When you’ve been number one for two years running, every team and every player wants a piece of you. Come playoff time, the Los Angeles Lakers may find they are the target of every opponent who is looking to create a name for himself by knocking off Kobe Bryant and the two time defending champions.
There have always been players around the league who give the Lakers fits. Whether it’s a quick, penetrating point guard who drives around perfect screens or a high scoring forward with twists and turns that keep Laker defenders off balance, there’s always been that one player who makes life miserable for the Purple and Gold.
As the league heads into the final third of the regular season, L.A. coaches are already thinking ahead to playoff time and devising ways they might combat those special players that seem to have their number.
Here, then, are 10 player match ups the Lakers dread heading into post season play.
Every year has gotten just a little better for this fifth year power forward from the University of Texas. Aldridge has become a complete player who can power past you in the paint or post up and make the 10-15 foot jump shot from the perimeter with regularity.
This season Aldridge is averaging 22 points in just under 40 minutes per game. He’s also gotten a lot stronger the boards and is averaging a career best nine rebounds per contest for the Trailblazers. Aldridge is ranked fifth in the NBA with 3.6 offensive rebounds per game and is fourth in field goals made with 471.
Aldridge has taken his game to another level in the past month, scoring 42 points against the Bulls on February 7. In his last seven games, he was averaging just a tad under 30 points a game.
Aldridge is too big for Ron Artest to guard so that assignment would probably go to Pau Gasol, creating a very tough task for the Lakers power forward.
He may be 32, but the 6’6” swing forward is arguably the heart and soul of the surprising San Antonio Spurs this season.
Ginobili is the type of player that gives other teams fits whenever he’s on the court. He moves extremely well with and without the ball, penetrates to the basket where he is never shy about taking a hard foul or dishing off to an open teammate.
As the Spurs continue to dominate the NBA with a winning percentage above .800, Ginobili is having the second best season of his distinguished eight year career. He’s averaging 17.8 ppg, 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
Ginobili has been instrumental in taking down the Lakers on numerous occasions. If the two teams meet in the Western Conference Finals, L.A. will need to find a way to slow him down and contain him. Otherwise, they could be going home early.
Paul’s scoring numbers are down this year (16.5 ppg) but he’s become a more complete, efficient player in the process and can still bury another team all by himself with tremendous three point shooting, superb passing and great court awareness.
Paul is has improved this three point shooting every year and this season is up to connecting on over 44 per cent from beyond the arc. He also accounts for 20 or more points every game through his 9.7 assists per game, which is third best in the NBA.
Whether it’s Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown or Steve Blake, all three Lakers guards will have a tough time with the diminutive 6’0”, 175 pound Paul because of his quickness and ability to make the right pass at the right time. He’s one of the game’s best generals on the court.
Add to that just under 3 steals per game (ranked number one in the league) and you can see why Chris Paul worries Lakers coaches and players. He’s a handful.
Now in his eighth year, David West has become the consummate power forward who consistently scores, rebounds and passes with the best of them. Having Chris Paul as your floor leader doesn’t hurt, but West knows how to finish -- it’s evidenced in his 19 ppg scoring average this year.
West’s efficiency rating of 20.6 per game is 25th best in the NBA. He averages 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 51 percent from the floor (33 percent from three point range).
In other words, David West is a complete player who can hurt you in a variety of ways. In a February 5 loss to the Lakers, West had 16 points and 12 rebounds, 10 of which were on the defensive side of the ball.
If West and Paul got hot at the same time, the Hornets could surprise some people in the postseason, including the Lakers.
The 6’3” former Illinois standout is the glue on a team that seems to be coming unglued.
Jerry Sloan recently stepped down as head coach after 23 seasons at the helm and the team looked disinterested in a recent 31 point loss to the Lakers. A number of sources reported that Williams and Sloan often argued over game tactics and when Williams called his own play in a recent game against the Bulls, it forced the coach’s hand and he quit.
But Williams is still going to haunt the Lakers – he is simply one of the best in the NBA at frustrating the opposition with his brilliant passing and ability to draw fouls in the paint.
