The 15-16 Los Angeles Lakers are currently seeded 11th in the Western Conference and a game out of the playoffs, but if and when they do earn that postseason berth, they have the ability to beat any team in the loaded West.
If the Lakers are to fulfill their preseason and annual expectations of winning the NBA Finals, we are forced to assume that they are able to get and/or stay healthy (Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash), find better bench depth, and find some semblance of defense.
There is still over half a season left so many of these issues can sort themselves out throughout the course of the season. However, we must take into account the realistic seeding of the Western Conference and conversely, the opponents they will face.
It is more likely that the Lakers, at this point in the season and nearly ten games behind the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder, will finish in the bottom half of the standings rather than the top half. This makes it more likely they play powerhouse teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies.
If we were to make a case as to which teams the Lakers could defeat in a playoff series, the list would run the names of all the teams in the NBA. However, it is much harder to gauge which teams they would quickly defeat in a short series.
Even so, the Lakers with all their struggles and drama have the overall talent and gained chemistry through an entire season to take care of several teams in the playoff hunt.
The Denver Nuggets lost to the Los Angeles Lakers last postseason in a very hard-fought seven-game series but return a very different team now that they've traded for Andre Iguodala.
With the Denver Nuggets playing the majority of the rest of their games at home and the Lakers likely to squeeze into the bottom three spots in the West, the matchup is feasible.
However, if they were to face off against the Lakers again, there would be a difference in result no matter the change in players. The Nuggets would lose quicker.
Known as a team for its high-flying run-and-gun offense, the Denver Nuggets are ranked sixth in possessions per game, or pace, according to HoopData. That's at or near their usual pace for them but the Lakers are actually ranked fourth in possessions per game. This should only get higher and more efficient when Nash starts to acclimate himself to the offense.
The big men down low, Gasol and Dwight, also pose a huge mismatch against below-average defenders in Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos. JaVale McGee can be an X-factor but he is too inconsistent at this point to affect a whole series. If we were to assume both big men are healthier than they are now, they will dominate in a series.
Even though Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari are solid players, they don't have the offensive firepower to overwhelm the Lakers from perimeter.
The Nuggets' third-worst ranked three-point shooting squad just isn't enough to overcome its shortcomings down low.
The Houston Rockets are one of the pleasant surprises of the season, going 18-14 and owning one of the most frenetic three-point shooting teams in recent history.
The Rockets shoot the second-most threes per game, at 27.2, but only make 35.7 percent of them, ranking 13th in the league.
Jeremy Lin has settled in nicely alongside James Harden—who has played like a superstar in his own right—and form a very explosive backcourt when right. Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik are also two of the most improved players in the league, with Parsons acting as the Swiss Army knife of the team and Asik one of the best defenders in the league.
This matchup is possible if Houston continues their play—plausible considering the development of their rookies and the backcourt's ability to continuing growing—and the Lakers rebound to play up to their talents in the second half.
Even though the Rockets understand that the three is worth more than the two, thus making it more valuable to shoot, especially from the corners, the fact is that the Rockets aren't very good from there.
Again, holding health as a constant and assuming Dwight and Pau play much better than they are now, the Lakers hold not only an advantage the way they do against the Nuggets, it looks to be a David v. Goliath-esque mismatch on the boards.
Even though the Lakers have had trouble with guards who can penetrate, they themselves will be able to score against weaker defensive players like Lin and Harden.
In a playoff series, bench depth is less of an issue and that is where the talent and experience of the Lakers would simply overwhelm the Rockets.
The darlings of the early NBA season, the Grizzlies went 14-3 in the first 17 games of the season. Since then, they have struggled in going 6-6 in their next 12.
The normally stingy defense has not dropped off noticeably but the struggling offense is becoming a worry for a team that doesn't have any outside shooters to speak of. After the surprises of Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington (now injured with an MCL sprain), they have both regressed and each now shoot less than 40 percent from the field.
Their bench shooting is important because the lack of its presence in the starting lineup is stark and troubling. With Marc Gasol shooting less and less, and Rudy Gay shooting more and more (and not well—41 percent from the field), the offense has very little flow.
While defense is still integral to postseason success, the Grizzlies have to find a way to score efficiently while shutting down the Lakers wide array of weapons at the same point. This will be a tall order as they won't be able to contain a Steve Nash-led spread pick-and-roll attack with Kobe and Dwight manning the wings and post, respectively.
This matchup would occur if the Grizzlies somehow maintain that efficient and suffocating defense while scoring enough points to win one of the top three spots in the West.