After yesterday’s look at the Eastern teams, here is a glance at the Western teams we believe have a shot at going all the way – Los Angeles Lakers, the reigning NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets, and the things and players that could hold them back en route to a title.
Los Angeles Lakers
I read around the web that the Lakers and it seems the general feeling about them, despite not having the best record in the league (54-20, four games behind Cleveland), is that they are the best team, they know it, and they’ll be proving it again in the playoffs. They probably have the best individual talent in the league. And they have Kobe Bryant, who for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, won’t play all 82 regular season games, and don’t forget he had two trips to the NBA finals + an Olympic year in 2008. The man needed some rest.
Injuries – Derek Fisher is the only player who started every game so far for the Lakers (74), and despite all of his clutch history, he’s having his worst season since 2003-2004 and he’s defiantly the weak spot in that Lakers lineup. Scoring 7.5 points with 2.5 assists per game isn’t enough from you starting point guard, and although Fisher isn’t exactly the play-maker on this tea, the Lakers need more from him, and much better than his 38.1% field goal shooting. Fisher is expected, eventually, to hit open shots when Kobe is doubled or tripled by defenders. Does he still have it in him? He did it last year against Orlando, but a year has passed, Fisher has gone by the 1000 game mark. Still an assett or more of a liability when it comes to the big games?
Speaking of injuries, Andrew Bynum is injured right now, although he’ll probably be healthy for the playoffs. Pau Gasol was sidelined quite a bit this season, and the Lakers need that front line strong and healthy. They can handle having a sub-par point guard, but not a wobbly front line.
The trade deadline move that brought Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood immediately turned the Mavs into legitimate contenders for the NBA title, making another push after it seemed the window of opportunity for this core of players has closed. So what is missing still? Dallas on a good day can look like the best in the league, but there are a few glitches. There’s no dependable scorer in the paint – Haywood and Dampier are big bodies, good rebounders and shot blockers, but they don’t demand a lot of attention from defenses. The Mavs don’t push the ball inside, and when facing tough interior defense, like against the Lakers and the Nuggets, things could get problematic. More? Jason Kidd. He’s still a very good point guard, but his defense is getting less and less effective and I don’t think the 40+ three point shooting will continue in the playoffs. Three, and final point – Nowitzki. He’s a superstar, but can he carry this team all the way?
Like Dallas, on some days, Denver look like the best team in the league. Not on enough days. Without a reliable shooting guard. Afflalo isn’t a good enough and J.R. Smith isn’t reliable enough, fluxing from brilliant and incredible to downright awful at times. A lot depends on how Martin comes back from his injury. With him, with his energy on D and his leadership and the “bad” attitude he brings to the Nuggets, they can go all the way. Without him 100%, the Nuggets probably don’t have a chance. Nene and Andersen are very good at Center, but Martin is the glue on this team and galvanises them to a higher level, championship level even.