Forget Any of That Stuff About Houston or Denver Competing With the Lakers for the West


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↵Okay, so the Nuggets aren't a serious threat to the Lakers. I know, it's only one game. But in his first game back, Andrew Bynum reminded us why we spend so much time talking about him. Still balky, and having serious trouble making a basket in the first half, Bynum nevertheless neutralized the Nuggets frontcourt. It didn't hurt that Gasol hauled in 19 boards. Nene looked good, but honestly, he might as well have been a small forward. The Lakers didn't exactly blow out Denver, but just watching Bynum and Gasol out there together, you could feel the sun setting the rest of the West. ↵
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↵But wait, if this time around, it's the Lakers' sheer size that could make them dominant, doesn't that make the Rockets a worthy opponent? After all, no one's bigger than Yao, and with tough-minded PF's Landry and Scola also around the paint, maybe that element of their game -- what, to me, so clearly set them apart from the team I'd said might be on their level -- isn't quite as daunting? ↵
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↵That's when we remind ourselves that Kobe finished the night with 33 points, and is only, at absolute worst, the third-best all-around player in the league. That's not to downplay the defensive abilities of Ron Artest or Shane Battier, or both of them. But can either, or both, of them stop Kobe Bryant for an entire series? Boston forced Kobe to be a one-man team; I don't see that happening so easily this year, and if they decide to put extra attention on Bryant at all times, one of those role players will make them pay. Actually, I wouldn't count on Landry or Scola doing much more than Gasol. Really, all the Rockets can boast is that someone will be able to get between Bynum's hand and the rim. ↵
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↵And don't forget that, while defense wins championships, the Rockets lack a truly deadly shot-creator. I'm as inclined to point out that, more often than not, stars also win championships. The Nuggets can look to Melo or Billups to single-handedly pick up the pieces when the going gets rough. The Rockets? I don't see Artest, or Aaron Brooks, as that kind of offensive player, and Yao needs to be fed. So let's go ahead and hand the West to the Lakers. Nice try, Houston.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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