September 24, 2012
By Eric Palutsis
“We definitely want to break the Bulls record and go 73-9…You try to snatch records before you leave this earth.” – Metta World Peace
The NBA off-season just isn’t complete until the basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest says something controversial. The Los Angeles Lakers summer additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash gave World Peace the confidence to join the Max and Marcellus Show on ESPN radio last Friday and make his bold predictions. Granted, Metta World Peace is known for making these sorts of brash statements but he does raise a fair point: just how good can this star-laden Laker team be? Are they really capable of making a run at 70 wins and breaking the ’96 Bulls’ record-setting season?
Perhaps the best place to start with judging the Lakers potential to cross the 70 win barrier is with the only team to ever actually do it. Led by the great Michael Jordan, the 1995-96 Bulls were top five in nearly every major statistical category on their way to the NBA championship. The Bulls led the league in points per game (105.2 per game) while also finishing third-best in opponent points per game (92.9 per game). They were fifth in the league in assists (24.8 per game), fourth in rebounds (44.6 per game), fourth in turnovers (14.3 per game), and third in steals (9.1 per game).
What does that tell us about these Bulls? To no one’s surprise, the team that many consider to be the best team in NBA history was really good at defense and even better at actually scoring. Good start. How might the Lakers compare to those lofty standards? Last season LA ranked 15th in the league in both points per game (97.3 per game) and opponent points per game (95.9 per game). One would expect both of those statistics to improve with the Lakers offseason additions, especially on the defensive end by bringing in Howard, the three-time defensive player of the year. The presence of Howard should also even further boost the Lakers success on the glass from last season, when they ranked second in rebounds (46.2 per game). The addition of Steve Nash should also greatly increase LA’s assist numbers (22.5 per game last year) and improve their ability to take care of the ball (15.1 turnovers per game), both of which were important factors in the Bulls’ formula for success.
Regardless of how talented and how good this talented Laker roster is, however, they also still have to deal with 29 other teams that are also trying to win as many games as they possibly can. During their quest for 70+ wins, the Lakers have to face the seven other top eight teams in the NBA last year a grand total of eighteen times. That means that in order for Metta World Peace’s prediction to hold true then LA will have to win at least half of those tough games—and not lose to anyone else along the way. Sounds like a very tall task, especially when you consider that half of them are on the road. Another tough scheduling quirk is that a third of those games are all scheduled January, right in the midst of the grueling NBA season, not a typical recipe for success.
So can the Lakers actually pull it off and back up Metta World Peace? Probably not. Could they? They certainly can, no one is questioning their talent; LA will be sporting a starting lineup that consists of three sure-fire hall of famers and potentially one more. But the odds are definitely against them when one considers how small of a margin of error nine losses is. It is especially unlikely when taking into account the unavoidable adjustment period that will occur when these stars are all forced to figure out how to play together at the beginning of the season. It took the Miami Heat and their Big Three an entire year to gel; expecting Kobe to learn to share the ball with Nash and Dwight to share the lane with Gasol is not something that will happen overnight.
In the end, it is not going to matter whether World Peace’s bold statement comes to fruition or not. Champions are made in the playoffs, not during the regular season. As long as the Lakers are holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the year no one is going to care whether they 60 games or 73.
You can take that prediction to the bank.