We’re three days away from the start of training camp, which means it’s time to venture a prediction about how the Lakers will finish this season. Feel free to agree or disagree, but you have to get your prediction in by Monday for it to mean anything in April.
I went through the Lakers’ schedule game by game this afternoon. As usual, there are games that seem like potential traps and games that seem more favorable than they should. I’ll offer my prediction for the season at the bottom of this post.
The bad news is that the Lakers have a good chance of losing their first two games. They open at home Oct. 31 against Phoenix in a national television game, then play at Golden State the next night.
The Warriors will be playing their home opener, the first game of the second Don Nelson era, and will have the benefit of fresh legs and a good night sleep.
It might be the worst back-to-back of the season for the Lakers. The good news is that they could just as easily win their next four games – - and possibly their next seven. One game that should tell a lot about the Lakers is Nov. 10 at home against Detroit.
I have the Lakers going 11-3 in November. Other than the first road game at Golden State, the Lakers’ potential trap games could come at Portland on Nov. 8 (the second game of a back-to-back) and at home against Milwaukee on Nov. 28 (the Bucks open a long trip).
The Lakers’ schedule is unlike any other because they will play 16 of their first 20 games at Staples Center, including a road game against the Clippers. If you follow the formula of winning two-thirds of your home games and splitting on the road, the Lakers would need to open 13-7 to have a shot at 48 wins.
December is a brutal month, with a home game against San Antonio, a back-to-back at Houston and Dallas, followed by a home game against Houston. The Lakers also have a six-game trip built around the Christmas game at Miami. It’s going to be really hard for them to avoid losing the first four games of that trip, which includes a Chicago-Minnesota back-to-back.
One potential trap game could come Dec. 17 against Washington, which is playing the first game of a long trip. I have the Lakers going 8-8 in December, but they can’t give away games on the back end of the long trip against Orlando or Charlotte.
The Lakers should win as many games as they lose in January. They have a trap game Jan. 5 at home against Denver after playing the night before in Sacramento. The Nuggets will be settling into their hotel in Los Angeles before the game against the Kings starts.
But the Lakers get Miami on Jan. 15 at the end of a six-game trip for the Heat. They play a tough back-to-back at San Antonio and Dallas before continuing to Oklahoma City. The Lakers, however, will have a night off before they play the Hornets, who will be playing the second game of a back-to-back after flying in from San Antonio.
I have the Lakers going 8-7 in January. They will start an eight-game trip – - their longest in nearly two decades – - at the end of the month and spend the first 11 days of February on the road. There are three sets of back-to-backs on the trip; the Lakers probably would be happy going 3-5.
One interesting game will come at the end of the trip, Feb. 11 at Cleveland. The Lakers will be desperate to get home but the Cavaliers will be coming off a home game against Miami. Phil Jackson also will be sure to remind the Lakers of their fourth-quarter collapse at Cleveland last season.
I have the Lakers going 7-5 in February, taking a record of 31-23 into the All-Star break. The Lakers could steal a game at Golden State on Feb. 25; the Warriors will be playing the Clippers the day before in Los Angeles.
There’s a really weird four-game trip in early March, starting in Phoenix, then moving on to Minnesota and Milwaukee for a back-to-back, and ending in Philadelphia. It’s very odd to head to the East Coast for only one game. The Lakers then come home to play Dallas, which will have been off for five days before the game.
The Lakers also have a back-to-back at Memphis and New Orleans. It’s these games that are going to make all the difference for a team fighting for playoff seeding in the Western Conference. There’s a trap game on March 30 against Houston, which will be in Los Angeles all week thanks to a game against the Clippers.
An 8-6 March would be perfectly acceptable. The regular season finishes in April with a schedule that has some favorable games. The Lakers get Denver at home April 3 at the end of a stretch in which the Nuggets will play eight of nine games on the road. The Lakers get Phoenix at home April 8 at the end of a four-game trip for the Suns.
I have the Lakers going 6-4 in April. That gives them a final regular-season record of 48-34. They went 45-37 last season and finished seventh in the West. Memphis was the No. 5 seed last season with a 49-33 record.
I don’t see the Lakers cracking the top four in the West – - the Northwest Division champion will be seeded no worse than fourth – - but fifth would not be a bad place to be. The Lakers could play Denver in the first round of the playoffs and possibly have home-court advantage.
A second-round series could bring Dallas, Phoenix or San Antonio. All of those would be epic series, though the Lakers probably would fall short in six or seven games. The biggest challenge to the Lakers finishing fifth, in my mind, comes from Houston, which could win 50 games with the additions of Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells.
Last year, I picked the Lakers to go 41-41. I didn’t expect Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom to each play 80 games. Bryant is coming off knee surgery and Odom is dealing with personal tragedy. The Lakers can’t afford to get off to a slow start with a schedule that has them playing so many home games early.
So it’s 48-34 for me on Sept. 29. Should be an interesting season.