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L.A. Times writers expect Lakers to win 2012-13 NBA championship

*With training camp less than a week away, The Times’Mike Bresnahan, Ben Bolch and Mark Medina dive into all the storylines surrounding the Lakers’ 2012-13 season.
What’s the biggest thing that should leave the Lakers optimistic?

Mike Bresnahan: There are two obvious reasons for optimism. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Anybody who doesn’t think this team is dramatically improved is a little off-kilter. Or a Celtics fan.

Ben Bolch: The best starting lineup in recent memory with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. What could possibly go wrong? Looks like you’re about to ask.

Mark Medina: As only the Lakers can do it, they somehow acquired this off-season the best center (Howard), an elite point guard (Nash), dependable secondary scoring (Antawn Jamison) and strong three-point shooting (Jodie Meeks). They did so without giving up Gasol. And, oh yeah, the Lakers still have this player named Kobe Bryant on the team. He’s kind of good.

What potential pitfalls do the Lakers face this season?
Bresnahan: Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Will Howard blend in seamlessly? Will Nash continue to avoid injuries despite being 53 years old? How will Mike Brown manage all these new pieces, especially while installing the new Princeton offense?

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Bolch: I’ve got a list of legitimate concerns, but here’s a funny thought: Imagine if noted malcontent Reeves Nelson makes the team and wrecks the chemistry. There could be actual sniping between Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant if either one feels snubbed in the offensive flow, particularly when the team loses. Howard’s balky back could be slower to recover or could flare up, depriving the Lakers of their top defender and best low-post presence.

Even if he’s on the court, Howard could be repeatedly sent to the free throw line (career accuracy: 58.8%) late in close games, clanging shots and costing the Lakers victories. Or maybe the newly installed Princeton offense fails to account for Howard underneath the basket and all the players executing back cuts run into him and are knocked unconscious. Nash and Antawn Jamison also aren’t exactly defensive wizards, leaving the Lakers susceptible. The team also has to prove it can make an outside shot after misfiring from three-point range most of last season. And their starting lineup, as vaunted as it is, isn’t exactly the most spry bunch. Average age of the starters when the Lakers open the season Oct. 30: 32.

Medina: The Lakers have the most talented starting lineup, but they’re also old. In other words, they have to take extra precautions in avoiding major injuries. Howard will likely rehab his back soon. The Lakers expect Steve Blake’s bizarre parking lot spike incident that gave him a puncture wound in his left foot to keep him out for three weeks.

So nothing major yet. But how will the backs for Howard and Nash hold up? Can Bryant continue fighting through Father Time? Will Gasol’s hamstring issues three years ago pop up? All dicey scenarios the Lakers need to avoid.

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How will the Lakers fare against Oklahoma City, Miami?
Bresnahan: When they got Nash, I figured the Lakers were almost as strong as OKC. Then they added Howard. Let’s just fast forward to June, but I still want credit for all those airline miles and hotel points. I like what the Heat did during the off-season by adding shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

There’s still one glaring weakness for the Lakers to exploit: The center position. Even if Chris Bosh moves there from power forward, he can’t stop Howard...and who will guard Pau Gasol?

Bolch: Quite well, actually. The Lakers still may not be able to stop Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, but now the Thunder’s worries about the Lakers have doubled. Howard gives the Lakers a huge edge over the Heat, whose post depth is shaky. Nash’s passing and court savvy will also give the Thunder and Heat season-long headaches.

Medina: The Thunder may have more speed than the Lakers, but Howard will minimize the floodgates Westbrook and the Thunder’s small ball lineup will try to exploit. Miami may be the defending champions and boast the best player in LeBron James, but just look at the two team’s respective starting lineup. Nash vs. Mario Chalmers? Howard vs. Udonis Haslem? Please.

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How do the Lakers adjust to Dwight Howard’s initial absence from rehabbing his back?
Bresnahan: It’s no big deal. Howard’s back injury isn’t serious and the Lakers are used to playing without big men for chunks of time the last few years. See: Bynum (knee) and Gasol (hamstring).

Bolch: Easily. Gasol slides over to starting center and Jordan Hill takes Gasol’s spot at power forward. The Lakers won’t be nearly as formidable with Howard out, but they’ll still win a high percentage of games.

Medina: Howard isn’t expected to miss too many games. However long that is though, it’s a good idea to start Hill. His defense will help mitigate Howard’s absence, while his energy will complement Gasol’s post presence well. Meanwhile, the Lakers wouldn’t lose the bench scoring they need from Jamison.

Who will be the Lakers’ team MVP?
Bresnahan: I see a bounce-back season for Gasol and the continuation of Kobe being Kobe. But I think Howard or Nash will be the team MVP simply by giving the Lakers the added gear they’ve missed the last two seasons.

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Bolch: Nash. He’s going to get this high-powered offense revving by setting up Howard, Bryant and Gasol for easy shots. Nash may average only single figures in points, but that’s not the point.

Medina: Kobe. Nash directs the offense. It’s possible Howard may score more points. But it doesn’t matter. Bryant will still run the locker room and set the tone on how the Lakers carve out another championship run. Bryant will still score lots of points but his value will increase by doing less with more.

Who will be the Lakers’ most improved player?
Bresnahan: Metta World Peace. Yeah, I saw all his ridiculous off-season tweets about partying and night clubs, but, hey, he spent a lot of time in Vancouver, one of my fave cities in the world. Despite any up-all-night high jinks he looks incredibly lean and supposedly worked on his shot a lot over the summer.

Bolch: Jodie Meeks will flourish as Bryant’s backup with so much attention focused elsewhere, giving the Lakers a boost off the bench with his outside shooting.

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Medina: I’m giving World Peace a chance. I’ve seen him play in two off-season workouts, and the dude looks in shape. Who knows if World Peace will ever find an offensive niche? But his increased mobility and athleticism should make him suited more to guard the opposing team’s best player, and possibly even throw down some dunks. Expect World Peace to kiss his biceps plenty of times this season.

How much pressure should Mike Brown feel in handling such a talented and experienced roster?
Bresnahan: Quite a bit. If this teams fails, it isn’t because of the NBA’s top center, the game’s most well-rounded power forward, a point guard among the best ever, and the league’s second-leading scorer last season. Which leaves us with either injuries or ... Brown! He’ll need to be on his game too undoubtedly.

Bolch: The pressure he feels to play schoolyard monitor will pale in comparison to the need to at the very least reach the Finals or have his job imperiled. It’s hard to believe any coach couldn’t just roll the balls out with this lineup and get 60 wins during the regular season, so the real test will come in April, May (and presumably) June.

Medina: Plenty. Laker fans haven’t fully warmed up to him, but Brown earned some good grace last season because of all the external hurdles thrown his way. Shortened training camp. A shuffling roster. Following the NBA’s greatest coach ever. No coach could ever live up to that. Now that Brown has a well-stacked team, he’ll have no qualifiers in evaluating his body of work. If the Lakers fall short, Laker fans will quickly point the finger at Brown first.

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What effect do you expect Brown’s new coaching hires (Bernie Bickerstaff, Eddie Jordan) will do for the team?

Bresnahan: It can never hurt to add veteran voices such as Bickerstaff and Jordan, who have been the head coaches of seven teams between them. The immediate attention goes toward Jordan, who will be in charge of employing the Princeton offense.

Bolch: They will add a veteran presence and facets of Jordan’s Princeton offense will be incorporated into Brown’s schemes. It will be interesting to see how that works with Howard and Gasol potentially clogging the area around the basket.

Medina: Jordan’s Princeton offense should give the Lakers more structure and fewer plays to memorize. Bickerstaff’s arrival brings Brown’s coaching career full circle. After Bickerstaff hired him as a Nuggets video coordinator in 1992, Brown will now be leaning on his long-time mentor on the sideline.

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Where do the Lakers finish this season?
Bresnahan: I haven’t even mentioned the Lakers’ bench yet, which includes scoring punch (Antawn Jamison), three-point touch (Jodie Meeks), a big body (Jordan Hill) and about seven point guards. It’s a vast improvement over last season. All that plus Howard and Nash? Should be enough to beat Miami in the NBA Finals.

Bolch: I’m going to stick with my (widely mocked) prediction from last month that you can mark it down with a Sharpie that the Lakers will win the title. Someone emailed to ask what color Sharpie. Why, purple and gold, of course.

Medina: Wow, all three of us are predicting the Lakers to win the NBA title? Just don’t get mad at us if your early plans to stake a spot early for the Lakers’ championship parade amounts to wasted time. The Lakers have everything they need to hoist the organization’s 17th Larry O’Brien Trophy. But they have to put in the work first.

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Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com. Follow the Lakers blog on Twitter and on Facebook.


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