Los Angeles Lakers: 5 Bold Predictions for LA in 2012-13
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Talk about high expectations.
The city of Los Angeles not only expects its new-look Lakers to win an NBA title this season, it also predicts that Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant will revive the local economy, fix the school system, speed up the 405 freeway expansion and lower gas prices by 40 cents per gallon.
And that's just in the first year.
The pressure is on, and the Lakers responded by going 0-8 in the preseason. The games don't count, but in Hollywood, perception is reality and the perception today is that Mike Brown's team has a whole lot of stars seemingly playing on different planets.
Don't worry, be happy, say the players. The Lakers will be fine, says Brown (via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times), who most certainly is on the hot seat if his team can't get past the second round of the playoffs this year.
"What we're doing right now isn't necessarily to win the games now or in the short term," Brown told Pincus after the team lost to the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night. "Hopefully what we're doing will pay off in the long term when it really counts."
Sorry, but don't the games in November count the same as ones in February or March? A win is a win, regardless of when you get it. To say your team doesn't necessarily look to win games early in the year sounds a bit out of touch.
But from all the smiles and laughter, one might think the Lakers went 8-0 in October. Nash and Howard grace the cover of Sports Illustrated's NBA Preview edition this week, flanking a headline of "Now This is Going to be Fun".
So far, not so much. The team looks disorganized and out of sync. Haven't we seen this picture before? Blame it on the Princeton and new combinations of new players, say the coaches.
So expect the unexpected in 2012-13 from the Lakers. This is a team that, on paper, looks like a powerhouse. How will it look on the court come playoff time next spring?
Will Howard and Nash still be smiling? Read on.
Dwight Howard Will Have the Best Season of His Career
It wouldn't be a bold prediction if Dwight Howard was not coming off major back surgery that put his career in jeopardy. He appears to have made quite a recovery.
At the ripe old age of 26, Howard is apparently poised and primed for his comeback season. From the little we've seen of him on the court, it becomes rather easy to predict that the Dwight of 2012-13 will surpass all previous Dwights in terms of sheer domination.
Just imagine the years Howard might have enjoyed in Orlando if he had players like Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant on the court with him.
It doesn't matter that Howard initially wanted Orlando to trade him to Brooklyn (via Lenny Neslin of the New York Daily News). And Howard told the New York Daily News that ending up in L.A. with these cast of characters was a "blessing in disguise."
After six months of recuperating from surgery in Los Angeles, the newest big man legend seems ready to lead his charges to an NBA title.
Learning a new offense and adjusting to new players can be problematic for certain players. But these are the Lakers, and Howard has been surrounded by future Hall of Famers in Nash, Bryant and (probably) Gasol.
If a U.S. Olympic team under Mike Krzyzewski can come together in a few short weeks and win a gold medal, there's no reason why Howard and his new basketball buds can't do the same and win an NBA title in Los Angeles.
Before the Magic shut Howard down for the season, he was having another All-Star campaign. In 54 games, Dwight averaged 20.6 points on 57 percent shooting and grabbed 14.5 rebounds per game.
About the only thing Howard can't do is make free throws. He only made good on 49 percent last year—the worst of his career.
With the supporting cast he now has, expect Dwight Howard to flourish in Los Angeles and dominate the paint. The only thing that could stop Howard this year is his back.
So far, that doesn't seem to be an issue.
Metta World Peace Will Have All-NBA Defensive Year
After the season that Metta World Peace experienced, some might think it's crazy to predict the second coming of Ron Artest, the great defender, in 2012-13.
Career lows of 7.7 points on 39.4 percent shooting turned last season into a nightmare for the affable MWP.
Yet all the pieces are in place for the almost 33-year-old to have one of his best campaigns in years.
By now, everyone knows the reasons for MWP's shoddy play at the beginning of last season. He was out of shape after suffering a back injury the previous year, and it took him most of the campaign to find his rhythm. The NBA lockout prevented Peace from getting into shape and properly take care of his injury.
But once he did, MWP started to look like the Artest of old, especially the one who proclaims to be the best defender in the NBA.
Until he lost control one night and hammered an unsuspecting James Harden after scoring a basket, MWP had coaches and teammates wondering if the defensive whiz they so appreciated when he came to the Lakers in 2009 was officially back.
