Moore’s NBA Predictions: Los Angeles Lakers Will Be a Wreck That Still Outperforms Expectations

Oct 17, 2018 10:10 PM EDT
  • NBA guru Matt Moore makes a series of predictions leading up to tipoff of the 2018-19 season.
  • Up next: The Los Angeles Lakers and why LeBron James can carry them to a top-five seed.

Two principles of NBA conventional wisdom are about to clash:

  1. The Lakers (almost) always manage to have things work out for them.
  2. High-profile superstar moves under microscopes can detonate.

Lakers Exceptionalism vs. the Disease of Mr. LeBron James’ arrival in Los Angeles sparked the imagination of basketball fans around the globe.

The most iconic NBA player of the 21st century on the most popular team in a star-studded town? A ratings dream for the league. A media smorgasbord.

This team’s expectations are way out of whack for what the Lakers actually look like. If you take LeBron off the roster, there’s not a lot to inspire confidence.

The upside ceiling is stratospheric with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma all having All-Star potential at their very best. But their average expected outcome falls short of that All-Star status and into “they’re just some really good players.” The rest of the roster is a mish-mash of high-leverage journeymen with reputations for making less than the best decisions.

But things tend to go this franchise’s way. That’s why the Lakers have won so many championships.

Except we kind of have to dig more deeply here.

Since the end of the Magic-al ’80s, the Lakers have had two reigns of dominance: The early ’00s teams with Shaq and the late ’00s teams with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

The former period was tipped off by a decision similar to LeBron’s: Shaquille O’Neal wanted a bigger platform for his celebrity status, just as LeBron wanted to be closer to his Hollywood productions as well as have the benefits for his family. Shaq’s team was dominant.

The back-to-back championship Lakers teams of 2008-09 and 2009-10 took advantage of injuries to the Celtics, who had beaten Los Angeles in 2008 — a weaker time in the league, particularly in the West, and the absolute peak of Bryant’s career.

Which player is at his peak for this season’s Lakers? James certainly isn’t. His defense (according to metrics or on tape) will tell you otherwise. The youngsters aren’t. JaVale McGee is in his prime. Woo?

And yet there are a lot of ways this Lakers team could be a downhill car crash, picking up debris and rolling over the West in its wake as it winds up finishing further than its competitors.

The Cavaliers were the model for this for years. They would look like garbage, lose inexplicable and inexcusable games night in and night out … then finish with 50 or more wins and make the Finals.

A similar result is likely here.

We’ll vex all season about the Lakers’ deficiencies and sore points. There will be drama. Someone will get traded. James will brood. (And if he doesn’t, that’s a sign that he’s checked out to focus on his entertainment ventures.) But in the end, he’ll will the Lakers to at least a middle-to-high seed and a second-round playoff appearance.

The Lakers will end up below .500 aganst the spread on account of how much action they take on bumping their lines up, but will also wind up finishing better than we can reasonably expect. That’s just what LeBron does.

Then they’ll lose to the Warriors. Because that’s also what LeBron does.

Prediction: The Lakers will finish with a top-five seed — despite the fact that I have them sixth in wins — but will finish below .500 ATS. 

Credit:

Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: LeBron James

Follow Matt Moore on Twitter
@MattMooreTAN

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