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Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with the team with the best record in the Western Conference: the Los Angeles Lakers.
This team boasts arguably the best player and the best coach in this league in Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson respectively. Between the two of them, twelve championship rings suggest that both of these men know what it takes to win in the postseason. Kobe Bryant continues to quietly carry this squad and hopes to win his 4th NBA championship. The biggest strength for this Lakers team is the way that they play offense. Kobe leads a squad that includes Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and company to form one of the most active, fluent offenses in the league. Watching them pass the ball to the open player and seeing them get easy baskets is a thing of beauty and when they're clicking on offense there isn't a team that can stop them. Kobe orchestrates it all, of course, and is the anchor for possibly the best offensive unit in the league
The Lakers also throw two fantastic man defenders at you in Trevor Ariza and Kobe Bryant. Their defense as a real is hit and miss, but in crucial situations when they need to get a stop, they can rest knowing that they have two of the best that can at least slow down the opposing team's best wing man in critical times. Another thing that helps the Lakers is their sense of continuity amongst one another. This is a confident bunch that feeds off of the (I mean this in a good way) arrogance of their team captain. Kobe Bryant's never say die attitude feeds over to the team and they can really feed off of that.
They had such a strong bench at the beginning of the season and now look as if that second unit could pose some sort of problem. The Lakers don't have that much of a problem with injuries, but the one big one they've had, Andrew Bynum, forced Lamar Odom to move into the starting lineup and set off a chain reaction of moves which included Luke Walton being placed back on the bench for Trevor Ariza, Vladimir Radmonovic being traded to the Bobcats and Jordan Farmar struggling to return from his knee injury early in the season. The bench looked unstoppable at the beginning of the season, but Sasha Vujacic has really struggled this season, they don't have a backup big man outside of Josh Powell and they can't consistently sustain any type of lead. That's cause for concern and may force the Lakers to play their starters huge minutes in the postseason.
Also, their defense is very inconsistent and always seems to pose a problem at inopportune times. Especially on the road, the Lakers really struggle to get a groove on the defensive side of the ball which puts a lot of pressure on the offense. The Lakers are very weak inside the paint which encourages a lot of players to simply play hard down in the paint on them. We saw it in last season's NBA finals, Pau Gasol isn't stopping anybody around the basket. Andrew Bynum is the best down low threat that they have on defense, and with his knee injury you don't even know if he'll be at enough strength to make much of a difference.
Why They Will Win It:
There probably isn't a more determined player this season than Kobe Bryant. As of right now he looks poised, confident and hungry and that should really carry this team into the postseason. They've already ran away with the Western Conference and I believe last season's dissapointing showing in the finals should really have a positive affect should they get there this season. They are a very cohesive and fluent group that has a star player and coach who have won numerous championships throughout their illustrious careers. Outside of Kobe, Derek Fisher and Phil, they really don't have any championship experience. But you don't read that in their swagger. They truly believe that they can win it.
Why They Won't Win It:
Until Andrew Bynum shows that he can, for 82 games a season, consistantly be a threat down in the paint then that will always be a lingering issue for the Lakers. Add to the team's inconsistencies (especially in Lamar Odom's play) and a few bad games could really hurt this team the further they go into the postseason. Defensively they have their moments, but they really need to dedicate themselves to the defensive side of the ball if they're going to take home the championship. Even if they are to take home court, psychologically that's an advantage but all it takes is one loss and the rest of the team may start to doubt themselves. An overreliance on Kobe could be a problem in the postseason, because everyone outside of Fisher dissapeared in crucial moments in last season's finals series.
The Lakers have their fair share of problems, but they still have that one player on that team who everyone wants to go to war with. In crucial situations, Kobe Bryant will carry this team. They should win easily the first couple of rounds, but when the playoffs get thicker and teams that play a more physical brand of basketball remain, the Lakers need to show that they can play physical with these squads. Offense isn't always going to cut it. But as of today, they should be the favorites for a return trip to the NBA finals.
Coming up next: the Boston Celtics.