Much to his credit, MWP worked himself into tremendous shape this summer, losing about 20 pounds and coming to camp quicker and more resolved than he's been in years.
MWP's defense has been a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster preseason for the Lakers. He seems eager to do what it takes to bring another title to Los Angeles.
And true to form, Peace even found time to star in his first film, a Lifetime feature that airs Nov. 3 (via Scott Cacciola of the Wall Street Journal).
Metta World Peace has always been different. He's also been an All-Star defensive player with a decent post-up game and a very effective perimeter shot.
He may not make the NBA All-Defensive Team, but Metta World Peace will be a much better player on both ends of the court this season. You can be sure of that.
Kobe Bryant Will Average Fewer Points but Elevate His Game
Before anyone panics, think of what it could mean for the Lakers if Kobe Bryant were to only average 22-24 points per game this season.
The key to look at here is not how many points Bryant scores in 2012-13, but how efficiently he scores them. Even though Kobe finished just one-tenth of a percentage point behind NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant last year, the path he took to get there was as crooked as an old tree.
Bryant played close to 39 minutes a game, which is at least five minutes more than he should have. He shot 43 percent from the field, the worst since his first two seasons in the NBA when he was still a teenager. And his three-point shooting was downright awful (30.3 percent).
The theory behind a lower PPG average is that Bryant will be one of several powerful scoring options in the new Princeton motion offense for the Lakers this season.
With Dwight Howard (18.4 on 58 percent shooting), Pau Gasol (18.7 on 52 percent) and Steve Nash (14.5 and 8.6 assists per game) all sharing space on the floor, chances are that Bryant will be double teamed far less than usual and will get more open looks and easy buckets near the rim.
Bryant taking fewer shots from better angles should mean the rest of the offense is working. And that translates into more wins and a stellar season for Bryant.
Jordan Hill Will Emerge as the Key Bench Player for the Lakers
The 6'10", fourth-year center/forward is primed to play an important role for the Lakers after signing a two-year contract in July. Hill played in seven regular season and 12 playoff games last year after being traded to L.A. in the Derek Fisher deal.
Hill became an instant fan favorite last season with his spirited play and ability to secure rebounds on both ends. His play earned him more minutes off the bench in the playoffs and, at times, Hill looked like a starter.
Expect the former Arizona Wildcat to break out this season, much like Trevor Ariza did with the Lakers several years ago after bouncing around the league for a few seasons. Hill plays with a similar passion and will give the team a boost when Gasol and Howard come off the court for breathers.
Hill is just returning to action following a bout with a herniated disc. In Wednesday's loss to the Clippers, he scored 12 points (5-8 FG, 2-2 FT) and added eight rebounds and a block in 26 minutes off the bench. He had nine points, nine rebounds and five assists against the Kings on Thursday.
Barring injury, Hill's minutes this season will go from a career average of 14 to almost 20 a game and maybe more. He'll push players like Jamison, and even Gasol, to step it up a notch.
At just 25 years of age, Hill is being counted on to anchor the Lakers bench along with Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. He has a golden opportunity to move up on the depth chart and be an integral part of a championship-caliber team.
Look for Hill to make a name for himself this year in purple and gold.
Lakers Win the West but Lose in the Finals to Miami
It will take the Lakers at least two months to find their inner core as a team. They'll struggle early in the season, much like they have been during a mediocre preseason.
But by the time of the All-Star break, expect this team to be firing on most cylinders. We're already seeing flashes of basketball brilliance as Steve Nash gets more comfortable orchestrating a new lineup and Dwight Howard finds his stamina.
One of the keys to the Lakers' success rests with the bench. Can the reserves develop well enough to give the Lakers added depth and spell the starters for several minutes in key situations?
It's a big question mark, but the prediction is that players like Jodie Meeks, Devan Ebanks, Jordan Hill and Antawn Jamison will find their rhythm by midseason and give the team that extra support to get past the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West.
A dream NBA Finals between the Lakers and Miami Heat will go seven games, but L.A. will come up short this time. It took the celebrated Miami Heat a couple of seasons to jell. You can expect the same from this new and improved Lakers lineup.
The Lakers of 2012-13 are built to win now. They will be contenders and could win it all this season, but they are probably still a year away.