The Los Angeles Lakers under Phil Jackson's tutelage have had some pretty good defenses, but they have always been defined by the precision and rhythm of the triangle offense.
Gasol and Bryant possess the skill and intelligence to bring Jackson's concept to life, but during this period the Lakers have also gained the reputation of being a team dependent on its finesse style of play.
Sometimes, to a fault.
In 2008, the Lakers were bombed in the Finals by a Boston Celtics team that physically overwhelmed them.
The Celtics' defenders ganged up on Bryant and pushed Gasol out of his comfort zone on the way to a surprisingly easy championship victory in six games.
The Lakers vowed to toughen up after their physical humiliation at the hands of the Celtics, and by all accounts they did. The truth of their improvement, however, is more than likely found in a player who was absent in 2008.
Lakers fans like to throw around the fact that since Gasol joined the team they haven't missed an NBA Finals, but it's also true that the Lakers have yet to lose a Finals series that center Andrew Bynum has participated in.
Bynum's defense on Howard allowed Gasol to conserve most of his energy for the offensive end of the floor, which helped make the Lakers a much more efficient team.
There would be no underestimating Bynum in last year's Finals rematch with the Celtics, as his presence was one of the definitive reasons the Lakers were able to escape with a seven-game victory in the series.
Bynum's size and toughness provided the Lakers with an element that was clearly missing in 2008, and more impressively, Bynum played most of the postseason with a meniscus injury.
Bynum is finally approaching full health this season, and he is beginning to understand the type of physical advantage he represents for the Lakers in the post.
Bynum is a true low-post center who hearkens back to the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Unlike the great center, Bynum prefers to use his strength instead of finesse.
Bynum has excellent footwork in the post, but where Kareem would end his drop-step with a patented sky hook, Bynum has the power to finish at the rim.
And Bynum also has an old-school mean streak.
He is currently serving a two-game suspension for a hard foul on Minnesota's Michael Beasley, which was a testament to Bynum's refusal to be pushed around.
Bynum's toughness is just as important as his size, and forward Ron Artest serves the same purpose as Bynum—except he does it on the perimeter.
Artest's defensive play in last year's postseason can also be pointed to as a distinct reason for the Lakers' success.
Artest's defense against players such as Kevin Durant—and especially Paul Pierce in the Finals—relieved Bryant of the burden of guarding bigger players, and it also helped him conserve energy for the offensive end.
Artest does not have great foot speed, but he does have a knack for sticking close to the opposition and arguably has the best defensive hands in basketball.
The real bonus with Artest, however, is his attitude and air of unpredictability, because it also instills a different aura for the Lakers.
The Lakers' three-peat hopes undoubtedly depend on the ability of Bryant and Gasol to operate efficiently in the triangle offense, but the defense of Artest and Bynum is just as critical.
Even more importantly, the Lakers know they have two players who will push back when play gets physical in the postseason.