The Great Debate: Lakers will get another ring

Three days ago, I would have been singing a completely different tune. Not literally, of course, as anyone that has ever heard me sing would be happy to hear, but when it comes to the NBA playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to win it all.

As the preseason favorite of oddsmakers everywhere, the Lakers have been through one of the most tumultuous seasons in recent memory. There was the injury to Karl Malone’s leg, there was the issue of Gary Payton’s ego, and there was even the ever present issue of Shaq and Kobe hating each other, not to mention Kobe’s mess in Colorado.

But through it all, the Lakers found a way to stun us. Whether it was with an 11-game win streak just a few weeks ago, or with back to-back wins to finish the regular season, this group of future hall of-famers is unlikely to be stopped as they pursue their goal of an NBA ring.

The Lakers’ season-ending win typified the struggles of these superstars, as they groped with the innumerable difficulties of a highly paid athlete. If you missed the Lakers’ overtime victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, highlighted by two buzzer-beating three-pointers from the hands of Kobe Bryant, you missed what could be argued as the greatest single regular season-concluding performances of all time in the history of any sport.

The game demonstrated not only that the Lakers would do what it takes to win no matter what, but also that Bryant would not be bothered by his obvious off-court distractions.

The Lakers secured themselves as the No. 2 seed in the NBA playoffs with the incredible win, while the league’s most hatable losers, the Sacramento Kings, gave the season away by losing to the Golden State Warriors on the same night. Two days earlier, the Lakers were slated to begin the playoffs in the fourth slot; now they are a two seed. The difference may not be hugely advantageous for the Lakers, as they could face the San Antonio Spurs in the second round without a home-court advantage, but the psychology of the win will likely be an impetus that will help them through the playoffs.

There is really no way the Lakers will lose a seven-game series against any of the other teams in today’s NBA. If Michael Jordan’s 70-win team were in contention, there would be a potential debate. If Larry Bird and Magic Johnson had ever been on the same team, they might have been able to contend with the likes of the current Lakers, but none of today’s athletes stand a chance.

Let’s not forget the obvious facts before you naysayers start bringing up off-court distractions and supposedly “better teams”.

Fact No. 1: Great teams rarely get overly concerned with the regular season. Getting into the playoffs is the only real issue for great teams, as we saw with the No. 6 seeding the Houston Rockets earned just prior to their second run to the title in the mid-’90s. Great teams know when it counts, and this group is no exception.

Fact No. 2: And you all already know this one, but I am obligated to mention that the Lakers have assembled the single greatest collection of talent ever. With four starters that are hall-of-fame shoo-ins, imagine the intimidation factor this group will have now that the games actually matter.

And to think someone is arguing on the opposite page that a team with only one great player will eventually emerge. It doesn’t matter which other teams you look at, there is no bona fide contender.

If you can name someone other than Tim Duncan (a person that strikes me as more of a brontosaurus than a basketball player) who plays for the Spurs, you are way ahead of the average fan.

If you can name someone other than Kevin Garnett that plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, again you are way ahead of the average fan.

And even if you can think of names like Latrell Sprewell or Manu Ginobli, are those really the guys that you believe can prevail against this year’s Lakers? Come on, get real. The Lakers are going to win and that’s all there is to it. They are coached by the greatest coach of all time, and they don’t have a legitimate challenger.

The only other potential contenders, the Dallas Mavericks, have no defense to speak of, by their own admission, and they don’t have a chance against the defensively talented Lakers.

Fact No. 3: The Lakers have won three of the last four NBA titles, and they did it without Payton and Malone. Sure, they couldn’t put four in a row together, but think how hard it would be to believe that you needed a fourth when you had just won the last three.

The Lakers grew a bit passive last year, and their offseason moves proved alone that they would not make the same mistake again. As the results will soon clearly show, there isn’t a team in this league that can challenge the Lakers in this year’s postseason.

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