10 Bold Predictions for LA Lakers Leading into 2013

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIJanuary 3, 2013

10 Bold Predictions for LA Lakers Leading into 2013

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    The Los Angeles Lakers are fervently hoping that 2013 is kinder to them than 2012 was. Even after assembling a star-studded cast of four future Hall-of-Famers, the Lakers are currently under .500 after a New Year's Day home loss to the Philadelphia Sixers.

    All that is about to change.

    Every day that passes is another day that the Lakers become more familiar with Mike D'Antoni's system and build chemistry with their maestro Steve Nash. It's also one day further removed from the injury hampering Dwight Howard's usual dominance.

    With more cumulative reps and perhaps some tinkering by their ever-resourceful front office, the Lakers will be heard from in 2013. Here are 10 bold predictions for the new year.

    Note: All statistics accurate as of January 2.

10. Metta World Peace Keeps His Elbows to Himself

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    Considering how Metta World Peace throws his 'bows around, this may the boldest prediction on the entire list.

    First he whacked James Harden so hard he landed in Houston. Then he gave Harden's new teammate Jeremy Lin a taste. Then he gave Lin's old teammate Steve Novak a lump of coal on his face for Christmas.

    As dangerous as a Kevin Durant jumper or LeBron James in space may be, a Metta World Peace elbow might be the deadliest weapon in the NBA.

    World Peace is a key cog for the Lakers moving forward. He can't afford a silly suspension on account of his wanton elbows. Time to get a holster for those bad boys.

9. Pau Gasol Will Be Traded

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    It's been a tough season for Pau Gasol. To his credit he has taken heat from every corner of the basketball world and still has tried his level best to fit in on a team that squanders a lot of his talent.

    However, he's still having the worst season of his brilliant career and the truth is the Los Angeles Lakers might be able to get more out of a lesser player within the context of this specific team.

    Gasol is still a valuable commodity around the league and no team is better at getting what it wants than the Lakers. Pau will be on the trading block all the way up until the deadline.

    Expect him to be moved.

8. Jordan Hill Will Also Be Dealt

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    It's not as splashy a move, but it may be just as effective.

    Jordan Hill is making the most of his limited minutes. He owns the highest offensive rebounding rate in the entire league and is ninth in total rebound rate. On Los Angeles Lakers teams of yore he would be a perfect backup big man, but not on this squad.

    Like Pau Gasol, Hill's talents are marginalized in this system and it's detrimental to pair him with Dwight Howard.  In the 195 minutes they've played together the Lakers have been outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions. In the 228 minutes Hill has seen without Howard, the Lakers come out ahead by 2.6 points per 100 possessions. (Stats courtesy of NBA.com.)

    Hill is eligible to be traded beginning January 15 and is the most attractive young, cheap asset the Lakers possess. Here's a scenario: Jordan Hill to the Boston Celtics for Courtney Lee.

    Who says no?

7. A 10 Game Win Streak Is Coming

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    There's room for more than one streaker in L.A. 

    At some point this season the Los Angeles Lakers will assert their dominance with a double digit win streak. An especially cushy stretch of schedule looms from March 6 until April 5, a 14-game span when their toughest matchups are home for Chicago, at Atlanta, at Indiana and at Golden State.

    A dominant run near the end of the season will have the rest of the West quivering heading into the playoffs.

6. Lakers Finish with the League's Best Offense

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    It's not like the Los Angeles Lakers don't have the pieces to do it. They have the league's leading scorer in Kobe Bryant, one of it's top floor generals in Steve Nash, a devastating finisher in Dwight Howard and an offensive mastermind running the show in Mike D'Antoni.

    So far that has translated to the sixth best offense in the NBA in terms of efficiency. Their major problems have been holding on to the ball and finding each other. The Lakers are 19th in turnover percentage and 20th in assist ratio, per NBA.com, but those are two areas that will see vast improvement with Nash at the helm.

    The other thing that needs to improve—which Nash will also play a big part in—is the pick-and-roll game that is a staple of the D'Antoni system. Despite the presence of an excellent PNR finisher in Howard, the Lakers' PNR roll man finishes an offensive play just 4.5 percent of the time and the 0.91 points per possession they generate on that specific play type ranks 21st in the league, according to Synergy Sports.

    When Nash and Howard build the requisite chemistry, that part of the offense will get a boost and contribute to a more efficient offensive machine overall.

5. Lakers Finish in the Top-10 in Defense

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    It was taken for granted that the acquisition of former defensive player of the year Dwight Howard would take care of the Los Angeles Lakers' defensive concerns, but that hasn't been the case.

    The Lakers are giving up an additional point per possession this year as opposed to last and have slipped from 13th to 17th in the league in defensive efficiency.

    A top-10 defense is practically a must-have in order to compete for a title and the Lakers have the ability to get there. Playing Antawn Jamison heavy minutes earlier in the year did them no favors and the return of Steve Nash will cut down on turnovers and limit the transition opportunities of their opponents that have inflicted so much damage.

    Also, as Howard's back gets healthier he will return closer to his DPOY form.

4. Lakers Own the Best Score Differential from Here on out

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    The fact that gives Los Angeles Lakers fans more hope than anything going forward is their scoring margin.

    It's well known that point differential—not record—is the biggest indicator of future performance and currently only seven teams in the entire league have a higher scoring margin than the Lakers' plus-2.6.

    Their last win—a 17-point drubbing of Portland that was bigger than the final score indicated—was perhaps their most comprehensive of the season, and with a couple easy stretches of schedule coming up the Lakers will control games more regularly.

3. Lakers Host a First Round Playoff Series

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    That's right. The Los Angeles Lakers will finish the regular season as the fourth seed in the Western Conference and earn the right to host a first round postseason series. 

    It may seem far-fetched given their current standing in 11th place in the West, but they sit just two-and-a-half games out of the No. 6 seed.

    Of course, they do have to make up six games on Memphis and Golden State to jump up to No. 4, but their schedule doesn't look so bad and they have two games a piece against each of those teams to make up the ground.

2. Kobe Bryant Wins MVP

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    This is contingent on a lot of the things that came before it: the Los Angeles Lakers finishing the season in dominant form that makes voters eschew their overall record and consider them as a top team.

    Kobe Bryant is having his most efficient scoring season ever and is on pace to record a higher PER than he did in 2008—his first MVP campaign.

    If Kobe averages a 30-5-5 on his current percentages, wins the scoring title and has the Lakers looking like the team to beat come playoff time, it will be hard not to give him serious consideration.

1. Lakers Make It to the NBA Finals

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    If the Los Angeles Lakers do get to 50 wins and head into the playoffs looking like a new team (maybe literally if a trade does go down), they'll be the squad that no one will want to face in the postseason. 

    The draw might go their way too. Of the top four teams in the West, Memphis is the weakest and also the one that the Lakers match up best with. Drawing them first in a 4-5 series would be ideal.

    Following that, if the Los Angeles Clippers wind up with the top seed the Lakers would get to play them next. That means the Lakers essentially get seven home games—and you know who the majority of Staples Center will be rooting for no matter what logo is at center court.

    Then if the San Antonio Spurs can take care of OKC, the Lakers get a conference finals showdown with the only team in the league who's stars are older than their own. 

    That scenario is very plausible and it could be the recipe to getting the Lakers into the Finals. What happens when they get there? Well, you'll have to ask me another time. I only had room for 10 bold predictions.