NBA Western Conference predictions: Where will the Lakers fall?

Oct 3, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) looks on from the court in the first half against the Sacramento Kings at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) looks on from the court in the first half against the Sacramento Kings at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

10 of the 15 Western Conference teams in the NBA will qualify at least for the play-in game next April. Some teams will be playing for a shot at the title while others hope to be bad and lucky enough to get a shot at drafting the supposed “can’t miss” #1 prospect, 7-4 Victor Wembanyama. The Los Angeles Lakers seem to be somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Los Angeles probably is not good enough to contend but is still likely to qualify for the postseason, or at least we hope.

The Western Conference has some very talented teams for the Lakers to get through. Here is how the complete standings could shake out:

15. San Antonio Spurs

It’s somewhat surprising that after all the success Gregg Popovich has had that he’s hung around to coach this rebuilding franchise, which is measurably short on proven talent. It should be another long season for Pop and his mostly young, inexperienced squad that has only 3 or 4 recognizable names. They hope to be lucky enough to snag the #1 pick next spring.

14. Houston Rockets

The only veterans left on the Rockets squad are Eric Gordon and Derrick Favors. Odds are neither will be staying long. The team is playing for the future and will rely on youngsters like Jalen Green. But they should once again be a lottery participant.

13. Utah Jazz

Danny Ainge blew up the Jazz roster this offseason, intending to start a rebuild from the ground up. Gone are Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic. Before long, so too might be Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Rudy Gay. As a result, Utah is a surefire bet to miss the playoffs and compete for the top pick in the 2023 draft.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder

The loss of top draft pick Chet Holmgren for the season was a major blow to this up-and-coming franchise. There remains a bushel of young talent, including Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Brighter days in the future are in store, but for now, the Thunder should remain a lottery team.

11. Sacramento Kings

It’s awfully difficult to compete in the Pacific Division, which is the toughest in the NBA. The Kings have some talent, including De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Harrison Barnes and ex-Laker Malik Monk, along with a couple of promising rookies. But overall they should fall slightly short of making the postseason.

10. Portland Trail Blazers

Portland welcomes back Damian Lillard, who played only 29 games last season. Center Jusuf Nurkic and newcomer Jerami Grant should combine with Lillard to form a solid Big Three. Support will come from former Laker Josh Hart, Drew Eubanks, Justice Winslow, Anfernee Simons and Gary Payton II. Collectively, they should give the Blazers just enough of an edge to hold off the Kings for the final spot in the play-in tournament.

9. Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined to miss 68 games last year and the Lakers won just 33 times. So if the duo can stay on the court this season, the Lakers should at least be more competitive.

The roster got younger and should be more energetic and better defensively. But how excited can fans realistically be when the team’s biggest offseason acquisition was Patrick Beverley? It’s also still doubtful that Russell Westbrook will fit in very well. The rest of the surrounding cast is quite ordinary and the outside shooting is weak.

Simply put, the Lakers do not look like a contender.

The Los Angeles Lakers will be a play-in team.

8. New Orleans Pelicans 

This team has been on the verge of competitiveness for the last couple of seasons. If Zion Williamson can stay healthy and is as good as projected, this could be the year the Pels move up in the standings.

CJ McCollum and former Laker Brandon Ingram are both top-tier, 20-point-per-game scorers, Jonas Valanciunas is an underrated big man, and the roster includes several promising rookies and other youngsters.

7. Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic is one of the best players in the world, an unstoppable offensive force and triple-double threat. Unfortunately for the Mavs, their talent level drops off rather steeply after him. They’re counting on Spencer Dinwiddie to return to the level he played for the Nets in 2019-20 before he missed virtually all the next season to injury. Even though they upset the Suns in the playoffs last spring, their roster doesn’t inspire confidence that they can be a consistent winner.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Last year the Griz surprised everyone, even when star Ja Morant was out with injury, and finished second in the West. A deep roster highlighted by Dillon Brooks, youngsters Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson, veteran center Steven Adams and Morant all return along this season, although Jackson is expected to miss the first couple of months with a stress fracture. Still, Memphis won’t sneak up on teams again, and a drop in the standings seems like a good possibility.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

The acquisition of Rudy Gobert, the top interior defender in the NBA, brightens the outlook for this franchise. He and fellow all-star Karl-Anthony Towns form an intriguing combination in the front court to go along with their already formidable backcourt of 20-year-old star Anthony Edwards and former Laker D’Angelo Russell.

If Gobert and Towns play well together, the T-wolves will be a force in the league. Even if the experiment doesn’t work to its fullest, they should still move up in the West.

4. Denver Nuggets

Led by two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets have been close the past three seasons but haven’t quite stepped up to true contender status. If this is to be the year they take the next step, they will need a comeback from Jamal Murray, who missed all last season with a torn ACL. Former Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is expected to start in the backcourt with Murray while Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr, who is also returning from back surgery, provide additional offense.

3. Phoenix Suns

After barely losing to Milwaukee in the 2021 Finals, then compiling the NBA’s best regular season record in 2021-22, the Suns’ inexplicable playoff collapse against Dallas raised new questions about its championship aspirations.

It remains to be seen how the suspension of owner Robert Sarver, and his subsequent plans to sell the club, affect their on-court play. In addition, Coach Monty Williams and center Deandre Ayton apparently don’t see eye-to-eye, although the rift seems repairable.

Still, the title potential of a team with a backcourt of star Devin Booker and Chris Paul, who remains impactful at age 37, plus youngsters Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Ayton cannot be dismissed.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

If Kawhi Leonard at age 31 can return to form after missing all last season to injury, the Clippers will have the deepest team in the league… and perhaps the best. Rob Pelinka could take a lesson from the Clippers front office on how to build a roster.

Leonard and Paul George form an all-star top two. And the supporting cast includes Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris, Norman Powell, Ivica Zubac and newcomer John Wall plus several talented youngsters. Lakers fans don’t want to hear it, but this could actually be the season the Clippers finally break through. But then again, they are the Clippers.

1. Golden State Warriors

It’s hard to pick against the defending champions, who return their veteran Big Three of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green along with playoff star Andrew Wiggins. Role player Kevon Looney and sixth man Jordan Poole are also back. And waiting in the wings is a trio of promising youngsters, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman. The biggest factor in their quest to repeat is the health of the veterans when the postseason rolls around.