It feels like 2000 again. And 2001, and 2002.
The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off of their first NBA Finals’ trip in the post-Shaquille O’Neal era and are considered by many analysts to be not only favorites to return there this season, but to also walk away with their fourth championship in the past 10 years.
Led of course by the reigning league MVP, Kobe Bryant, the Lakers enter the 2008-2009 campaign with basically the same team that flew out of Boston after Game 6. In fact, they are actually a little better.
The return from injury of Andrew Bynum at center bolsters the Los Angeles front line this season and allows Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to slide back into their more natural positions of power forward and small forward respectively. The Lakers have the longest 3-4-5 in the league and figure to be among the league leaders in rebounds and blocked shots.
Bynum was having a break-out year before his season was cut short in 2007-08. Look for him to pick up where he left off, as a beast on the boards and a terror in the paint defensively. He’ll also look to be a scorer on the block along with Gasol, as Odom will work from the inside and outside.
The back court will see Derek Fisher at point yet again, along side Bryant. ‘Fish’ will carry the same role he always has had with the Lakers: knock down open threes and do his best to stay in front of the likes of Steve Nash, Tony Parker, and Baron Davis. Kobe will of course be Kobe, scoring from all over the court and being the team leader.
The X-Factor is going to be the play of the bench. Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar will relieve the guards while Trevor Ariza, Luke Walton, and Vladimir Radmanovic will see playing time up front. Their playing well is key so that starters can have extra time to rest and stay fresh throughout the long season and into the playoffs.
On paper, this Lakers team is stacked with talent. If they are able to mesh together in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, there is no reason they should have any trouble putting points on the board. Bynum and Gasol should be able to contain the elite forwards/centers in the league and keep the speedy guards from getting clean looks under the basket.
As usual it’s not going to be a cake walk in the Western Conference. It’s loaded with talented teams that will push Los Angeles to stay sharp and play hard throughout the year. However, since they acquired Gasol for Kwame Brown, aka nothing, they have been by far the best in the west and that will continue this season.
Laker fans are ready to see their beloved purple and gold return to NBA supremacy. It’s championship or bust in Los Angeles.