Los Angeles Lakers: Season Predictions

Countdown to Christmas: Predictions, predictions

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
9:50
AM PT
By ESPNLosAngeles.com
ESPNLosAngeles.com
With the start of the season just around the corner, we asked some of our NBA experts to look ahead. Can the Lakers remain a title contender without Lamar Odom? Will the Clippers of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin deliver on their promise?

Andy Kamenetzky

LAKERS
Predicted record: 42-24
Predicted finish: Western Conference Semifinals, then eliminated.

The recent days haven't been sunny. Trades nixed. Sixth men traded. Direction questioned by the franchise player, who Monday added "torn wrist ligament" to a sea of recent injuries. By comparison, the lockout was fun.

Still, the sky hasn't quite fallen. Yes, the lack of two-guard depth and wings capable of creating their own shot is problematic, as is learning Mike Brown's systems on the fly. But the Laker big three stacks up well against any in the league, and some roster issues (frontcourt depth, outside shooting) were addressed. Plus, getting slapped by reality during the playoffs should erase any complacency.

I don't consider the Lakers front-runners anymore, but they're way too talented to dismiss. Good health and perhaps good use of the Odom trade exception, and they may just surprise.

CLIPPERS
Predicted record: 46-20
Predicted finish: Western Conference Finals, then eliminated.

The Bizarro-Lakers: Nothing but excitement, optimism, and finals talk. It's a mite early to declare L.A. a "Clipper town," but the legitimacy Chris Paul provides is a game-changer. Plus, that Blake Griffin character is pretty good, and Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan equal an excellent starting five.

Of course, there are questions about health (Butler, Paul), age (Billups) and the bench (low on scorers beyond Mo Williams). Vinny Del Negro isn't proven. And if a deep playoff run awaits, how will Griffin fare in his first appearance?

For that matter, how will overnight expectations of greatness be handled?
However, if the answer is "well," the Clips could be among the NBA's scariest teams.

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Dave McMenamin

LAKERS
Predicted record: 42-24
Predicted finish: Second round of playoffs

The reports of the Lakers demise are greatly exaggerated. While they might not be the top-five championship contender they've been the last several seasons, it's not like they're lottery bound either. As long as Andrew Bynum can stay healthy and Kobe Bryant doesn't miss too much time because of the torn ligament in his right wrist, the Lakers' core as it is currently constructed should end up somewhere in the 3-5 seed range, with a good shot at a home playoff series to begin the postseason.

CLIPPERS
Predicted record: 40-26
Predicted finish: First round of playoffs

They aren't quite there yet in terms of being a title team, but the offseason acquisitions of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler should be enough to push them into the playoffs for the first time since 2006. They had better invest in a backup big man, however. After Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, their frontcourt depth gets very thin. Just because predictions are meaningless (does anybody else remember Phil Jackson guaranteeing the Lakers would be bringing their Western Conference semifinals series back to L.A. after falling down 2-0 and heading to Dallas?), I'll say the Clippers end up the five seed, the Lakers end up the four seed and I won't have to book any hotels, flights or car rentals for the first round of the playoffs.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0