Kobe Bryant hasn't lost a step in his 16th season, Andrew Bynum has transformed into arguably the best center in the NBA right now and the rest of this Lakers team has found a formula to win tough games.
The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are often mentioned as the favorites to win the West and for good reason. They are two very deep teams capable of beating anybody in the playoffs. However, nobody is more dangerous than the Los Angeles Lakers, giving them the edge as the favorites in the West.
Since 2005, the Lakers had plans of making Andrew Bynum into the next great center of the Los Angeles franchise. Due to years of injuries and slow development, Bynum's potential took a lot longer to reach than expected. Now after a full stretch with no season-ending injuries, the sleeping giant has finally awoken.
Bynum emerged this regular season, averaging 18.7 points a game along with 11.8 rebounds. He hasn't taken a step backwards in the playoffs with 18.5 points and 10.3 boards per game. When Bynum is at the top of his game, the Lakers are virtually unstoppable.
The Lakers have learned to trust and utilize Bynum as much as possible in the offensive game plan. That strategy must be enforced, especially by Kobe Bryant. If the Lakers don't make the NBA Finals, it will be on the shoulders of Bryant and his lack of trust in his teammates. That hasn't been the case since his return from injury just before the start of the postseason.
Just as important as superstars like Bynum, Bryant and Pau Gasol, the role players of LA have greatly contributed during the Lakers' strong postseason run.
While Derek Fisher was the point guard of the Lakers' offense, there was a glaring lack of speed and athleticism, as well as a shallow limit of offensive sets. After trading Fisher for Ramon Sessions in the second half of the season, Sessions has added a brand new element to the Lakers' offense.
Sessions has added a great pick-and-roll connection with Gasol, as well as the ability to drive the lane to set up his teammates on the perimeter. Sessions is the perfect compliment to the Lakers' backcourt to take pressure off of Bryant and utilize his entire team.
The Lakers have also gotten some impressive performances from Jordan Hill late in the season, big shots from Steve Blake, plus quality minutes from Devin Ebanks and Matt Barnes in the absence of Metta World Peace.
Very few players match up well against Kevin Durant and cause problems for the dangerous Thunder forward. When World Peace's head is in the game, and not focused on stupidity, he's still one of the better defenders in the league, and he can frustrate Durant.
Bryant also took on a defensive challenge guarding Russell Westbrook in the last game against Oklahoma City. Bryant threw off Westbrook's game and forced him into an awful shooting performance of 3-22 from the field.
When Westbrook is hot, he's as good as any other scorer in the entire league. But when he's off, he's more of a problem than he is a solution. Westbrook doesn't do a great job making his teammates better, and he is still a turnover-prone passer and decision maker. If Bryant continues to succeed against Westbrook, the Thunder will be in trouble in the second round of the playoffs.
The Spurs have a deep rotation and have been very successful this season. With an aging core, plus no real challenge against the Utah Jazz in the first round, San Antonio is still a bit of an enigma. Their frontcourt is deep, but not as good as the Lakers. Tim Duncan could take away Gasol or Bynum, but DeJuan Blair doesn't match up well against the other seven-foot big man, plus an energetic Jordan Hill off the bench.
The Lakers have all the ingredients to make it to the NBA Finals. If they stay healthy, utilize all their weapons offensively and contain the red-hot offenses of the Thunder and Spurs, they'll make their way back to another championship appearance.