Monday , Apr , 10 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Don’t ignore the Lakers

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – The Los Angeles Lakers are a very dangerous team to have
to play in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. They are more
than capable of sending one of the top seeds home early.

Superstar Kobe Bryant is not someone that a team is going to want to see in
the opening round of a best-of-seven series. If the Lakers, who finished just
34-48 last season and did not qualify for the playoffs, can draw either the
Denver Nuggets or Phoenix Suns in round one, they would have to like their
chances of pulling off the upset.

The Lakers need to stay away from being No. 8 in the West, so they can avoid a
first round matchup with the Dallas Mavericks or the defending world champion
San Antonio Spurs.

Bryant, who leads the NBA in scoring, is a one-man show and can win a series
single-handidly. His supporting cast is not overly impressive, but it
can help him do some damage in the postseason.

Lamar Odom is LA’s second option behind Bryant. The 6-10 forward is not the
most consistent player, but if he gets hot the Lakers would have two very
dangerous players that could lead them on a serious run through the playoffs.

Odom, who is playing in his second season with the Lakers, has not been the
scorer that they had hoped he would be. However, he seems to have accepted his
role behind Bryant. The 26-year-old Odom leads the Lakers in rebounding and
assists, and is second on the club in scoring.

Guard Smush Parker, forwards Kwame Brown and Brian Cook and center Chris Mihm
will have to come up big for the Lakers. The 6-4 Parker has surprised with his
play this season, as he has proved that he can score and his athleticism has
helped the Lakers be more effective in transition.

Brown, Cook and Mihm are nothing spectacular, but they understand their roles
and know what is required of them. They do the dirty work for the Lakers. Head
coach Phil Jackson leaves the scoring to Bryant, and if the All-Star Guard
needs help Odom and Parker are next in line.

The 27-year-old Bryant, who is an eight-time All-Star, gives the Lakers a
fighting chance against the Nuggets or Suns. The Spurs and Mavericks would be
too much to handle.

Bryant’s ability to score in large sums is something that is going to be very
hard to deal with in a seven-game series. Especially for teams that win with
their offense and not their tough defense.

San Antonio has a player like Bruce Bowen, who would make Bryant have to work
hard for every point he would score. Denver and Phoenix don’t have a defensive
stopper that will be able to wear down the Lakers’ stud guard.

The Lakers were 2-1 against the Nuggets this season. They defeated Denver,
112-92, on November 2nd at the Staples Center, while the teams split a pair of
games at the Pepsi Center. Bryant averaged 37.3 points in the contests and
would love to face the Nuggets in a seven-game set.

Phoenix has been a different story. The Lakers are 0-3 against the Suns and
the teams will square off once again in the regular season on April 16th at
the Staples Center.

The Suns defeated the Lakers by double-digits in all three contests. Bryant
averaged 42.3 points per game in the losses, but Phoenix proved to be too
strong for the Lakers.

However, the Suns don’t win with their defense. Bryant will get his points and
if his teammates can put together some solid games, the Lakers would have a
chance to shock Phoenix.

Bryant, who owns three championship rings, has played in 119 playoff games
during his career and has averages of 22.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.4
assists per contest. He will enter the postseason for the first time without
superstar Shaquille O’Neal, who was traded by the Lakers to the Miami Heat in
July 2004, by his side and will be out to prove that he can carry his team in
the postseason.

Even though the Suns had success against the Lakers during the campaign, they
are not going to want to have to take on a determined Bryant in a seven-game
set. Denver is the perfect match for the Lakers, but LA will have to get to
No. 6 to face the Nuggets.

With Bryant on the court, the Lakers can earn a win on any given night and are
a very dangerous draw in the first round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs.