Are the Lakers better than last season's title team?
At the end of December, 2008, the Lakers were 25-5, 16-1 at home and 9-4 on the road. This season the Lakers are 25-6, and thanks to a lot of time at Staples are 17-3 at home, and 8-3 away. That’s about a wash — but there are a few statistical differences between the two teams.
Last season’s squad — even with Andrew Bynum missing half the season — led the NBA in rebounding (with 43.9 boards per game) in the regular season, and ranked 2nd in assists (23.3), 2nd in steals (8.8) per game, and 3rd in points scored (106.9).
This season? The Lakers are 1st in rebounding (45.5 rpg), 5th in assists (22.8), 5th in steals (8.3), and 6th in points scored (103.9). Overall, last season they outscored their opposition by 7.6 points per game, this season, 6.9.
Add all that up and, again, it’s pretty close.
There is one notable difference — defense.
Remember last season when Phil Jackson appointed Kurt Rambis as the team’s de facto defensive guru to oversee the Lakers’ defensive schemes? Well, the ’08-09 team gave up 99.3 points per game, 13th best in the league. This season, the Lakers are allowing only 97.0 points and have crept up to the 11th spot.
So which Lakers team is better?
I asked an old friend and longtime prep school basketball coach, Steve Galipeau, that question. After a lengthy pause, he answered, "This season’s team because of Ron Artest. He provides more stability on defense."
Artest is the only meaningful change in the team’s roster. And in the last three games Artest has missed, the Lakers have given up 103, 118 and 118 points.
So what happens in 2010?
Instead of consulting my Ouija board, I looked up the odds on the betting site Beted.com about which NBA team will win the title in 2010 (these returns are based on a $100 bet):
Happy New Year.
Photo: The Lakers celebrate at the Los Angeles Coliseum after winning the NBA title in June. Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.