With the 2010-11 NBA regular season right around the bend, the Los Angeles Lakers are gearing up for what could be an all-time league-best third three-peat. Still, the defending champs have some questions to address before they hit the hardwood for Tuesday's season-opener.
1) How will the Lakers combat injuries and aging?
Andrew Bynum is out for the first month of the season; Kobe Bryant isn't 100 percent healthy (and quite frankly not very close to it); and Derek Fisher, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Theo Ratliff are all attempting to stay afloat the "wrong side of 30" wave. Still, during the offseason general manager Mitch Kupchak assembled a much deeper and dangerous bench, which will help the Lakers combat injuries and aging. Unlike last year's rather inexperienced and unproven reserves, this season's second unit features players who have the ability to sustain leads (something the 2009-10 bench failed to do more often than not), therefore enabling the starters to spend some quality time on the pine. Ultimately this will provide for fewer injuries and fresher legs, both of which many teams can't claim come April, May and June. Expect to see a lot of meaningless fourth quarters once the team is fully healthy.
2) Do the Lakers have a weakness?
Top to bottom -- and especially one through six -- there is not a team that is neither deeper nor more experienced than the defending champs. The Boston Celtics come close, but age -- coupled with a much more competitive Eastern Conference -- isn't on their side. That is not to say the Lakers don't have a weakness, because they do: themselves. How much intensity and urgency will they play with during the regular season? Will they employ a killer instinct early enough in games so their key players don't have to play more minutes than need be? And to what extent will they try to lock up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs? Sure the Lakers don't want to put too much emphasis on the regular season, but don't forget five of the last six NBA champions had home-court advantage in the Finals.
3) Above all, which newcomer needs to have the greatest impact?
Matt Barnes will be counted on for his perimeter defense and shot-making; Theo Ratliff will be asked to play major minutes until Bynum returns to the team; and rookies Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks will certainly get some playing time as the season progresses. Steve Blake, however, will have to carry the largest load of all the newcomers. Although he'll be playing behind Fisher, Blake will likely get more minutes than the 36-year-old. In that case, the seven-year veteran will be heavily relied upon to orchestrate the convoluted triangle offense. What's more, his cerebral defense and ability to consistently knock down the three-point shot will also be required if the Lakers hope to achieve the trifecta.
You can contact Josh Hoffman at JHoffMedia@gmail.com.