Lakers Now Really Do Look Like The Team To Beat

Well, that does it. Just when you thought we were reverting to 2008, when the Eastern Conference showed the heft of the West’s longtime depth, this week goes and shows that the Lakers are going to ensure that the West is back on top. In the span of four days, L.A. beat the Celtics in Boston and the Cavaliers in Cleveland, sweeping the Celtics and handing the Cavs their first home loss of the season.

pau gasol lakers
(It’s not just the beard, Pau Gasol actually may have added toughness.)

Add to that Boston’s loss to the other Western Conference finalist a year ago, San Antonio, and it’s clear that the West is both stronger and deeper than the East just a year after Boston’s renaissance threw that conclusion into doubt. It’s almost as if the absence of young center Andrew Bynum was just what the Lakers needed, again, to propel Kobe and his crew to outright dominance.

Not only did the Lakers beat the Celtics without Bynum, validating the claim that the front line of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom really might be tougher this time around, they handed Cleveland its first home loss with Kobe fighting illness. Add Bynum back in for the playoffs, and there should be no question that the Lakers will be the team to beat.

Of course, if anyone is going to stop them, it might be San Antonio again. As they always seem to do, the Spurs are putting everything together just before the All-Star break. They’ll come back from the mid-season sabbatical refreshed and, undoubtedly, with an eye on the one or two pieces they need to add for a legitimate playoff run.

Besides, San Antonio didn’t win last year. Shouldn’t that automatically make them a prime target this time around? Maybe not, but with New Orleans struggling without Chris Paul, the Spurs should be able to cruise into the second-seed in the West down the stretch, then sit back and wait for the playoffs to really turn on the juice.

If it seems like you’ve seen this flick before, don’t worry, you have. The only question is whether it will turn out the way it so often seems to, or whether Boston has another inspiring West coast road trip and playoff run in it.

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