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