LA Lakers Playoff Schedule: Kobe Bryant Has Toughest NBA Finals Path of Career

Matt Shetler@@buccos12Correspondent IApril 30, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers signals his team in the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center on April 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The  Lakers won 114-106 in double overtime.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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For Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, only 15 wins separates them from another NBA championship after a dominating Game 1 performance against the Denver Nuggets.

However if Bryant and the Lakers can continue to roll over the Nuggets, which won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination, the road to the NBA Finals is a very difficult one for the Lakers.

In fact, this year's path to the finals could be the toughest one of Bryant's entire career.

Even if Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are playing in the fashion they did on Sunday and even if Bryant takes over in the scoring department, it's going to be an uphill mountain to climb.

Having Kobe in the playoffs always gives the Lakers a chance, and the Lakers' length certainly presents matchup difficulties for any playoff opponent, but sometime during this postseason, their depth and perimeter shooting will be put to the test.

A potential second-round opponent in the Oklahoma City Thunder presents a huge challenge for the Lakers.

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During the regular season, the Lakers only won one of three meetings against the Thunder, and that took a big comeback and a pair of overtimes to get the job done. 

The Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant combination has been very difficult for the Lakers to stop, averaging a combined 52.7 PPG in the three meetings. Add to that that the Thunder have defensive presence's in the paint in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, who've blocked nearly 6.5 shots per game against the Lakers and it becomes a tough matchup.

The Thunder have better depth and better young talent, plus would have home-court advantage, where the Thunder are 26-7 on the season (Lakers are 15-18 on the road).

If they find a way to get past Oklahoma City, the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs could be awaiting.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03:  Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles to the basket as he is guarded by Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on February 3, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ac
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They are 28-5 at home and are the most unselfish team in the NBA.

Los Angeles also went 1-2 against the Spurs, but allowed a whopping 105.7 PPG in the process. While the Spurs have great depth and knock down shots, the biggest issue for the Lakers could be Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who has had an MVP-type season.

While the Lakers improved at the point guard spot with Ramon Sessions, he has struggled defensively against athletic point guards, and that's exactly what he will see in Westbrook and Parker.

Without a doubt, it's going to be a very tough test for Bryant and the Lakers to make a run to the NBA Finals. Both the Spurs and Thunder have the talent to expose their weaknesses in a long playoff series.

If Kobe can lead this team to the finals, it may be his best work to date of his lengthy Hall-of-Fame career.