One Advantage L.A. Lakers Have over Every Other NBA Title Contender
The Los Angeles Lakers' desire for radical change led to some fascinating personnel decisions that have made them the most interesting case study in all of basketball.
By acquiring Steve Nash this summer (via ESPN.com), the Lakers instantaneously became title contenders, and in the eyes of some, favorites.
By adding Howard to a lineup loaded with elite talent, the Lakers' front office composed the league's most intriguing and versatile starting five.
A diverse lineup that includes not only Howard and Nash, but Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace has the potential to create matchup nightmares for opponents, and that includes some of the league's top title contenders.
Here is one advantage the Lakers hold over each NBA title contender.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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Lakers' Advantage: Experience
The Oklahoma City Thunder's youthful exuberance led them to the 2012 NBA Finals, and ultimately helped them become one of the Western Conference's elite contenders.
Led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Thunder are growing at a phenomenal rate, but their roster is still one of the NBA's youngest.
As of January, the average player age on the Thunder (via The Hoop Doctors) was 25.46, and while they have solid veteran contributors like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, they can't match the Lakers' experience.
The Thunder paid their dues throughout the 2011-12 season, but they will be met with stout competition from an improved Lakers squad this season.
With three MVP awards combined between Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers get the edge in the crafty veteran department.
San Antonio Spurs
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Lakers' Advantage: Offensive Firepower
They say only two things in life are certain: Death and Taxes. What most people don't realize is that there's a third, and it's that the San Antonio Spurs will perpetually be the most underrated team in basketball.
The Spurs' coaching and flawless fundamental execution are still somehow the best kept secret in the NBA, and head coach Gregg Popovich is just fine with that.
San Antonio's calling card is its team-first attitude on both the offensive and defensive ends, and its ability to consistently plug role players into spots that perfectly gel with their refined skill sets.
In addition to their nice stable of role players, the Spurs are loaded with underrated gems like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. However, these aging stars can't contend with the Lakers' diverse range of studs.
Both squads have their fair share of big names, but game-planning for Kobe Bryant alone is a tall order, and pairing him with a frontcourt of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol feels simply unfair.
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Lakers' Advantage: Frontcourt Versatility
Like the Lakers, the Boston Celtics retooled their roster quite a bit this offseason. Aside from adding backcourt complements like Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, the Celtics' frontcourt underwent a fairly dramatic facelift.
Along with Terry and Lee, the Celtics re-signed the now healthy Jeff Green, while adding to their front line in the form of rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, as well as veteran big man Darko Milicic.
The Celtics' refurbished frontcourt is one that possesses a great deal of strength and skill, but it lacks versatility. Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger will comprise a platoon at power forward that's more efficient playing 10-12 feet from the basket, leaving Kevin Garnett as the team's lone threat in the post.
However, as his game changes with age, Garnett is becoming increasingly more reliant on his jump shot. To that point, Garnett averaged six field-goal attempts per game between 16 and 23 feet last season (via Hoopdata.com), which is three times as many attempts as he had between three and nine feet.
On the Lakers' side of things, Pau Gasol can wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his polished inside-out game, while Dwight Howard is arguably the most difficult center to combat in the entire NBA.
If Howard can develop his footwork further and implement a more effective face-up game into his repertoire, then the Lakers' revamped frontcourt will be nearly impossible to defend.
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Lakers' Advantage: Size
It's easy to point to the Lakers and say they should be the favorites for this year's NBA title, but the Miami Heat are reigning champions and deserve to be labeled the team to beat.
The Heat have the best player the NBA has seen in 15 years, and alone, LeBron James can disrupt an entire team's game plan.
While the Heat have some of the most intimidating talent ever assembled on a basketball court, their roster lacks one key element—size.
Despite LeBron's ability to play all five positions, he simply won't be able to contain the likes of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol by himself.
Chris Bosh will start at center, but behind him the Heat lack serious depth along the front line. LeBron James will reportedly (via Alex Kennedy on Sulia) log more minutes at the power forward spot this season, but his stellar play alone won't be able to mitigate the Heat's size disadvantage.
Aside from LeBron, a platoon of Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem figures to be mildly effective at best, giving the Lakers a massive size advantage over their Eastern Conference counterparts.