An NBA season is a very long ordeal, a marathon, as the cliche goes; and as such there will always be highs and lows. This is compounded by the abstract nature of scheduling in the NBA, with the long home-stands and wearying road trips. Here I'm going to be taking a look at the Lakers' schedule month by month and predicting the outcomes.
October/November: 18 Games (10 Home / 8 Away)
Headline Games: vs. Houston (season opener, Oct. 26), @Denver (Nov. 11), vs. Chicago (Nov. 23)
The Lakers open the season without an especially tough palette of opponents. Whilst this season lacks the remarkable home/away imbalance of last season (no 20-game homestands here), the Lakers start off the season on a relatively cushy note with only two challenging games at Denver and hosting Chicago, as well as a couple of decent matchups at Utah and against Portland at home. This is of immense benefit to the Lakers considering the number of players they need to work back in from injury and the number of new players that need to be acclimated; and it also hopefully means Andrew Bynum will be back before the Lakers really need him.
Prediction: 16-2 or maybe 15-3, with the losses being @Denver on Nov. 11 and the season opener against Houston. A loss vs. Utah on Nov. 26 is also possible.
December: 15 Games (5 Home / 10 Away)
Headline Games: vs. Miami (Christmas Day), @San Antonio (Dec. 28)
Another relatively easy stretch of opponents with the only notable games being at Chicago on the 10th, and at San Antonio on the 28th. Oh wait, I think I'm forgetting somebody... hmm, Christmas Day is normally meant to be a good game... are the Lakers playing on Christmas Day this year? OOOHHHHH, that's right, they're hosting Miami on Christmas Day. Well, that should be a good game, I think (on a serious note, with the three days' rest building up to it, the media hype is almost sure to make the game anticlimatic). This month also features a six-game road trip kicking off 'at' the LA Clippers on the 8th and finishing up in Canada against the Raptors on the 19th.
Prediction: 13-2, with the losses being @Indiana on the tail end of a back-to-back in the middle of the road trip, and a loss @San Antonio after ensuring Christmas Day is not a repeat of last season.
January: 15 Games (10 Home / 5 Away)
Headline Games: vs. Oklahoma City (17th), @Dallas (19th), vs. Boston (30th)
January starts off cushy before moving into the business end of things, starting with a meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder on the tail end of a back-to-back. Then, matchups with perennial Western Conference contenders Dallas and Denver (both away), followed by a matchup with a Utah team eager to extract any type of revenge possible on the Lakers for numerous playoff embarrassments, a quick breather in Sacramento, and then the first Finals rematch of the season against Boston on the 30th. That game could go either way - either the Lakers feel they don't have much left to prove to the Celtics after the win last season and the Celtics extract a measure of revenge, or maybe the Lakers are keen to show last season was no fluke and, led by a Kobe Bryant who wants to erase memories of 6-24, stomp on the boys in green.
Prediction: Either 12-3 or 11-4, with losses coming against the Warriors on the tail end of a back-to-back, OKC on the 17th, either Dallas or Denver; and possibly Boston.
February: 13 Games (4 Home / 9 Away)
Headline Games: @Boston (10th), @Orlando (13th), @OKC (27th)
February is a tough month, with a pair of home games against Houston and San Antonio to things kick off before the annual seven-game Grammys road trip. Featuring both Boston and Orlando in a 4-games-in-5-nights on the road scenario, this month screams of losses. Thankfully, the All -Star break will allow the Lakers some time to regroup before taking on another four playoff contenders afterwards. The Lakers will likely go 5-2 on the road trip, dropping two games out of the two consecutive back-to-backs featuring Boston, New York, Orlando and Chicago. Out of those four, the Lakers will likely win against one of either Boston or Orlando, and then win the tail-end of whichever back-to-back they did not win the first game of.
Prediction: 9-4 or 8-5, with losses against either Boston and Charlotte or New York and Orlando; as well as losses at Portland and Oklahoma City. There's also a potential loss at Cleveland, with the Lakers turning their minds to the All-Star break early.
March: 13 Games (8 Home / 5 Away)
Headline Games: @Miami (10th), vs. Orlando (14th)
Another spaced-out month, March features a relatively home-heavy schedule, with a four-game road trip preceding a seven-game home stand. Despite matchups against Florida championship contenders Orlando and Miami, this month is still not exceptionally tough overall, largely due to the copious amounts of rest and home-heavy slant. However, by now, the weariness of the long NBA season will be affecting the veteran-laden Lakers, and the issue of home-court advantage likely will have been for the most part sorted at this point (whether or not in the Lakers' favour).
Prediction: 10-3, with the losses being @Miami (the Heat will be keen to prove themselves after the prior loss, particularly in front of their home crowd), @Dallas, and a random game against a non-contender during the home stand.
April: 8 Games (4 Home / 4 Away)
Headline Games: None.
A formality in the NBA season, essentially for the purpose of selling more tickets, the regular season in April will likely be wholly unimportant to the Lakers, and we'll doubtless see that in their play. Whilst a repeat of last season is probably a bit extreme, it's unlikely the Lakers will start shaping into form during the dog days of April, instead probably using the early rounds of the playoffs to get into Finals shape. As such, despite April being a month the Lakers could easily go 8-0 in, there will likely be numerous head-scratching losses.
Prediction: 5-3, with the losses being @GSW (6th), and the season-closing back-to-back vs. San Antonio (12th) and @Sacramento (13th).
Barring catastrophic injury, a range of 61 to 65 wins seems likely for this Laker squad. Whilst the question of motivation is certainly relevant, a combination of new ringless acquisitions, a desire for a threepeat and the possibility of this likely being Phil Jackson's 'last stand' should suffice in that department. Last year was certainly a down year in terms of regular-season wins, due partially to the injury woes affecting particularly Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum (and Pau Gasol earlier on in the season... and virtually everyone on the roster at one point or another), the lack of a backup small forward due to Luke Walton's injury, the complete nonexistence of solid and consistent bench play, and an occasional lack of motivation. With there being more motivation provided in both the aforementioned aspects as well as the desire to beat down this Miami Heat conglomeration, a vastly improved bench due to the endeavours of General Manager Mitch Kupchak, and the fact that having a more injury-plagued season than last year seems unlikely, a season of 60+ wins seems very reasonable.
Final Prediction: Anywhere between 61-21 and 65-17, barring injury woes worse than that of last season.