Los Angeles Lakers: 5 Teams That Can Defeat the Defending Champions
The Los Angeles Lakers have won back-to-back championships and have raced out to a 9-2 start. However, several teams stand a chance of stopping the Lakers from winning three consecutive championships.
In order to defeat the Lakers, a team needs a couple of things: Size in the front court to match the Lakers length, enough scoring depth to run with the Lakers and the defense to stop Kobe Bryant and the high-scoring Lakers. Also, a dominant point guard can't hurt, as you'll see when you read on.
Here are five teams, ranked according to how well they match these criteria, that can defeat the Lakers in either the Western Conference Playoffs or the NBA Finals.
No. 5: Chicago Bulls
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The Chicago Bulls come in at No. 5 because their defense is not top-notch. They allow 99.4 points per game, which places them 12th in the league. However, they are a young team and have the ability to improve upon that number.
Although Carlos Boozer is not a good defensive player, when he returns from injury he gives the Bulls a player that can physically help them match-up against the Lakers. Besides, they have a dominate defensive force on the inside in Joakim Noah. He combines with Taj Gibson to give the Bulls the adequate size.
On offense, the Bulls will be able to beat teams in many ways, especially once Boozer returns. Derrick Rose can either slash to the basket, dump it off inside to Boozer or pass it off to Luol Deng and Kyle Korver to shoot from afar.
Rose would also be a mismatch for Derrick Fisher and Steve Blake at point guard.
The Bulls, who are 6-3, will hold it together until Boozer gets back. At that point, they will be able to run with anybody in the Eastern Conference and possibly defeat the Lakers if they meet in the NBA Finals.
No. 4: Utah Jazz
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The Jazz are 7-4 and are in no way even guaranteed a playoff spot in the Western Conference. It's a long season.
However, if they do make the playoffs, they have a strong chance of upsetting the Lakers.
They are allowing an unacceptable 102.9 points per game so far, but their opponents have the sixth-lowest field-goal percentage in the league.
The combination of Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Andrei Kirilenko give the Jazz the requisite length to matchup with the Lakers.
Offensively they have six good scoring options, and Deron Williams, much like Derrick Rose, would be able to beat Derrick Fisher and Steve Blake, perhaps forcing Bryant to guard him.
No. 3: Orlando Magic
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Regarding size, the Magic have Dwight Howard, which is about all that needs to be said about that.
The Magic have the second-best opponents-scoring average in the league at 90.8 points per game. They also have the fourth-best opponents field-goal percentage. The Magic can play defense. They also still have Mickael Pietrus, who has already shown that he can guard Kobe Bryant tough.
Jameer Nelson, while not as good as Rose or Williams, can cause problems at point guard for the Lakers with his speed.
And the Magic can shoot or dump it off inside to Howard.
At 7-3, the Magic will make it to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. If they can get to the finals in a rematch against the Lakers, they might be able to get a few bounces to go their way, hit a few more threes and play a little tougher. The Lakers didn't blow them out of the water the last time they played in the finals. It's hard to believe they will if they have a rematch.
No. 2: New Orleans Hornets
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Noticing a trend with the point guards?
At the very least, a dominant point guard can cause matchup problems for the Lakers.
And no point guard is as dominant as Chris Paul.
So far this season, the 8-1 Hornets have the No. 1 scoring defense in the NBA, allowing a mere 90.67 points per game.
The Hornets are a little on the small side, which is their shortcoming regarding the attributes needed to beat the Lakers. Some of their larger players, like David West and Peja Stojakovic, are more offensive threats than defensive stoppers.
However, they do have Trevor Ariza, who might be able to hinder Bryant's scoring output, and Emeka Okafor, who is a strong defensive center.
Add to that the fact that most of the Hornets roster can score and the team definitely is going to be competitive throughout the season.
The stingy Hornets might be making Chris Paul regret even thinking about leaving, especially if they can upset the Lakers in the Western Conference playoffs.
No. 1: Boston Celtics
What other team would have this spot? The Miami Heat? Don't be silly. They lack both the size and the quality of play at the point guard position to compete against the Lakers.
On the other hand, the Celtics, who fought tooth and nail with the Lakers in the Finals last season, have reloaded in 2010-11 with the explicit purpose of getting revenge against their longtime West Coast rivals.
Defensively, as they have been for the past few seasons, the Celtics are very solid. They allow the seventh fewest points per game in the NBA (95.8) and have added a solid veteran combo in the O'Neal's to replace Kendrick Perkins, who was lost to injury before the season even began. Combined with Garnett and Davis, the two O'Neal's give the Celtics the size to bang with the Lakers.
Meanwhile the Celtics can still score with the best of them, as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are still productive at their advanced age and the rest of the team can chip in enough so that the pressure isn't on either of the two too much.
If the Celtics can get by the Bulls, Magic and Heat, they will savor the chance at defeating the Lakers in the Finals, giving the Celtics a 2-1 edge in this latest championship rivalry between the two franchises.