the return of Garnett and the additions to the bench give Boston the greatest potential for success, while the massive changes to the lineup and the departure of their "offensive coordinator" give the Cavs the greatest potential for failure.

What C.A. did with the four other contenders, I would like to do for the Lakers themselves. My take: the Lakers are the team with BOTH the greatest potential for success and the lowest risk of failure. This is due to three key factors: Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum and the bench.

First, Ron Artest has the potential to be a HUGE upgrade over Trevor Ariza. Better still, his preseason seems to indicate a strong willingness to play the role asked of him. He is a better defender, and even more importantly, his defensive mindset will be contagious. He has also shown the ability to be an excellent playmaker, and if he remains controlled and continues to think first about playing defense and setting up his teammates, the Lakers will be a force to be reckoned with.

Second, Andrew Bynum appears healthy and, in preseason play, has appeared to be far beyond where he was in preseasons past. Maintaining good health for an entire season is a big question mark for him, but if he can stay healthy and build up a rhythm throughout the course of the season, he could turn into a truly dominant post problem for Lakers opponents.

Third, the Lakers bench, as we have seen in the past, has the potential to be one of the best benches in the league. Not long ago, they could have held their own against many of the league's starting units. Last year, that wasn't the case, but there's plenty of reason to think that they can return to their 2008 form, and if they do, the Lakers will be the deepest team in the league.

Here is the key:  these three factors represent the Lakers' greatest potential weaknesses, but they also represent the areas for the greatest potential improvement over last year. Even more to the point, the Lakers won the championship in 2009 without the advantage of ANY of these three factors. Thus, even if the Lakers disappoint in all three areas, this is still essentially the same team that won the championship last year. As such, it's clear that they have the lowest potential for significant failure.

On the other hand, should one or two of these factors turn out well for the Lakers, they will be incredibly hard to beat. Should they see success in all three areas, I can't imagine even the strongest of the challenging contenders being able to hang with them.

Add in the championship experience from last year, and the new challenge and renewed hunger that Artest provides, and you have to like the Lakers' chances, even facing so many strong challengers.

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C.A. Clark

Lakers' Regular Season Record: 69-13

Will the Lakers reach the NBA Finals?: Yep.

Finals Opponent: Boston Celtics

Will the Lakers win the title?: Yes.

 If you just look at my predictions on the surface, it might seem to you that I went pretty blatantly homer. Very high win total for the regular season, and of course I'd say the Lakers will win the title. So my commentary is geared at explaining to you that I'm not sipping on Lakers Kool-Aid. The predicted regular season win total is high, but last year the Lakers won 65 games in spite of themselves. I think Bynum finally gets a full, healthy, season and provides solid contributions. I think the bench plays better (because it would be difficult for them to play much worse than they did from the middle of the season onward). I don't think Artest is a problem, and I think the starters stay on top of their games, all of which means improvement over last season, and last season's win totals.

But the championship? I may have said yes, but that answer is far from a confident one. The realist in me thinks the Lakers won't win it all this year. They have the largest margin for error, but it doesn't make said margin large. If I had to bet my life on the Lakers, or the field, to win the title, I'd take the field. Too many great teams, too many teams that, on their best day, can beat the Lakers, unless the Lakers also have their best day. And yet, I still said the Lakers will win the title, because of matchups. The Lakers have so much versatility, so many combinations that can be used to combat what the other team is good at, regardless of what it is that the other team is good at. And they have a coach who knows how to use those combinations at the perfect time. In the end, I can't look at any one team and say they have favorable matchups against the Lakers. If I think the Lakers are the favorites in any series they play, no matter how mild of a favorite they are, I have to pick them to win a second straight championship. Just know that I won't be surprised if it doesn't happen. 

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Dexter Fishmore

Lakers' Regular Season Record: 65-17

Will the Lakers reach the NBA Finals?: Yep.

Finals Opponent: Orlando Magic

Will the Lakers win the title?: No.

Look man, I'm no happier about this prediction than you are. I'd love to sit here and confidently predict a second straight title, but after weeks spent churning spreadsheets and reading chicken entrails, I just can't get there. The Lakers could be truly killer this year, even better than in 2008-09, for all the reasons Josh and Chris get into above. I'm totally behind the Artest experiment, I expect a borderline All-Star year from Andrew Bynum, and my man-crush on Pau Gasol is well documented. Not a single complaint do I have with the makeup of this Lakers team.

But even more am I impressed with the offseason that's gone down in Orlando. Vince Carter is still a fantastic player and gives the Magic a legit superstar wing. Jameer Nelson, who tormented the Lakers in the regular season last year but missed almost the entire playoffs, is back and healthy. Underrated additions Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson and Matt Barnes make Orlando's depth perhaps the best in the league. And Dwight Howard is still getting better.

Last year's NBA Finals weren't an especially close contest: the Lakers put on a show of force that exposed the gap between them and the Magic. With an offseason for the ages, Orlando GM Otis Smith has closed that gap and made his team the new frontrunner. The Lakers will have another excellent season and secure a finals rematch with the Magic, but the ending of this story won't be a happy one.

I'm sorry you had to find out this way.

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Ryan (ryebreadraz)

Lakers' Regular Season Record: 61-21

Will the Lakers reach the NBA Finals?: Yep.

Finals Opponent: Orlando Magic

Will the Lakers win the title?: Yes.

This year's Lakers team isn't going to win as many games as last year's edition. They're working in Ron Artest, are a bit older (although still young) and as a result will lessen the minutes of some players. Frankly, the regular season doesn't mean as much to the Lakers as it did last year. Just because they may not win as many games does not mean they're not as good as they were last year, though.

This team is better built for the playoffs than they were last year with Ron Artest not only providing great defense, but being an outstanding rebounder. The backcourt should be deeper with Jordan Farmar healthy, Shannon Brown in for the whole year and Sasha Vujacic hopefully rediscovering his jump shot. Flat out, this year's Lakers team has more options on both the offensive and defensive end, which will allow them to prevent mismatches from killing them, as was the case at times in last year's playoffs.

The Lakers will roll into the 2010 NBA Finals where they'll meet their opponent from last year's finals. The Celtics are probably the East's best team, but just like last year, there's little reason to believe they'll stay healthy, and a healthy Jameer Nelson will allow the Magic to top Cleveland, even without Hedo Turkoglu. That leaves yet another Magic vs. Lakers finals with LA victorious in six... so long as they stay healthy, which can never be guaranteed.

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WildYams

Lakers' Regular Season Record: 67-15

Will the Lakers reach the NBA Finals?: Yep.

Finals Opponent: Boston Celtics

Will the Lakers win the title?: Yes.

We all know the Lakers have all the pieces and talent we could ever want them to have, and they're the defending champs so we know they know how to make it work. All that's left really are a few questions. Will Bynum be healthy and/or effective? Yes, I think he will be, and I think (like John Hollinger) that he's gonna be a beast this year. Will Artest be crazy? Yes, but I think in LA he finally has the extracurricular venues to channel his craziness so that he can keep it away from the team and his play; and as a result he'll just be professional and fun. Will Kobe continue to show the leadership he did last year? Yes, and I think he'll actually relish a smaller scoring role this year, now that he's got the "he can't win without Shaq" monkey off his back. So 67 wins and a title is my prediction. Call me a Laker apologist, call me an optimist - I prefer to think of myself as a realist.

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