Why the Los Angeles Lakers Are Still Favorites in the Western Conference

Jimmy Spencer@JimmySpencerNBANBA Lead WriterNovember 30, 2012

Don't worry about November. Los Angeles will find itself back on top of the West come playoffs.
Don't worry about November. Los Angeles will find itself back on top of the West come playoffs.Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Los Angeles Lakers fans and haters: Calm down. Just stop.

It’s November.

Relax. The Lakers are just 15 games into an 82-game extended preseason in preparation for the playoffs. The team is 5.5 games back with 67 games to play.

Los Angeles is going to be fine, and the super team will likely still represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.

Settle down. Championships are not won before the New Year, and they aren’t lost before December.

Are you breathing yet?

The Lakers still have absurd, veteran talent that will come together.

Kobe Bryant is leading the league in scoring at 27.7 points per game and is doing so on 50 percent shooting, the highest mark of any guard who scores 20 or more points per game.

Dwight Howard is the best center in a league void of great centers. Howard is scoring 17.9 points on just under 60 percent shooting and he’s grabbing 10.5 rebounds per game. And he is still not the elite, athletic defensive player he is capable of being as he continues to come back from a serious back surgery.

So what’s wrong with the Lakers and their 7-8 record?

Other than hypercritical assaults from a network of keyboard assailants, it’s honestly just basketball. Don’t let the big picture be imprisoned by this brief period of mediocrity.

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The same thing happened in LeBron James’s first season with the Miami Heat when the team started 8-7 in November. They ended up making the Finals.

More proof? The Oklahoma City Thunder closed last season with a 7-7 record in the team’s last 14 games before tearing through the playoffs and into the Finals. That’s just a half-game better than this Lakers team has started in November.

It’s not a hunch. There are trends in sports, and throughout the years they become easy to spot. The Vegas oddsmakers know that, and the Lakers remain the official favorites to win the West.

The Lakers are 6-4 since firing Mike Brown and remain in transition as Mike D’Antoni takes over.

Much will change by the time April rolls around.

Those modifications will include the return of two-time Most Valuable Player, Steve Nash. Did you forget about him? Currently without Nash and Steve Blake, the Lakers are playing with a third-string point guard. Bryant won't turn the ball over so much when he no longer has to play de facto point guard.

With the return of Nash, D’Antoni’s offense will be on full display, and even then it won’t be fully blossomed probably until January. Nash’s ability to ignite the pick-and-roll will enhance the play of Pau Gasol. Given, this will take yielding on Bryant’s behalf to embrace a system that doesn’t default to him going one-on-one, and that won’t be easy.

But things will come together.

The return of Nash and Blake will benefit a struggling bench. Darius Morris and Jordan Hill shouldn't combine for 38.3 minutes per game.

Rotations tighten in the postseason, so to succeed in the playoffs, the Lakers will only need three to four true bench contributors.

Antawn Jamison won't hold at 5.5 points per game much longer and Lakers management has a knack for getting the most for nothing in player acquisitions. Don’t be surprised if Ron Artest is traded in for some younger legs.

Again, things will come together.

Sure, home court matters, especially since the team stopped winning on the road after Phil Jackson’s departure, but there is still time. No team is running away with the conference.  The West is strong, but not Miami Heat strong.

There are five legitimate contending teams in the West: the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. Let’s not kid ourselves, mentioning any other team is just ridiculous.

While the Memphis Grizzlies are well-coached and physical, only the 2004 Detroit Pistons have won a championship without a clear superstar, dating back to the pre-Michael Jordan days.

The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers are stylish in the regular season, but have just as many postseason question marks and neither have close to as much starting lineup talent as the Lakers.

And again, the Lakers will likely have a much deeper roster by April.

Oklahoma City looms large with talent and proof of last year’s success. Serge Ibaka’s enhanced play and the scoring of Kevin Martin has addressed any fears of losing James Harden. 

Still, the Lakers, at full potential, are too talented even for the Thunder. Los Angeles should still be favorites in the West, just like Vegas holds it.

Just as Miami accomplished later in its first season as a super team, Los Angeles’s lineup of superstars need to realize their roles.

We haven’t heard the last from Bryant. His career won’t go away this quietly. But as well as he’s currently executing, Bryant needs to be the first to change.

He doesn’t need to score 30 points per night once Nash returns; the offense will be able to score 100 points with the true point guard at the helm. Bryant needs to return to utilizing more energy on defense and not taking over on 90 percent of the possessions.

It’s clear that the cure in Los Angeles is attainable.

Actually, it’s still probable.

A fix here, a fix there, and everyone can breathe.

Degrade Los Angeles all you want this winter. Come April, we'll all be getting ready for a Lakers-Heat NBA Finals.  

Tweet me in April. Follow @jimmypspencer on Twitter for more NBA news and analysis.


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