Western Conference Q&A's: Lakers To Three-Peat? Durant Conference Finals Bound?

Brandon Ribak@reebokforthreeSenior Writer IOctober 9, 2010

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 07: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles lakers looks on before the NBA Europe Live match between Los Angeles Lakers and Regal FC Barcelona at the at Palau Blaugrana on October 7, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

The 2010-11 season is just 17 days, 6 hours, and 54 minutes away, but who’s counting?

With the season approaching faster than it took LeBron to make his “decision” this offseason, NBA Primetime presents the second part of a two-part series of Q and A’s, Western Conference style.

Can Kevin Durant lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Western Conference Finals?

Last season the Thunder exceeded expectations, finishing the regular season with a 50-32 record, good enough for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

After an intense battle against the Los Angeles Lakers (which would’ve went to a final Game Seven if LA’s Pau Gasol failed to make a last second tip-in) ,Oklahoma City’s run ended as quickly as it began.

During that first round series, the Thunder, led by scoring champion Kevin Durant, officially emerged as a uprising threat in the Western Conference.

Unless the Thunder finish as the fourth, fifth, or eighth seed during the upcoming season (NBA Primetime predicts them to end the season as the two seed), in which they would face the Lakers during either round prior to the WCF, they should have no problem making their way to the Conference Finals.

While the team lacks playoff experience, they create mismatch problems against their opponents, ultimately giving them an advantage come postseason time.

Are the Portland Trail Blazers the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Lakers?

ESPN Insider’s Ric Bucher and Chris Broussard recently debated about who is the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Lakers.

After going back and forth, Broussard ended the debate with this statement.

“Everyone besides the Lakers is a long shot to win the West, but if L.A. falls, it’ll be Portland, not OKC, that picks up the torch.”

Is it true?

Just a few seasons ago the Portland Trail Blazers sat in the same shoes of the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were the young team of the future composed of a roster flooded with talent.

After a couple of major injuries and front-office firings, the Blazers sit as the sixth best team in the West (according to ESPN’s Marc Stein), trailing behind teams like the Jazz and the Spurs.

The Blazers will undoubtedly be a top defensive team this season, especially after extending Marcus Camby’s contract and signing Wesley Matthews this offseason.

In addition, lanky Nicholas Batum will get the opportunity to prove his worth at the small-forward position, while Miller, Roy, and Aldridge will look to carry their team deep into the postseason.

On the flip-side, center Greg Oden has already been ruled out of preseason action (with no timetable for a return), and shooting-guard Rudy Fernandez seems to want out of the league.

If the Blazers could prevent the injury bug from entering the teams locker room this season, and Greg Oden can return to full strength come playoff time, Portland will definitely be a threat in the West, just not the biggest threat to the Lakers.

Will the Los Angeles Lakers make a three-peat this season?

The Lakers offseason signings of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff vastly improves the teams bench compared to previous seasons.

LA will end the season as the top seed in the West, but injury problems are still a concern.

Andrew Bynum is expected to miss the first month of the season and could be sidelined until December. Although Pau Gasol will switch to the five spot and Lamar Odom will take over the power-forward position, the Lakers desperately need Bynum if they want to win the championship this season.

So will the Lakers make a three-peat this season?

It’s tough to predict right now, but if Bynum can return, and stay healthy for the long haul of the playoffs, then there is no reason why they can’t three-peat.

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