Are the NBA Finals the Lakers' To Lose?

Adam BrownContributor IFebruary 12, 2009

Lakers, Celtics, Cavaliers, Spurs, and Magic?

Does that sound about right?

Will this finally be the year that Kobe Bryant captures his first Shaq-less crown?

It would appear to be so. The Lakers have already swept the two best teams in the East—the Cavs and Celtics. While they were swept by the Magic, Orlando just doesn't seem to be the same without Jameer Nelson running their offense.

In the West, the Spurs are starting to come on strong. Still, a Bynum-less Lakers team showed the Spurs that youth trumps experience in the Western Conference Finals last year winning four games to one.

Who else could challenge in the West? New Orleans? Denver? Portland?

The Lakers' roster has the best depth in the NBA this year. Trevor Ariza has been an outstanding on-ball defender for the Lake Show. Having Jordan Farmar back healthy is allowing a 34-year-old Derek Fisher to get valuable rest during games.

Luke Walton is creating scoring opportunities for his teammates and is third option scorer himself. Chris Mihm—well, let's not get carried away.

Vladimir Radmanovic was shipped to Charlotte for oft-injured draft bust Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown. Perhaps with a better surrounding cast, the “Man from Spokane” can begin to become an NBA role player instead of a superstar. Shannon Brown will also benefit from seeing the floor, since he didn't in stops in Chicago, Cleveland, and Charlotte.

Let's not forget about the Mamba either. Kobe Bryant has been magnificent this year. He trusts his teammates more and is on-pace for 412 assists this year. He has proven that he can still take over a game, as evidenced by his performance at Madison Square Garden. And, he has help.

Pau Gasol is now acclimated to this triangle offense and has developed the toughness that was needed during the 2008 Finals with the Celtics. Gasol is on pace for nearly 1,600 points which would be his best effort since 2005. He's also averaging 9.4 rebounds per game.

With that cast assembled and Phil Jackson in full control, the only question still remaining is can Bynum return healthy by late April to regain some chemistry heading into the postseason?

The Zen Master doesn't seem to mind either way, "We know we're going to miss his presence, his rebounding ability. But this is a very capable team."

The Lakers should coast through the West into the NBA Finals with or without Bynum. Should they meet the Celtics for a second time, I think it will require a healthy Bynum to keep the Celtics front court in check. Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, and Leon Powe have some serious weight to push around in the paint.

Without Bynum, home court advantage will play a major factor. Currently, the Lakers have the edge in that area. With 30 games to go, that could change.

If the Lakers should meet the Cavaliers in the Finals, expect a similar performance to LeBron's previous Finals' visit.

There is no doubt that LeBron James is a physical freak and can get to the basket easier than any other player in the NBA. But even Michael Jordan needed the Jordan-aires to win a title.

Mo Williams is not Scottie Pippen. Andersen Varejao is not Dennis Rodman, or even Stacey King for that matter. LeBron's time is quickly approaching but it's not here yet.

In a seven-game series, LeBron will not be able to take over four games to take his team to victory. In the regular season this year, LeBron is averaging 19.5 PPG against the Lakers. A far cry from his league leading 27.5 PPG in other contests.

There is a wild card in the East however. The Miami Heat are quietly having a good season. Currently seventh in the East and with Dwyane Wade healthy, Miami is gearing up for the postseason.

If GM Randy Pfund and Team President Pat Riley can somehow convince Steve Kerr to part with Amar’e Stoudemire, the Heat will instantly become contenders for a second NBA title in four years.

Michael Beasley, Shawn Marion, and future draft picks could make for a promising future for Kerr's Suns. While he has not been thrilled with those prospects so far, the Suns are in financial trouble and know Amar’e is at his peak value right now. The time is right for a change.

Let's just hope that it's not highway robbery like what Mitch Kupchak was able to pull off with Memphis just one season ago.

The Lakers are the favorite to capture their 15th Larry O'Brien trophy in 2009. June can't get here soon enough for Bryant's Lakers.