Amongst the consensus of the league, there is the widespread belief that the Los Angeles Lakers are perfectly able to compete with the Miami Heat for an NBA championship.
And why wouldn’t you believe it, either? The Lakers acquired Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Dwight Howard this summer, representing a dramatic improvement at the point guard position, acquiring some needed help off the bench and replacing the league’s second-best center with the best. After two consecutive seasons of second-round exits, the Lakers now find themselves in the thick of the championship race once again.
The Heat know it, too. The deal to acquire Howard sent ripples through the league, with seemingly each team being affected by the four-team deal that also sent Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia and Andre Iguodala to Denver. While Miami can be thankful they no longer have to see Dwight Howard four times in the regular season, they may end up playing them at a far more significant setting in the form of the NBA Finals.
The deal for Howard has caused an even greater deal of parity between the league’s select elite and the rest of the league. Los Angeles now finds themselves amongst the top of the West and will vie with Oklahoma City, San Antonio and possibly even dark-horse candidate Denver. If all goes according to plan, the Lakers should find themselves beating each team either with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard pick-and-rolls or Kobe Bryant being Kobe Bryant.
Miami Heat power forward Chris Bosh offered his opinion when asked about the new-look Lakers:
“The Lakers, I think, right now, I mean on paper, they probably have the best team in the West and probably the league right now. On paper. I’m saying on paper. But it’s a lot, a lot, it’s a long season. And the best team always isn’t the one who starts out the season as the best team.”
There’s no reason to argue with Chris Bosh: the Lakers do have the best team on paper.
But only on paper, and there’s a big difference between what’s on paper and what you see in the game. Because if we went by what was just on paper, the New York Knicks–Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd–would be competing with the Heat for a chance to go into the Finals. Yet you won’t see the Knicks advancing that far because there’s a lot more to this game than filling out some roster spots with names.
Of course there’s a large difference between the Lakers and Knicks. But how much of a difference to be exact? While everyone may be ready to crown the Lakers for their third championship in the past five seasons, we still have yet to see on how well Kobe Bryant will play with a legitimate point guard for the first time in his career. After so many years of dictating the tempo, while Derek Fisher idly stood by, you have to wonder how well Bryant can constantly play off the ball.
He’ll have to if the Lakers want to make the Nash-Howard or Nash-Gasol combination work. Just like LeBron James having to learn how to play off the ball in Miami when he teamed up with Dwyane Wade, Kobe will have to learn to do the same with a player who always needs the ball in their hands. When it comes down to it, Bryant is going to have to be the one to take a step back and allow Nash to control the tempo of the game.
The Lakers could end up being the 2013 champions if they end up as looking as good as they do on paper. The Nash and Howard duo alone is enough to lead a team to a deep postseason run. Adding one of the league’s top scorers and players in Kobe Bryant and one of the game’s top power forwards in Pau Gasol, as well as a standout defender in Metta World Peace and a former All-Star in Jamison, and this Lakers team does look near unstoppable.
However, they’ll still have to take on an Oklahoma City team with a loaded frontcourt and a point guard who would make Steve Nash’s head spin on defense, and two extremely deep teams in the Spurs and Nuggets. Before we start preparing for the Heat vs. Lakers matchup, we should actually see the Lakers play a game and see how well they counter the defensive-duo of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, and the ten-man rotations of San Antonio and Denver.
Also, just how much of an improvement is Dwight Howard coming off of back surgery against Andrew Bynum coming off the best year of his career? Understood that Howard runs the pick-and-roll far better and is a better defender, but a center coming off of season-ending back surgery is always something that’s going to be in the back of everyone’s mind, including Dwight’s.
We can talk all we want over who’s winning what, but when it comes down to it, we’re only judging everything on paper and from what we saw last year.