The Lakers are making what may very well be their last push at a championship with Kobe Bryant at the helm. After an embarrassing sweep in the
first second round last year, the Lakers have to utilize the limited years Kobe has left in an attempt to tie the Celtics as the franchise with the most NBA Championships in history.
With the new elements added to the team, along with the advancements over last year’s team, the Lakers appear to good position to make it to the NBA Finals and take a stab at title number 17.
Kobe Bryant obviously isn’t getting any younger, but, at times, he seems like a fine scotch: only getting better with age. He knows where to pick his spots, still has one of the deadliest jab steps in the league, and that turnaround fadeaway on the baseline is one of the prettiest shots in basketball.
But no one is questioning Kobe’s abilities. He’s already proved himself more than capable, ending the season second in scoring, and that’s only because he didn’t play the final game of the season. You can bet if he wanted the scoring title, he would have gotten it.
The biggest factor on this new Lakers team is the development of Andrew Bynum. Playing in his first injury-free season since his second year, Bynum improved his scoring to 18.7 ppg as compared to only 11.3 last year and his rebounding jumped from 9.4 to 11.8 boards per game. And that doesn’t even take into account Bynum’s solid work on the defensive end, where he remains a stop-gap in the lane.
His new-found dominance was on full display Sunday, when Bynum tallied his first career triple-double, with 10 points, 13 boards, and 10 blocks. He was similarly dominant in Game 2, totaling 27 points and 9 boards. Bynum has been and will continue to be a key factor in the Lakers’ play throughout the playoffs, but he seems to be excelling this year where last year he faltered.
But, Bynum isn’t the only change key change for this new Lakers team. One need only watch a minute or two of a game to see how Ramon Sessions has completely changed the team’s style of play.
Running with a backcourt of Steve Blake and Derek Fisher in 2011 proved too slow and ineffective to hang with the likes of Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea. Sessions can push the ball, is pesky in penetration, and has a go-to move in his floater, which he drilled at two key moments in tonight’s fourth quarter as the Nuggets were quietly creeping back into the game.
Add to all that the ever-consistent play of Pau Gasol and you have the makings of a Championship caliber team.
If the Lakers can close out this first series, they’ll likely be up against a young and extremely talented Oklahoma City Thunder squad. The series would be hard fought, but there’s every reason to believe the LA’s experience gives them the ability to triumph over the Thunder.
Past that, the Lakers would be in an excellent position to make another push to the finals. Their toughest opponent would likely be the Spurs, where the Lakers would need to keep Parker out of the lane and play lockdown D on Duncan, who the Lakers don’t match up with particularly well. But, the team has the all the components to get there, with an emphasis on their defense and rebounding that could give them an edge in any matchup.
For a team that many had counted out as lacking the level of play needed to win, the Lakers are still right there with the NBA’s best.
And when a team has Kobe Bryant, it’s always hard to bet against them come playoff time.