COACH: Phil Jackson | 2007-08: 57-25
Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe and Phil have been to five Finals together. Do the Lakers have the beef to make it six?
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The Lakers might have been just two wins away from capturing the championship against the Celtics last June, but the real margin that decided the series was Boston outrebounding L.A. by 30 over the course of the six games.

The purple and gold’s starting frontline of Lamar Odom, Vladimir Radmanovic and Pau Gasol have the height necessary to compete in glass-cleaning scrums above the rim, but as it turns out, rebounding is like runway modeling -- height is only part of the equation.

The beefier Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe had their way with the Lakers’ beanstalks.

Of course, the battle of the boards wasn’t the only facet of the game that did L.A.’s title hopes in. The other pesky deficiency for the Lake Show was defense – both adjusting to the D being thrown Kobe Bryant’s way by the Boston Stranglers and the defense being implemented by Phil Jackson’s contingent in trying to stop the Big Three and the C’s three-point shooting as a team.

Bryant acknowledged the two problem areas immediately after Game 6. “I think if we’re going to learn anything from this series is that we can’t expect to win a championship by focusing on the offensive end,” Bryant said. “We have to be able to hold people down as well. We’re pretty good at it, but I think that we can be much better.”

When asked if getting a healthy Andrew Bynum back would be the key to turning those weaknesses into strengths, Kobe conceded that Bynum gives his team “rebounding and a shot-blocker in the middle – he solves a couple of those [problems].”

The 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum enters training camp at 100 percent after spending the offseason rehabbing from the dislocated kneecap he suffered in January. Just 20-years old, Bynum is improving not just by the day, but by the minute, the step, the breath, the blink. He averaged 13.1 points and 10.2 rebounds in the 35 games he played in 2007-08, but was just hitting his stride before going down with the injury as he put up 17.3 points and 12.2 boards in the six games he played after the New Year.

The Black Mamba took his new-found defensive mantra with him to Beijing where he competed in the Olympics as a member of the U.S. Senior Men’s National Basketball Team. Bryant gave himself a new nickname, “The Doberman,” and took it upon himself to lockdown the opposing team’s most potent offensive weapon.

If Bynum does return to form, L.A. trots out 20 feet and 10 inches of men at the starting Three, Four and Five positions with a backcourt that features the reigning league MVP in Kobe and Derek Fisher, a great leader by example, at the point.

L.A. is the favorite to repeat as the top team in the West, although don’t expect Bynum’s return to translate to many more wins than the 57 the Lakers racked up last season. In the deep-as-Chicago-pizza West, reaching 60 wins would be like a team hitting the hallowed 70 mark any other year.

One thing is for sure, if the Lakers are going to defend their place as the Western Conference representative in The Finals, it’s going to come down to defense.

-- Dave McMenamin

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Odom
Derek Fisher is the Lakers' captain, but Lamar Odom, the Lakers' immensely talented and immensely frustrating left-handed forward is the one who should be wearing a "C" on his jersey.

You see, it's a contract year for the 6-10, 230-pound New York native who enters his 10th NBA season with impressive across-the-board career averages of 15.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists. When he shows up, he is one of the most dynamic specimens in the league. He has a knack for rebounding, a smooth handle and an array of elusive moves that can take him to the rim.

The problem is, he's about as consistent as the last couple seasons of Entourage. You'll get a few compelling episodes in a row followed by a real stinker that makes you wonder whether you even like the show/player at all.

Phil Jackson spoke to the media during the preseason and put Odom in the hotseat, openly toying with the idea of giving L.O.'s starting spot to Trevor Ariza if he doesn't bring the intensity he's looking for. Imagine that, the Zen Master wants intensity all of the sudden. You can probably credit Kevin Garnett's hyperactivity in The Finals for that change by P. Jax.

Odom doesn't have to turn into the Big Ticket, but he must bring some more spark to the table if he wants his team to have any shot of winning it all and himself to have any chance of signing his next big deal.

-- Dave McMenamin

THE STAT
14 The number of NBA championships the Lakers have won.
The NBA was thrilled to have the Lakers back in the Finals but it will be one and done for them.
Kobe is still one of the best to ever had played this game but he lacks what made MJ best and that is he doesn’t make the guys around him better.
Yes, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are nice players but not quite on the level of Scottie to Michael or McHale to Bird, or Shaq to D Wade.
Radmanovic is too up and down and is actually a liability when his shot is not on.
The rest of the team is average at best but in the Pacific that is going to be plenty to get them to the playoffs and probably home court for the first couple rounds.
They’re an average defensive unit and not up to Phil Jackson’s previous standards.
Offensively, as long as they have Kobe, they will always be able to score but I don't think it will be enough to get them back to the Finals.
-- NBA Scout
Bynum will also need to learn to play with Pau Gasol, who likely will cut into his shot attempts. Nonetheless, we’re talking about one of the major talents in the league at center, who’s in a growth phase of his career. The sky’s the limit so long as Bynum puts in the work.

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NBA.com Fantasy Index

Record: 67-15, 1st in Western Conference
Playoffs: NBA Champions, Beat Miami 4-2 in The Finals
Scoring Leader: K. Bryant, 27.9 PPG
Rebounding Leader: P. Gasol, 9.9 RPG
Assist Leader: D. Fisher, 7.2 APG

Simulated Season Details
PLAYER/2007-08 STATS PPG RPG APG
PG Derek Fisher 11.7 2.1 2.9
SG Kobe Bryant 28.3 6.3 5.4
SF Lamar Odom 14.2 10.6 3.5
PF Pau Gasol 18.9 8.4 3.2
C Andrew Bynum 13.1 10.2 1.7

F Trevor Ariza 5.5 3.1 1.3
G Jordan Farmar 9.1 2.2 2.7
C DJ MBenga 2.0 1.7 0.2
C Chris Mihm 3.6 3.3 0.6
F-C Josh Powell 5.5 5..2 0.7
F Vladimir Radmanovic 8.4 3.3 1.9
G Sasha Vujacic 8.8 2.1 1.0
F Luke Walton 7.2 3.9 2.9
G Dwayne Mitchell Free agent
F Josh Powell Free agent
G Sun Yue Draft
G-F Ira Newble Free agent
F-C Ronny Turiaf Free agent
PPG Kobe Bryant 28.3
RPG Lamar Odom 10.6
APG Kobe Bryant 5.4
SPG Kobe Bryant 1.8
BPG Andrew Bynum 2.1
Points Scored 108.58 (4th)
Points Allowed 101.32 (19th)
Field-Goal Percentage .476 (3rd)
Opponents' FG% .445 (6th)
Rebounding Diff. +1.35 (8th)
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