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Friday, October 29, 2010

"What, Me Worry?" Why The Los Angeles Lakers Are Still The Favorites

The picture above is probably the face Kobe Bryant made when someone told him the Miami Heat were the favorites to win the NBA title. I guess some people assume that adding three high priced free agents was enough for the Heat to leap-frog the Los Angeles Lakers as the league's best team. Those same people probably fail to realize that the Lakers have three consecutive NBA finals appearances, winning the last two. Sure, Miami adding #6 (what we at "The Blog" refer to as LeBron James) and Chris Bosh as well as retaining Dwayne Wade was impressive, but you would be silly to overlook the the additions the NBA Champs made over the summer as well.

First things first, Kobe will be back healthier this season after knee surgery and a lot of rest in the off season. Late last season it was apparent that Bryant was not 100% and he still managed to average 27 ppg, 5 boards and 5 assists. Along with Kobe resting, Pau Gasol decided to take the summer off and come back fresh to start the season. Gasol looked a lot more aggressive in the preseason and the opener Wednesday, scoring a team high 29 points. With Andrew Bynum recovering from knee surgery (what else is new) expect  Gasol to be leaned upon heavily in the paint until Bynum's return (looking like sometime in mid November).

Another player who benefited from the summer was Lamar Odom, who has been playing with a new confidence after his Team USA experience. Regardless of his inconsistency, Odom is one of the most versatile players in the NBA; a 6-11forward who can dribble like a guard and rebound with the best in the league. If he can keep this up all season he could be a problem. Ron Artest comes back in top shape and should be better this year than last season now that he has spent a year in the triangle.

As for additions, the Lakers had a quiet but solid off season, adding point guard Steve Blake and forward Matt Barnes. Blake is an intelligent, pass-first point that limits turnovers and can knock down an open jumper (see here from Wednesday). He is a definite upgrade over Jordan Farmar. Matt Barnes is a scrappy defender and just does the little things every team needs to win. The Lakers also drafted well, picking up Devin Ebanks (a better version of Trevor Ariza) and Derrick Caracter in the 2nd round. The two rookies may play significant roles throughout the course of the season.

So have the Lakers done enough to return to the Finals? Yes get my vote. They have all of the pieces back from last year's squad as well as some nice additions. A top seed in the Western Conference and a strong playoff push is very much feasible (SAT vocab word there). Whoever the Lakers face in the Finals is definitely in for a battle.


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