Quantcast 2010 NBA News & Coverage: Los Angeles Lakers still the team to beat


NBA reality check: Lakers are still team to beat


It has become quite fashionable to express one’s opinion of the Miami Heat’s new Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh. Some people insist that this team is the greatest assembly of talent in modern times and may one day (if science permits) travel back in time to challenge the 1992 Dream Team for basketball supremacy. Others feel that the stars will fail to gel as the season progresses and that the experiment will ultimately be a colossal failure.

All this and we have yet to start the preseason.

Due to this fact, most of the opinions at this point are based in emotions instead of hard facts. This team most likely won’t crash and burn as many (in Cleveland) hope. And the odds of it breaking the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls wins record of 72 is a stretch as well, considering the number of quality opponents beginning to surface in the East.

However, many people consider Miami a lock to at least make it to The Finals, if not win the whole thing. But there is one problem with that theory, and it resides in La La Land.

The Los Angeles Lakers, winners of back-to-back titles and having been to The Finals the last three seasons, do still exist, although based on media coverage, it would be easy to assume they had disbanded.

Yet the Lakers quietly added solid pieces around its core players, which will make this team even more dangerous that last season’s offering. So before anointing Miami the greatest thing since sliced bread, let’s compare the Lakers and Heat to see which team really is better — on paper at least.


Point Guard: The Lakers bring back veteran point guard Derek Fisher, who briefly flirted with the idea of heading to Miami as a free agent in the offseason. His poise, experience, hard-nosed defense, and ability to hit big shots in the clutch make him an unquestioned leader on this Lakers’ team. Miami, on the other hand, will hand over the keys to Mario Chalmers, a third-year guard who took steps backward last season. He may platoon with Carlos Arroyo, or Miami may consider starting James here and starting Mike Miller at small forward. For now, however, it’s Chalmers’ job to lose.

Edge: Lakers


Shooting Guard: Easily the closest matchup between the two teams. Kobe Bryant will lead the Lakers once again this season while Dwyane Wade will lead his revamped Miami squad. Both players are true superstars capable of coming up clutch in big moments. However, if he is kept from driving to the basket, Wade has difficulty hitting contested shots. Bryant, meanwhile, could hit a game-winning shot if the arena lights went out.

Edge: Lakers


Small Forward: In South Beach, James became the most ballyhooed (and booed) free agent since Shaquille O’Neal, but there is a reason why so many people reacted to his decision — he’s just that good. James has the whole package: he can score, he can defend, he can pass, and he has physical gifts usually reserved for superheroes. His shot can be spotty, but when you can get to the basket seemingly at will, having the stroke of Ray Allen isn’t a necessity. In LA, the Lakers picked up Ron Artest last summer to take on the tough defensive assignments and play physical, and that’s exactly what he did. His offense was spotty, and he struggled within the team system but played strong defense and was effective when it mattered most. In a head-to-head matchup, Artest has the strength to keep James from going wherever he wants on the basketball court, but the only one who has proven to be a LeBron-stopper is LeBron himself.

Edge: Heat

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Power Forward: Bosh, the third wheel in this basketball ménage à trois, established himself as an All-Star talent in Toronto, if not quite a superstar. He averaged career bests in points (24.0), rebounds (10.8), and field goal percentage (.518) last season on a team that relied heavily on him to win. The Lakers’ Pau Gasol averaged 18.3 points and a career-best 11.3 rebounds per game while shooting 53.6 percent from the field as a second option behind Bryant. Plus, Gasol’s 1.7 blocks to Bosh’s 1.0 only further accentuates the value and ability of Gasol versus the “RuPaul of big men”.

Edge: Lakers


Center: Andrew Bynum, when healthy, is one of the best centers in the league. His size allows him to get good position down low for easy rebounds and shots around the rim. Plus, he is an effective shot blocker, giving LA two seven footers to defend the basket. Miami is not as fortunate. Zydrunas Ilgauskas followed James from Cleveland to Miami and most likely will start unless Erik Spoelstra decides to try Udonis Haslem at the center spot. But a healthy Bynum is better than anyone Miami can plug in at center.

Edge: Lakers


Bench: The Heat managed to assemble a better supporting cast around its Big Three than many felt would be possible. Miller joined for the mid-level exception; Haslem re-upped along with Arroyo, James Jones, Jamaal Magloire and Joel Anthony; Eddie House and Juwan Howard came over on veteran’s minimum deals; and Dexter Pittman and Da’Sean Butler came through the draft. Miller and House provide instant offense off the bench but are liabilities on defense while Haslem, Howard, Magloire, and Anthony will provide size to spell Big Z. The Lakers added Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff through free agency and grabbed two second-round steals in Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. Combine them with Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, and Luke Walton, and this is a major upgrade from last season. Odom would start on most teams, Blake may be the most underrated point guard in the NBA, and Matt Barnes is a more-useful version of Adam Morrison. This new-and-improved Lakers bench will further ensure that LA doesn’t miss a beat when Kobe and Co. have to take a breather.

Edge: Lakers


Final Analysis: Miami is much improved over the team that fell to Boston in five games during the 2010 playoffs, but when you basically build your entire team from scratch during the summer, expect some growing pains. Beyond the Big Three, Miami has solid but rapidly aging players providing support and no help coming through the draft for years. One injury to Wade, James, or Bosh and there could be trouble. The Lakers do not have either of these issues. This team has kept its core together through three Finals appearances, so chemistry is not an issue. And while an injury to Bryant or Gasol would hurt, LA has proven options off the bench to offset the blow. Both teams will be good this year, but until someone proves otherwise, the LA Lakers are still the team to beat in the NBA.


By: Eric Lorenz
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer

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