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Reasons to Believe LA Lakers Will Be Better Than Expected in 2013-14

J.M. PoulardContributor IIOctober 3, 2013

Reasons to Believe LA Lakers Will Be Better Than Expected in 2013-14

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    LA Lakers Big Three
    LA Lakers Big ThreeAndrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers are a talented group that will be better than most expect during the 2013-14 season.

    During the 2013 offseason, ESPN.com’s Summer Forecast (as a matter of full disclosure, I was part of the panel that voted) projected the Lakers will finish 12th in the Western Conference standings.

    Although I am on record in saying the Purple and Gold will miss the postseason, there are a couple of reasons to believe the team will exceed these low expectations and come close to participating in the playoffs.

    There are multiple factors that give the Lakers a favorable chance at being better than projected.

Better Chemistry

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    Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant getting on the same page
    Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant getting on the same pageNoah Graham/Getty Images

    Dwight Howard’s departure was a huge blow for the Los Angeles Lakers from a talent standpoint, but his exit opens up the door for better chemistry all around.

    No team in the league does drama like the Los Angeles Lakers, and the 2012-13 season was no exception. Howard never truly fit into Mike D’Antoni’s system, and consequently it altered the roles of every player around him not named Kobe Bryant.

    Now that Howard is a member of the Houston Rockets, the Lakers no longer need to worry about placating a specific player or redefining the roles of his teammates. Instead, players will have a clear indication of what is expected of them and perform to the best of their capabilities.

Steve Nash Resurrection

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    Steve Nash of the LA Lakers
    Steve Nash of the LA LakersD. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

    Steve Nash flourished under Mike D’Antoni with the Phoenix Suns, and one has to imagine that they will be able to replicate that with the Los Angeles Lakers. Nash had a broken bone in his leg when D’Antoni took over the Lakers in 2012-13, and consequently the team tasked Kobe Bryant with conducting the offense.

    By the time Nash returned from injury, the team was already fully entrenched in the Bryant offense and kept it as such.

    This time around, Nash will be available from the start and will get the reins of the offense with Bryant likely to miss early portions of the season. Expect Nash to regain his form from his Suns days, albeit in lesser minutes on average.

    With the two-time league MVP playing at a high level, Los Angeles will have a playmaking dimension that was absent in 2012-13.  Also, for those concerned about Nash’s durability, he has suited up in north of 70 games in every campaign since 2000-01, notwithstanding lockout seasons.

Top-Flight Offense

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    Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni
    Steve Nash and Mike D'AntoniChris Covatta/Getty Images

    A better version of Steve Nash is synonymous with a better offense. He has long been one of the best orchestrators in the league, and putting the ball in his hands will serve to make the Los Angeles Lakers a killer offensive team in 2013-14.

    From 2004-05 to 2007-08, the Phoenix Suns had the best offensive efficiency in the league. Mike D’Antoni coached Nash during that period, and the results were simply staggering.

    The tandem will rediscover their magic together and conduct a high-powered offense that most teams will struggle to contain. Los Angeles will get the better of some of their opponents by pushing the pace and putting up outrageous point totals.

Health of Role Players

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    Pau Gasol and Steve Nash
    Pau Gasol and Steve NashNoah Graham/Getty Images

    An argument can be made that the Los Angeles Lakers suffered an incredible amount of bad luck with respect to health in 2012-13. Injuries are part of the game, and therefore they are expected. However, in the case of the Lakers, they had typically durable players go down for long stretches.

    More specifically, Pau Gasol has had a few nicks and bruises in his time with the Purple and Gold, but he has never been out of the lineup too long. The 2012-13 campaign had something different in store for the Spaniard as evidenced by the 33 games he missed. That is the most time away from the court he has faced in L.A.

    The same applies for Steve Nash who was in street clothes for 32 games during the same season. Both players will probably miss a bit of time again in 2013-14, but their health throughout their respective careers has permitted their teams to enjoy some success in the standings.

    Thus, expect both players to bounce back and play roughly 70 games each. The more they are on the floor, the better off the Lakers are.

Center of Attention: Pau Gasol

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    Pau Gasol of the LA Lakers
    Pau Gasol of the LA LakersNoah Graham/Getty Images

    Mike D’Antoni struggled during the 2012-13 season to integrate Pau Gasol into his offense and then relegated him to the second unit.

    1. Things will be different in 2013-14 because the coaching staff will actually lean more on the Spaniard. With Bryant injured during the 2013 playoffs, D’Antoni used Gasol as the hub of the offense, and he was sensational because of his playmaking.

    It took the coaches a fairly long time to properly utilize the big man but they eventually stumbled into something and he will reproduce that in 2013-14. Furthermore, Gasol will no longer play out of position.

    Indeed, the two-time champion will start at center where he is a menacing player because of his low-post game. Expect the Olympian to regain his All-Star form and help the Lakers look like a playoff team.

     

Bench Play

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    A look at the LA Lakers bench
    A look at the LA Lakers benchAndrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Lakers' bench play was simply atrocious in 2012-13. According to Hoopstats, L.A. was 28th in bench scoring, which evidently was insufficient. The team was not equipped to go deep into their second unit, and that became quite apparent once injuries began to mount.

    The front office has since rectified this issue and upgraded their reserves. Mitch Kupchak added Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson. Young is probably a starter, but the rest of the players will help fortify a bench mob that already features Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks.

    None of these players are game changers, but they are competent enough to give the starters a breather and even play alongside them as well. Indeed, the reserves are handpicked specialists that will fulfill a specific role against the second-unit players of their opponents.

    For instance, Kaman will be asked to score on the block and rebound while Meeks will be tasked with converting long-range shots. Improved bench play is a great way to mitigate the loss of two starters (Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace).

Kobe Bryant’s Return

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    Kobe Bryant
    Kobe BryantAndrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Kobe Bryant is recovering from Achilles surgery, and there are concerns about his availability and just how effective he will be. The early prognosis for his return was somewhere between six to nine months.

    Without their best player, the Los Angeles Lakers will struggle, which is not exactly startling news. However, Bryant has stated he is shattering the recovery time and thus will be back sooner rather than later, even though there is no definitive timetable.

    Also, after taking a look at the history of the injury for other players, Bryant looks like a sure bet to return and perform at a high level given the adjustments he has made to his game throughout his career.

    He has dealt with his decreasing athleticism by relying more on post-ups and the mid-range game. Consequently, when he returns to the floor, the Lakers will be in good shape because their best player will be just that.

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