Post 2014 NBA All-Star Break Predictions for Los Angeles Lakers

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIFebruary 18, 2014

Post 2014 NBA All-Star Break Predictions for Los Angeles Lakers

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    The first half of the 2013-14 NBA season wasn’t what the Los Angeles Lakers envisioned, as the injury-riddled roster stumbled to an 18-35 record entering the All-Star break—tied for the worst mark in the Western Conference with the Sacramento Kings.

    The Lakers sit 13 games behind the eighth-place Golden State Warriors and are very much in the midst of a lost season. But can the storied franchise gain any sort of momentum in the second half?

    Future Hall of Fame shooting guard Kobe Bryant still plans to return to the court this season, telling ESPN’s Dave McMenamin earlier this month, “My plan hasn’t changed.”

    Steve Nash and Nick Young could also make comebacks from injury, but at this point the Lakers may be better off tanking for better draft position. They essentially have zero chance at making the playoffs after all.

    Nothing has gone right for the Lakers in this campaign, so it’s time for the organization to limp through the rest of the season and look toward the future.

5. Lakers Won’t Finish Last in the Conference

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    Entering the 2014 NBA All-Star break, the lowly Lakers were tied with the Sacramento Kings for the worst record in the Western Conference (18-35).

    While injuries have reached comical levels for the Lakers this season, I don’t believe the storied franchise will finish the year as the Western Conference’s doormat.

    This team has played with plenty of pride all season, and while that hasn’t translated to many wins, it’s difficult to fault head coach Mike D’Antoni. He's extracted career years on offense from just about everyone on the roster.

    Steve Blake, Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Farmar have all played great when healthy. The “when healthy” part has held them back.

    Even if the Lakers only get Bryant back for a handful of games, they should be able to climb out of the conference basement and finish better than the Sacramento Kings and/or Utah Jazz.

4. Lakers Finish Bottom Five in Defensive Efficiency

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    By allowing 105.7 points per 100 possessions entering the All-Star break, the Lakers ranked tied for 23rd in defensive efficiency. Only the New York Knicks, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz have been worse in that category.

    Given how inept the Lakers defense has looked all season, and how the schedule pans out moving forward, I believe L.A. will slip even further down the totem pole in terms of defensive efficiency.

    During the second half, the Lakers will match up against the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers two times apiece. Those four teams are all in the NBA’s top six in terms of offensive efficiency.

    Lakerland’s remaining schedule features some bad teams, but those eight games will be excruciating.

    Many of the league’s best offenses will face the Purple and Gold between now and Game 82, so look for the Lakers' defensive efficiency to take a big hit because of that.

3. Kendall Marshall Will Average a Double-Double

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    Los Angeles Lakers upstart point guard Kendall Marshall entered the All-Star break averaging 10.3 points and 9.5 assists per game. As long as he continues to get big minutes moving forward—which looks like a real possibility due to the health concerns surrounding Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar—there’s an outside chance he can average a double-double by season’s end.

    This is certainly a bold prediction, though, because a lot of factors are at play.

    Will Marshall have his minutes cut down when guys get healthy? Will he have enough talent around him to continue dishing out dimes? Will Kobe Bryant’s return lead to less ball movement and more isolation plays for the Mamba?

    Marshall’s odds of averaging at least 10 points and 10 assists by the end of the season aren’t great when accounting for those variables. However, he’s very close to reaching double-digit assists already at 9.5 per contest.

    Provided that Marshall has reached 12 or more assists in a game nine times so far—which includes racking up 17 assists twice—it’s tough to bet against him.

    The North Carolina product has thrived in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system, so look for him to pick up right where he left off before All-Star Weekend.

2. Pau Gasol Won't Get Traded

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Veteran big man Pau Gasol has had his name dangled in trade rumors once again (surprise, surprise). Ultimately, however, I believe that the skilled Spaniard will stay put through the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

    According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, the Lakers are insistent upon receiving a first-round pick or young asset in return for any Gasol deal.

    That persistence already scared away the Cleveland Cavaliers, who decided to send Andrew Bynum’s contract to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for veteran small forward Luol Deng.

    The Phoenix Suns, who have also been tied to Gasol rumors, per Shelburne and Stein, have been cautious following the veteran’s groin injury. Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News also reported via Twitter that a league source doesn't believe the Suns will give up a first-round pick for a potential two-month rental.

    Additionally, despite years of media scrutiny and involvement in trade rumors, Gasol said he still wants to remain in L.A. beyond this season.

    “My preference would be to stay,” he said, per the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan.

    Keeping Gasol isn’t the worst-case scenario for Los Angeles, because at the very least it'll have more than $19 million coming off the books in time for 2014 free agency.

1. Kobe Bryant Will Play Fewer Than 20 Games

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Starting Feb. 19 against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers have 29 games remaining in the 2013-14 season.

    Assuming that Kobe Bryant stays healthy enough to play in every game after his return, the prediction that he’d play fewer than 20 games slots him to return no sooner than March 7 against the Denver Nuggets.

    Bryant said during the All-Star break that his recovery was “coming slowly,” per the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch.

    Considering that Bryant got numerous team practices under his belt before returning from the Achilles tear he suffered last April, it makes sense that he’d want to get his legs underneath him before considering a return.

    He hasn’t returned to team practices since fracturing the lateral tibial plateau in his left leg, so that will logically bump his return date back.

    There’s literally zero reason for Bryant to rush his return back to the court. The Lakers are floundering in the Western Conference basement, and he needs to be thinking about his two-year extension with the Lakers.

    I don’t doubt that he’ll return during the 2013-14 campaign. He’s hinted at that enough times already.

    At this point, however, I can’t imagine Bryant playing more than 20 games during the second half. He just needs to get his feet wet in game action again and hope the front office can revamp the roster for 2014-15.