Williams is having another stellar season, averaging a career best 21.6 points per game and 9.6 assists. The Jazz will lose to the Lakers if they meet in the postseason but not before Deron Williams makes life miserable for L.A.’s guards.
There’s a pattern here and it involves speedy point guards who pass well, shoot from outside and are not afraid to drive to the basket. These types of players drive Phil Jackson and his coaches crazy because the team continually has problems defending them
Tony Parker has been eating up Lakers defenses for nine years and this season is no different. He can be so dangerous when he heads for the hoop because he is lightning quick and is by two or three players before they know it.
Parker is averaging 17.3 ppg on 52 percent shooting plus 6.7 assists this season. In two games against the Lakers this year, both victories, he scored 23 and 21 points.
Parker is a great passer and a team leader who knows how to play to the Lakers’ weaknesses and that could spell trouble.
The 6’8” former Connecticut Huskie has become one of the league’s premier forwards in this, his fifth season. He’s averaging 20 points on 47 percent shooting, including 40 percent from three point range and. He also connects on 81 percent of his free throws and dishes out 3 assists.
Gay can beat you on offense with drives to the basket or perimeter shooting. And, he’ll hurt the Lakers on defense with his 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per contest.
The Grizzlies are on the playoff bubble at the All-Star break, but if L.A. meets them in the playoffs, this is one player to be wary about.
Gay has put in 30, 27, 14 and 18 points on 36 of 67 shooting in two wins and two losses against the Lakers this year. When they're in sync, this team can be dangerous.
As virtually everyone who follows basketball knows, Anthony has been the subject of countless trade rumors and may not even be a Nugget by the time the playoffs roll around. If he is, the Lakers will face one of the league’s top scorers who can fill it up in a hurry and give the team all sorts of fits.
Despite what critics say about his overall game and lack of defense at times, Anthony is ranked 19th in efficiency (21.88) in the NBA. His scoring average of 24.9 is seventh best in the league and he pulls down close to eight rebounds per game.
Anthony poured in 32 points on 14 of 25 shooting back on November 11 when the Nuggets beat the Lakers at home, 118-112. He scored 23 in a loss to Los Angeles January 21 when he made just 10 of 24 field goal attempts.
The Lakers have had trouble in the past playing in Denver and if they catch the Nuggets when Melo and the team are at their best, it could prove troubling for L.A.
This 6’3” former UCLA Bruin helped throw a major scare into the Lakers in last year’s playoffs. His athletic ability is off the charts and he actually outplayed Kobe Bryant at times during the playoffs and regular season. He’s that good.
In six playoff games against Los Angeles last season, Westbrook hit 42 percent of his three point shots (47 percent overall) en route to a 20.5 average. This season, Westbrook has upped his scoring to 22.5 ppg on 44 percent from the field which is his best for the regular season since turning pro in 2008.
Westbrook is a ball hawk (close to two steals per game) and a great rebounder (5.0) for a 6’3” guard. He also averages 8.5 assists.
Westbrook is just 22 and probably 3-5 years from reaching his peak. That said, he has to be considered one of the premier point guards in the NBA. And his team may be the Lakers biggest obstacle to reaching the NBA Finals again. Especially when you consider his partner in crime.
The two players who pose the biggest threat to the Lakers getting out of the Western Conference are the same ones who almost took them out a year ago.
Kevin Durant is a year older and a year smarter. He is without question one of the NBA’s elite players and, like Westbrook, is just 22 years old. The third year pro is leading the NBA with a 29.1 scoring average and ranks fourth with an efficiency rating of 26.04.
Check out his overall game: 47 percent from the field, including 35 percent from beyond the arc; 6.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 88 percent from the charity stripe and 1.2 steals per game.
At a willowy 6’9” and 230 pounds, Durant gives the Lakers all types of things to worry about when he’s got the ball and when he’s moving without it.
Durant averaged 25 points and 7.7 rebounds in a grueling six game series loss to the Lakers a year ago. In their only meeting so far this year, the Thunder lost to the Lakers and Durant was off, scoring 24 points on eight of 24 from the field, including and just one for eight from three point range.
He’ll be ready come playoff time. They could surprise L.A. and pull off an upset, although Durant, Westbrook and company are no longer flying below the radar.