Lakers vs Thunder – Who are the Best in the Western Conference?

The question is pretty simple – Have the two major additions made by the Los Angeles Lakers, adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to the team be enough to regain dominance in the West, overtaking the young and talented Oklahoma City Thunder led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?

Following the trend of the last few seasons, the Lakers created somewhat of a super team, or at least a really impressive starting lineup without much of a bench while paying over $100 million in player salaries. The bench is better than last season, but will it be deep enough to be a younger, faster and more talented team, when the time comes?

The Lakers lost their semifinal series with the Thunder on two things – Their inability to cope with the Thunder’s speed during their offensive spurts and the lack of¬†ball handlers¬†and offensive options when the game slowed down, making it easier for the Thunder’s defense to create turnovers and score easy points off of them.

Steve Nash isn’t exactly a defensive upgrade, but Dwight Howard more than makes up for it. Howard, with all of the personality issues the whole trade saga with the Orlando Magic exposed, is the biggest defensive presence in the NBA and also the best among the rest. The way he changes shots without even trying to block them is unmatched, while also averaging at least 2.1 blocks per game in each of the last five seasons. He led the league in rebounding once again last season with 14.5, although rebounding wasn’t the problem for the Lakers with Bynum and Gasol.

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Speed on offense should also be taken care of. The arrival of Nash takes off tons of pressure from Kobe Bryant, whether he likes it or not. Defenses will have a bit more to concentrate on, and the addition of Antawan Jamison might add another scoring option if the Lakers want to try and big lineup. Jamison, at 36, averaged 17.2 points per game last season for the Cavs, and although there’s no real replacement for Metta World Peace’s defensive stopper abilities at the moment, you never really know how much his head will be in the game, along with his heart.

But does the addition of Nash, finally giving the Lakers an offensively productive in both scoring and especially passing point guard, make them better than the Thunder? Probably not. Remember – the Thunder, a year more experienced with the disappointment of the NBA finals to fuel their season, should be as good if not better than in 2012. A longer season means that younger teams should have it easier, and teams like the Lakers, with only Howard under the age of 32 in the starting lineup, will need to adjust minutes for their key players throughout the 82 games.

Durant is still the best player in the NBA west of LeBron James. Russell Westbrook will be just as unstoppable through certain periods while hopefully improving his shot selection and game¬†management, with the same going for James Harden who was terrible in the NBA finals against the Heat but wonderful during the regular season. As a top 3 players on any team in the league, it’s hard to beat that threesome in terms of offensive¬†efficiency¬†and potential.

The Lakers are better than last season, that’s easy to agree upon. But the best in the NBA? In the West? Too many things need to happen, and a lot of them have to do with health issues and keeping Nash, Gasol and Bryant rested well enough for the playoffs. If these two teams reach a playoff series against each other once again, the Thunder still have the edge, by not by as much as last year. Still favorites, but it’ll be longer than 5 games.

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