Poll results show Laker fans feel strongly confident about a three-peat
Our economy is in disarray. There's uncertainty over the Afghan war. And political tensions remain high. There are plenty of things for people to be upset about these days, and the polls certainly show it. But the polls here at the L.A. Times Lakers blog reveal upbeat attitudes about one thing, anyway: the Lakers' chances for a three-peat.
The Lakers are coming off a second consecutive championship, making the off-season more relaxing, the free-agency process known as "The Decision" more laughable and causing the urge to start up the season to spike. Not to worry, though, folks. Training camp starts Saturday, meaning you can stop rewinding Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, playing out imaginary Lakers games in your dreams and searching miles and miles for any morsel of Lakers news.
Magic Johnson once said to the L.A. Times' Chris Erskine, referring to the Lakers after they won their 16th championship: "It's the only thing the people can trust. They trust the Lakers."
So what kind of trust do you have in the Lakers for the 2010-11 NBA season? Poll results show that 96.15% of you believe the Lakers will three-peat, so you may as well start planning for another parade. The reasons vary. I listed multiple factors that seemed to work in the Lakers' favor, including talent, experience, off-season acquisitions, Phil Jackson and the seemingly inferior competition. Instead of singling out one variable that will push the Lakers over the edge, 63.49% of you said all of the above -- all these qualities make the Lakers tough to beat.
For those who want a seat at the NBA Finals, well, start thinking about booking flights to South Beach or Boston. Most of you are ready to fly 3,000 miles to Chowder City, with 57.52% predicting the Celtics will rematch the Lakers in the 2011 NBA Finals. It'd be a compelling series for sure, what with Shaquille O'Neal up against Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest duking it out again with Paul Pierce and the Lakers hoping to close the series gap to 17-12. But then there's the 36.91% of you who think the Lakers will be taking their talents to South Beach and proving which team is really super.
The confidence sure is high because you feel like no other team can eliminate you in the playoffs. The only thing that you believe will undo the Lakers is injuries, a variable that 79.91% of you acknowledge could be an issue. You're also optimistic because Bryant and Pau Gasol sat out for most of the summer. That's led 55.32% of you to think Bryant will be unstoppable and win the league MVP this season (take that, Kevin Durant) and 64.5% predicting that El Spaniard will be an unstoppable force in the paint.
The latter better happen because the news about center Andrew Bynum doesn't sound good. He came off arthroscopic surgery on his right knee this off-season. The Lakers don't expect him to play most of the pre-season, though the team hopes he can at least get some run before the regular season starts.
Fans are unified about the Lakers' chances to three-peat but not so much when it comes to Bynum. 37.71% of you wished Bynum could be healthy for the exhibition season, 32.13% said the Lakers would be fine without him, and 25.06% believed Bynum would never stay healthy.
But that's not going to put a damper on the Laker fans' spirit. They're excited to see what Lamar Odom will bring after winning a gold medal with Team USA this summer in the FIBA World Championships. 46.15% think his FIBA experience will sharpen his game, 34.55% predict L.O. will still offer the same versatile skillset, and 15.83% express skepticism and are preparing for inconsistent performances.
As much as Laker fans have loved Artest's wild off-season, there's really no fear he will be partied out. Half of you, though, anticipate Artest will showcase the same lockdown defensive performances and head-scratching offensive decisions that drove fans crazy both for his toughness and unpredictable nature. But fans believe everything should turn out fine with veteran Derek Fisher. There's been some disagreement in the past season about his worth to the team. But after his 2010 playoff performance, few express doubt. 82.98% predict Fisher will play the same role as he has in years past. He may not do much during the regular season, but he'll keep the team together during adverse moments. And when the playoffs hit, watch out.
That's why it's important that backup point guard Steve Blake fit in right away, so he can reduce Fisher's minutes and keep him fresh for the playoffs. Very few (28.13%) believe he'd do so well that he'd actually take Fish's starting role. But 57.77% of you predict he will be a solid option off the bench (I apologize for wording the option as Blake becoming the sixth man. That spot is reserved for L.O. I'll just say Odom is so good that I almost forget he's a bench player).
The other free-agent acquisitions will be critical for different reasons, fans say. Many (43.3%) say Theo Ratliff will be a huge component simply because his size, experience and leadership will help the Lakers' front line in practice. Perhaps mindful of Bynum's possible limitations, 33.85% of fans believe Ratliff's defense will be particularly valuable when he picks up heavy minutes. It seems as if most fans are excited about Matt Barnes, with 53.03% believing he'll play sharp on defense and shoot well from the outside. Nonetheless, 22.73% believe that his intensity will sometimes hurt the team. Regardless, it's important Barnes fits in, considering 48.51% believe Luke Walton will still be hobbled with injuries and limited throughout the season.
With all the movement the Lakers made this off-season, it's likely Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic will have to adjust to new roles. But 50.24% think they'll be part of the right ingredients that will return the Bench Mob back to glory. That doesn't mean they'll necessarily run the show. 26.71% believe the lack of minutes and changed role will push Vujacic over the edge as if he were getting in a tussle with Goran Dragić. Then there's 21.9% who simply think the two will have marginal roles and it won't make a difference one way or the other.
As for Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, they may have been essential steals for the Lakers given their draft position (43rd and 58th), but with their inexperience and the Lakers' abundance of talent, more than half of you think those two won't get many minutes. Still, you think they'll at least provide good energy in practice.
That first one starts Saturday, so it won't be long. Don't get impatient. Soon, as you've made clear, the road to the three-peat begins.
-- Mark Medina
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Photos, from top: Lakers fans predicted in a pre-season poll that the team would meet Boston again in the NBA Finals. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak introduces Steve Blake at the team's practice facility on July 14, 2010. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times