Oklahoma City or the L.A. Lakers: Who Is the Western Conference Team to Beat?
One team is coming off of a masterful run through the Western Conference's elite en route to a tough loss in the NBA Finals. The other is in the midst of an outstanding period of free agency in which their acquisitions have re-established their franchise as one of the true elite.
So who's got the advantage? Is it the young but powerful Oklahoma City Thunder? Or is it the veteran-driven Los Angeles Lakers?
Let the debate begin.
When comparing the two teams' starting lineups, it's important to go beyond a position by position matchup. We must also evaluate how the players are able to work off of each other, as well as how adjust their game for the system they play in.
For once in a lifetime, however, the quality of the team on the floor does not play a role in the distinction as the team to beat.
In this rare situation, the word "hype" is as applicable as any. The Oklahoma City Thunder, for instance, are a team who have been built up to be the next great dynasty in the NBA. With their four core players all under the age of 23, how could anyone debate such an honor?
On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers have compiled a roster with three combined MVP awards and 28 collaborative All-Star appearances; a number that could grow to 36 should they close the deal with Antawn Jamison and Jermaine O'Neal.
While both teams have presented no reason to doubt the hype surrounding their respective franchises, it's fair to ask the question of who is the most deserving. For every great question, however, there are dozens of great answers.
Who is the team to beat in the Western Conference?
The answer in this case is the Los Angeles Lakers.
Regardless of which team finishes atop the standings at the end of the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers are the team who has won five NBA titles since the year 2000. They're also the team with two first ballot Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
Throw in the fact that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum help round out the starting lineup and you almost forget that they're one of the two most storied franchises in NBA history.
This is not to discredit the Thunder, who have certainly established themselves as one of the Western Conference's elite teams. They simply lack the star power that creates "the team to beat." After all, who's going out to kick the little guy when they're down?
Everyone is out to slay Goliath. To climb Mt. Everest. To knock out Mike Tyson.
Entering the 2012 season, that's exactly what makes the Los Angeles Lakers the team to beat. Some will love them while others will pray for their downfall. Regardless of what your motivation may be, the team to watch is the team to beat.
Showtime is back in Los Angeles. Now who is watching the throne?
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