Posted by Neil Paine on April 17, 2009
Coach: Phil Jackson
Last NBA Title: 2002
5-Year Playoff Record: Won 6 Series, Lost 4, 2 Finals, 0 Titles
Championship Odds: 21.1%
Key Question: Can they make right the wrongs of last summer?
Regular Season: Battling Cleveland for the NBA's best record all season long, the Lakers enjoyed their finest campaign since 2000, winning 65 games and locking up the #1 seed in the West before the end of March. Kobe Bryant played at his usual MVP-caliber level, Pau Gasol had an unbelievable year, and their supporting cast thrived under coach Phil Jackson. The only setback was when Andrew Bynum was once again injured in the middle of the season, but the Lakers continued to play well even without their young big man.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Kobe Bryant. Always one of the best individual talents in the NBA, Kobe has blossomed into a player who can actually coexist with his teammates in recent seasons (both in a basketball sense and a leadership sense). And we know the man can drill ice-water-in-veins shots under playoff pressure, that's no secret. So if his teammates give him the support he needs and don't allow an opponent to go all "Boston Celtics circa June '08" on him, he can lead the Lakers very far.
2. Pau Gasol. The best #2 option in the league, as far as I'm concerned. Just a terrific basketball player who can score in a variety of different ways, with monstrous efficiency (125.7 ORtg!!!). He also seems to have answered some lingering doubts about his toughness this season, though we'll have to see how this bears out in the playoffs. He's the Lakers' 2nd-most important player, bar none.
3. Derek Fisher. And Lamar Odom. And Trevor Ariza. And the rest of the Lakers' role players, who are the glue that holds this team together. They are the guys willing to sacrifice their own numbers all season long, knowing that at some point there will be a situation where they are required to be a hero. It used to be Robert Horry on the last great Laker team, and now it's these guys.
But don't count on... Them to simply show up and win. They're miles ahead of the rest of the West on paper, but this team has weaknesses just like any other. If the '08 Finals proved anything, it was that L.A. can't just expect to win on superior skill & talent alone. They have to execute and be willing to make adjustments on the fly (*cough*Phil Jackson for stubbornly sticking to a half-court attack vs. Boston last June*cough*).
Why they can win: This is the NBA's most talented team. They have one of the very best Alpha Dogs in Bryant, the best #1A in Gasol, and the best collection of role players if you catch them on a decent night. They combined great offense with strong defense. Having Bynum back in any capacity is a huge plus. And Bryant is an expert closer late in games. And the road just got easier if their old nemeses in Boston lost KG indefinitely. There are a lot of reasons to think they will win it all come June.
Why they can't win: Sometimes they inexplicably lose to lesser teams. A super-strong defense can still get physical with them and send multiple defenders to trap Bryant in the half court. The West is so deep that it isn't going to be easy to survive 3 straight series vs. high-caliber opponents and be able to play well in the Finals.
X-Factor: Andrew Bynum. Missing Bynum last year, the Lakers were outplayed on the interior by Boston. Can he be healthy and remedy some of those problems? Because when he is 100%, he gives the Lakers a ridiculous amount of talent to put on the floor at any given time.
|Lakers vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Dallas||X||X||X||X||X||Dirk, Mavs can't compete with Lakers' depth||Lakers in 5|
|Denver||X||X||X||X||X||Denver not as good as #2 seed would suggest||Lakers in 5|
|Houston||X||X||X||X||Rockets can match LA on D, but lack the firepower to win||Lakers in 5|
|New Orleans||X||X||X||X||X||CP3 could steal a game or 2, but not enough to win||Lakers in 5|
|Portland||X||X||X||Portland has key offensive and board edges, but is it enough?||Lakers in 6|
|San Antonio||X||X||X||Push||Different series if Ginobili was healthy||Lakers in 5|
|Utah||X||X||X||X||X||Lakers better across the board||Lakers in 6|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)