After a four-month hiatus, the NBA is finally set to return with meaningful games. On Tuesday Oct. 29, three games will be on the schedule to begin the regular season.
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the six teams that will be in action on the first night. While the Lakers usually begin each season with the highest of expectations, the 2013-2014 version is much different. With the loss of Dwight Howard to free agency and the torn Achilles that Kobe Bryant suffered at the end of last season, many experts are predicting the Lakers to miss the playoffs.
A lot can change over an 82-game season. However, this squad has several questions that need to be answered.
When will Kobe Bryant return from injury?
The shooting guard won’t be ready to start the season on time. He didn’t play in the preseason and had surgery to repair his torn Achilles a little over six months ago. Bryant has mostly been working on taking set shots and hasn't been able to work out with the team.
An exact return date hasn’t been set, but it doesn’t appear that the future Hall of Famer will be playing any time soon. The injury usually takes between 9-12 months to fully heal. Head coach Mike D’Antoni says Bryant is ahead of schedule, but the team can’t afford to rush back their best player
Who will start on opening night?
Without Bryant in the lineup, the Lakers starting five leaves much to be desired. The players that took the floor for the start of the final exhibition game will likely do the same on opening night.
Only Pau Gasol and Steve Nash return as starters from the first game of 2012. Without Howard, L.A. will go with a much smaller lineup. Gasol moves from power forward to center, and it looks like the Lakers will have a three-guard set. Nash will play alongside fellow point guard Steve Nash, with newcomer Nick Young joining them in the backcourt.
Free agent signee Shawne Williams is at power forward, following a season away from the NBA. He’s not a traditional power forward, with his ability to hit three-pointers. Williams’s style of play is very conducive to D’Antoni’s offensive system, which requires a big man that can hit outside jumpers.
Can the Lakers contend in the West?
Last year, the Lakers began the season as favorites to represent the West in the NBA Finals. This season, it would be very surprising if L.A. were to make it out of the conference.
According to the betting odds at Bovada.lv, six teams in the West have a better chance of winning it all. Considering the Lakers barely made the playoffs as the seventh seed in April, it might be a lot to ask for the team to do any better in 2014. Los Angeles added a few free agents in the offseason, but their roster is worse than it was a year ago. New players like Wes Johnson, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar aren’t expected to replace the production of Howard and Metta World Peace.
Bryant’s injury status is Los Angeles’ biggest issue. If he can be effective for most of the year, L.A. can make the playoffs and be competitive in the first round. If the Lakers are missing the best player for a significant period of time, however, they could miss the postseason for the first time in a decade.
41-41, ninth seed in the West, no playoff appearance