Los Angeles Lakers players, front office and fans are all excited about the upcoming NBA season.
The Lakers returned the core players from last season and added several promising newcomers. How do they stack up against the other 14 Western Conference teams? Here’s a preview and prediction about the season.
How the Lakers stack up in the Western Conference:
The Also-Rans (11th through 15th place)
These teams are, for the most part, young and inexperienced. Each will have its moments but in the long run, should fall short of the play-in game:
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs added the #1 pick in the draft, Victor Wembanyama, the uber-talented 7-4 teenager. Eventually, he may develop into one of the league’s best, but he’ll experience growing pains along the way.
San Antonio returns their two leading scorers from last season, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, and has a talented young roster. But it will be surprising if they qualify for the playoffs this season.
The Houston Rockets added Fred VanVleet to their young roster. They return last year’s star rookie, Jalen Green, but are still likely to qualify for the lottery once again.
Portland Trail Blazers
After trading Damian Lillard, the Blazers are in full rebuild mode. Chauncey Billups will have his hands full trying to make the playoffs with his young roster. The team will be led by Jerami Grant, incoming center Deandre Ayton, sixth-year guard Anfernee Simons and rookie point guard Scoot Henderson, but it will take time to meld the talent together.
Luca Doncic and Kyrie Irving will put a ton of points on the scoreboard, enough to win some games. But Dallas ranked 24th in the league in defense last season, and it’s tough to see how they will be any better this year. A play-in berth is a possibility, but more likely they’re on the outside looking in.
Last season’s experiment of playing Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert together wasn’t working very well for the Timberwolves even before Towns missed 53 games due to injury. Even the emergence of Anthony Edwards couldn’t propel the team very far. Despite their talent, they will have to fight to qualify for the postseason.
The Likely Play-In Teams (7th through 10th place)
These teams will probably end up qualifying for the play-in round:
The Jazz surprised the league for much of the season last year before fading down the stretch. Lauri Markkanen had a breakout season and center Walker Kessler had a great rookie campaign. Guards Collin Sexton and former Laker Jordan Clarkson along with newcomer John Collins will provide a scoring punch for a team that looks like it’s ready to take the next step forward.
Oklahoma City Thunder
This young squad made it to the play-in game last season and could do even better this time around. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander blossomed into an All-NBA player and was well-supported by Josh Giddey and Luquentz Dart. All three return and will be joined by 7-foot Chet Holmgren, the second pick in 2022 who missed his entire rookie season due to injury.
New Orleans Pelicans
More than just about any other team, the success of the Pelicans depends on the health of its star players. When he’s on the court, Zion Williamson is an unstoppable force of nature, and former Laker Brandon Ingram is a borderline all-star.
But Zion only played 29 games last season and BI just 45. Both are still young and if healthy, the Pels could make noise in the postseason… if they can qualify.
The 25-game Ja Morant suspension and Steven Adams’ season-ending surgery will obviously hurt the Grizzlies. Last year it was predicted here that they would drop in the standings. They ended up winning 5 fewer games, but once again still finished second in the West.
Even though Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson and Steven Adams all return, this fearless prognosticator once again forecasts that the Griz will take a slight tumble.
The Top Tier
These six teams should automatically qualify for the playoffs.
Golden State Warriors
The sun hasn’t quite set on the Warriors’ “dynasty”, which won the NBA title just 16 months ago. But it remains to be seen how much the addition of oft-injured Chris Paul will truly help. With Draymond Green nursing an ankle injury to start the season, they may start three guards (Paul, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) along with forwards Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney.
Can that group stop any team from scoring in the paint? Still, their first-rate offensive firepower and recent winning history should carry them at least into the first round of the playoffs.
The Kings were the surprise team of the Western Conference last season, winning 18 more games and jumping up from 12th place all the way to 3rd. They bring back stars De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis along with a good supporting cast. Still, in the season following a big leap, teams often take a slight step back. The Kings should be hard-pressed to repeat last year’s success and are likely to drop 2-3 notches in the standings.
Los Angeles Clippers
Despite their deep, talented roster, the Clippers still have yet to even qualify for the NBA Finals. Their victory totals have dropped from 47 in 2021 to 44 the following season and just 42 wins last year despite the return of stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George from injury.
It’s difficult to figure out what to expect from the club this season when they’re counting on soon-to-be 35-year-old Russell Westbrook to play point guard. All signs are pointing to James Harden being traded to LA as well. There’s enough talent and depth here for them to put it all together, so they shouldn’t be dismissed as also-rans. But don’t forget, these are the Clippers.
Devin Booker is the lone starter to remain with the club from the 2021 squad that advanced to the NBA Finals. Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson were all sent elsewhere. The team now features a new, formidable triumvirate of Booker, Kevin Durant and newcomer Bradley Beal. It may take a while for the three to figure out how to best fit together, but by the time the playoffs run around, they could be tough to beat.
The Nuggets took the league by storm last season when they captured their first-ever NBA title. Nikola Jokic nearly garnered his third straight regular season MVP, instead capturing the honor in the Finals. They should be considered the team to beat again as they bring back all five starters, including Jamal Murray, one of the best players in the league not yet named to an all-star team.
But the team does have some concerns. The biggest is how they replace the contributions of their valuable sixth man, Bruce Brown, who departed in free agency. Additionally, last season their top 9 players missed only one of the team’s 20 playoff games, and that was by coach’s decision. Chances are good that lady luck won’t smile quite so brightly at them again this season.
Los Angeles Lakers
How do the Lakers stack up against this competition? Actually, they rank in the top tier and should be as good as any other team.
Offensively, they have plenty of scoring punch behind all-stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura should combine for 45+ points per game. And now that Russell, Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt, last season’s midseason acquisitions, have a full training camp, they should blend in better than ever.
Newcomers Christian Wood and Gabe Vincent should also provide excellent firepower off the bench. Second-year man Max Christie also looks ready to make an impact, and free-agent signees Taurean Prince and Jaxson Hayes should also contribute.
On the other side of the ball, AD, an outstanding rim protector, should contend for Defensive Player of the Year. Vanderbilt is one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders. And under coach Darvin Ham, if you don’t play good team defense, you don’t play.
The Lakers should finish in the top three in the Western Conference. Their depth should enable Ham to preserve their two stars for the postseason by cutting back their regular season minutes. Once the playoffs roll around, if both Davis and James are relatively healthy, the team should be good enough to contend for the NBA title.