NBA Playoffs: Why the Lakers Are Still the Favorites to Win It All

Michael PerchickCorrespondent IMarch 7, 2011

NBA Playoffs: Why the Lakers Are Still the Favorites to Win It All

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  (L-R) Lamar Odom #7, Shannon Brown #12 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate after Brown made a basket while being fouled against the Atlanta Hawks in the second half at Staples Center on February 22, 2011
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    All season, the Lakers seemed to have been plagued by one downfall or another.  Andrew Bynum wasn't healthy.  The bench wasn't as strong as it used to be.  Ron Artest had regressed.  They dropped winnable game after winnable game.  They still can't beat the Bobcats.

    But yesterday's dismantling of the league-best San Antonio Spurs should erase any doubt in anybody's mind: the Lakers are still the favorites to win it all for a third consecutive season. 

Kobe Bryant

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures from the bench in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on February 22, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Hawks 104-80. NOTE TO
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    They still have the best player in the league.  

    LeBron James is the most talented, and Kevin Durant may be the top scorer, but there isn't anybody else in the league you'd rather have come playoff time than Kobe Bryant.  

    Time after time he comes up in the clutch, and while he may no longer be as athletic as he was years ago, he's now one of, if not the, smartest players in the league. 

Phil Jackson

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 25:  Head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers complains to a referee during the game with the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on February 25, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 108-95.  NOTE TO USER:
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Zen Master has been there and done that for years.  He's been part of two of the greatest dynasties in NBA history and knows just when to push his team and when to pull back.  

    The only playoff-bound coach who can really match him in strategy is Doc Rivers, who Jackson just defeated last season. 

Size

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03:  Pau Gasol #16, Andrew Bynum #17, Kobe Bryant #24 and Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers head to the bench after a time out trailing the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at Staples Center on February 3, 2011 i
    Harry How/Getty Images

    You can't teach size, and it's tough to win without it.  The Lakers have plenty of it, featuring the biggest team in the league.

    Their starting line-up features two 7-footers (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum) and Lamar Odom is a 6'10 combo forward with the ability to hit the three or crash the boards.  

    The Lakers can often make up for bad shooting nights by winning the battle of the boards, leading to second-chance opportunities. 

Experience

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 25:  Kobe Brynat #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on February 25, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 108-95.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agre
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Six players have spent at least a decade in the NBA, and Shannon Brown, the least experienced role player, is already in his fourth year.  

Cohesiveness

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    WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 13:  (AFP OUT) U.S. President Barack Obama (Bottom row 4L)) poses for photographs with members of the 2010 NBA Championship Los Angeles Lakers during an event at the Boys and Girls Club at THEARC   December 13, 2010 in Washington
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    The Lakers are the only team to not see their rotation go through major line-up changes from the year before.  They return the same starting five and their sixth man from last season's championship team.

    Their top competitors have made deals (Boston, Miami, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Dallas) that may screw with the cohesiveness.  This will be especially important in late-game situations. 

Getting Hot at the Right Time

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks in front of DeJuan Blair #45 and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on February 3, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
    Harry How/Getty Images

    The Lakers are the NBA's hottest team and haven't lost since the All-Star break.  But yesterday's win against the Spurs definitely was the highlight of the season, as they crushed league-best San Antonio on the road.  

    The Spurs came into the game winners of 22 in a row at home. 

No Pressure

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    MIAMI, FL - MARCH 06:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Chicago Bulls at American Airlines Arena on March 6, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Despite being the back-to-back defending champs, all the talk in the NBA has been focused on the Heat, the Spurs incredible start and the Carmelo Anthony drama.  

    The Lakers have flown under the radar all things considered.  Even today, the top story is not the Lakers big win over San Antonio, but the Heat's collapse against Chicago.  Flying under the radar will suit the Lakers just fine. 

Schedule

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 25:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers passes off the ball away from Pau Gasol #16 and Ron Artest #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on February 25, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 100-88
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Pacific division is the second-worst in basketball (ahead of only the Central), and is the only division to feature only one playoff team.  

    The Lakers are currently only a game behind the Dallas Mavericks for second place in the West and have a lot of winnable games remaining to make a push for the second-seed, something that can definitely come in handy. 

Ron Artest

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 14:  Ron Artest #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers knocks the ball loose from Gerald Wallace #3 of the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on February 14, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Say whatever you want about Ron-Ron, but the guy is still one of the league's best defenders and when he's committed, can shut down any player in the game.  

    Having a shutdown defender who's as physical as Artest can infuriate the opposing team's top player. 

It's LA Baby!

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Western Conference celebrates after being named MVP for the fourth time in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center on February 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    People often underestimate the mental aspect of sports, and the Lakers show up expecting to win every game.  I'm not saying other teams don't, but the Lakers don't shy away from anybody, and their historic legacy can be daunting to opposing teams. 

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