Lakers Begin Championship Quest on Thunderous Terrain

Joseph Carlo HerreraContributor IIIApril 20, 2010

For the third consecutive year, the Los Angeles Lakers enter the dense pressure of the NBA playoffs with an actual shot at the coveted Larry O'Brien Trophy.

After a grueling and unusually inconsistent 82 game season during which they garnered a 57-25 record, the defending champions are locked in atop the Western Conference once again.

For most teams, the acquisition of the number one seed in their conference is a privilege that doesn't come along very often, but for the Lakers, it's just another one of their undying winning habits.

Entering the post season, the Lakers seem to have attracted numerous skeptics who challenge the very idea of them establishing a possible back-to-back modern day dynasty due to their closing out the regular season with unimpressive and lagging performances.

Sportswriters, fans, analysts and even the athletes themselves have a wide variation of opinions on whether or not the Lakers are indeed primed for another NBA title.

When compared, the Lakers and Thunder clearly have their own sets of advantages over each other. The Thunder who have been in the league for only two years went from zeroes to heroes in what seems like an instant.

Described as a bunch of inexperienced college kids when they fell to the NBA's worst record in 2009, they showed signs of quick maturity as stars like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and rookie James Harden became some of the league's premier talents. Speed and determination are two of the team's biggest assets.

Compared to No. 8 seeds of the past, this year's Thunder squad just might be the feistiest one since the 2007 Golden State Warriors who annihilated the number one Dallas Mavericks.

There is no need to convey any argument about the promise and potential this youthful Thunder unit possesses because with a 21 year old MVP candidate at the helm, it is more than apparent that they still have a long way to go.

I can see why there is an air of doubt surrounding the Laker franchise at this moment; they're coming fresh off a championship, they let a 24-year-old Trevor Ariza walk out and signed a controversial 30-year-old Ron Artest in his place, they have been blown by injuries all season long and went on to drop eight of their last 11 games.

Accusations of a "championship hangover" have erupted within the very fanbase of their team. Even the faith of a most die-hard fan can begin to crumble when faced up to those statements.

Kobe Bryant, is no stranger to skepticism and disbelief. In the 13 years Kobe spent playing for the Laker franchise, those variables have always rested upon his shoulders; from his days of being Shaquille O'Neal's high-flying teenage compliment to his return to basketball immortality last June, Kobe has been bombarded by an infinite number of queries about his worth, greatness and leadership.

There were those who likened Kobe to a villain; selfish, immature and responsible for the decline of the 1999-2002 Laker dynasty. At a certain point in 2004, he was even critiqued by Phil Jackson as being "uncoachable."

Kobe never allowed any of these doubts and allegations to enter the perimeter of his elite game, whether it was five air balls as an eighteen year old rookie in Utah or an entire crowd chanting "Kobe sucks!" in Phoenix.

It's nothing short of a fact that Kobe Bryant is playing out one of the most colorful careers to ever adorn the NBA, both stained with failure and shone upon by success.

Kobe Bryant isn't alone when it comes to having experience on this Laker team. Fellow thirteen year veteran Derek Fisher was brought to the Lakers on the very same day Kobe was, though he spent some time in Golden State and Utah, Derek Fisher's career will forever be engraved in Los Angeles for his leadership, clutch and composure.

Three eleven year veterans also hold down the forward positions for the Lakers in Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom. To hold these battle tested stars and the rising talents coming off their bench together, Coach Phil Jackson who lead ten successful championship campaigns is there.

Even with all of the Thunder's points taken into consideration, suggesting that they can withstand the Los Angeles Lakers in a seven game playoff series is still out of the question. Yes, Kevin Durant might just be bigger and better than LeBron James.

Yes, Russell Westbrook can easily leave Derek Fisher hanging after a crossover or two. Yes, the Thunder have an abundant supply of fresh legs to last them a decade. And yes, the Thunder can go into their locker room and call the Lakers a bunch of grandpas.

But one thing they have yet to earn is the value of experience and the unwritten lessons this game has to teach. When it comes to the post-season, those are the things that matter the most.

The Lakers are still in their prime. The Lakers aren't perfect. The Lakers have been through a lot. The Lakers need your faith.

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This article was brought to you by: The Lakeshow Express