Slaying the Dragon – Can the Suns, Mavericks or Trailblazers Stop Kobe Bryant and the Lakers?

Slaying the Dragon – Can the Suns, Mavericks or Trailblazers Stop Kobe Bryant and the Lakers?

The 2009 World Champs are the un-questioned favorite to win the 2010 NBA title, in addition they should be, however there’s no shortage of quality teams in the western conference looking to derail the Lakers on their quest for banner no. 17. Let’s estimate the top 3 teams with the best chance at upsetting the champs, which (as of now) are the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers, and the Dallas Mavericks. Barring a season ending injury to Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol these are the only teams with the meaningful elements necessary to topple a giant like the Los Angeles Lakers, those meaningful elements being a thorough list filled with athletic talent, a star capable of hitting huge shots, and maybe most important of all..a mission. Let’s start in order of the most likely contenders to take the western conference crown out of LA.

The Phoenix Suns: “Back to the Future”.

It seems like so long ago when Steve Nash was winning consecutive MVPs and the Suns deleted the Lakers two years post-seasons in a row, but although the strength structure has shifted once again in the NBA (thanks to the Memphis Grizzles charitable donation of Pau Gasol to LA) one thing is back to usual, the Suns are playing up-tempo high scoring basketball again and blowing opponents out of the water. The Lakers are a very good defensive teams but when they play up-tempo teams like Phoenix they too often get away from their defensive game and let things quickly turn into a shoot out, not that LA’s not capable of winning that kind of battle either but it’s very much Phoenix’s game.

Although Phoenix had considerably more talent than LA during the 05′ and 06′ seasons, the two teams’ list’s are not so un-uniformly equaled anymore. Make no mistake the Laker’s have the arguably the best list in the league but Phoenix’s squad isn’t so shabby either with ever-last players like Steve Nash and Grant Hill, and guys having career seasons such as Jason Richardson, topped off by a star big man in his chief *ahem* Amare Stoudemire. The Suns aren’t lacking talent at any position and in some situations have talent to spare like Leandro Barbosa and Robin Lopez to come off the bench. The bigs are going to be vital against the Lakers and their three front court all-stars in Gasol, Bynum and Odom but the Sun’s have themselves covered down low about in addition as anyone else in the league with Stoudemire, Lopez, and Frye.

Next up is the go-to-guy who can bail out his team with a clutch three or an and-1 excursion late in the game, fortunately for Phoenix they’ve got one of the best play makers in the game in Steve Nash. All these pluses aside the best thing the Suns have going for them is their quest to prove their elite once again after shipping their 350 lb keep up in a place in the middle up to Cleveland and returning to the “7 seconds or shoot” offense which has them in first place so far in the young NBA season but could ultimately deliver them home court advantage by the playoffs, placing them atop this list. This in combination with other X factors like a new head coach, an old timer shooting lights out (J-high) and a superstar in a contract year (Stoudemire), makes the Phoenix Suns the team LA would likely prefer to never confront this post-season.

The Portland Trailblazers: David who beats up on Goliath during the regular season.

There’s a associate of places that LA rarely leaves with a W with and one of those places happens to be Portland. Unfortunately for LA, there may be no other team with more to prove than Portland and they’re very capable of defeating the Lakers at home (8 consecutive wins at home against LA). The Trailblazers have talent and athleticism a plenty in the front court with a line up that boasts the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Pryzbilla, and Greg Oden. The late development of Oden has been the main story of the Trailblazer’s season so far and in his past absences Joel Pryzbilla has filled in quite nicely but is providing a substantial raise off the bench. The main X factors for Portland are the emergence of Greg Oden as a force down low and the blossoming of Brandon Roy into a true NBA superstar, if anyone can hit big time shots it’s Brandon Roy. The Blazers as a team want more than any other team in the west to be considered “elite” and toppling the Lakers would all but cement that position.

The Trailblazer’s also have one of the best defensive head coaches in the league in Nate McMillan (Team USA’s defensive coordinator) who’s played no small role in Portland’s past home dominance over the Lakers. If they meet the Lakers the first game of the series will be crucial because they will not have home court advantage in a possible meeting with LA, so it’d be best to steal game 1 on LA’s court (as Phil Jackson’s teams are perfect in they playoffs after winning the first game of a series) but already if they don’t it may not matter anyway, one thing about historical upsets is that history is doesn’t apply because it’s being made. As long as Portland’s home dominance continues against LA they may only need to take one game on the Laker’s floor to pull off the upset, but that’s more than a few “ifs”.

The Dallas Mavericks: A team in search of redemption.

The Dallas Mavericks need redemption for a lot of things, for some it may be blowing a 2-0 rule in the finals, for others it may be losing in the first round to the 8th seed 42-win Warriors after a historical 67-win season, and for one it may be running his mouth to league officials far too much resulting in millions in fines and a possible title… Either way everyone on this Dallas Mavericks current list has a chip on his shoulder, if not more than one. Dirk Nowitzki’s been criticized as much as anyone else in the league for his soft play during crunch time and his inclination to back down when hit in the mouth (and he’s in a contract year), Jason Kidd just reached his last reachable career meaningful development however nevertheless short of a ring, Shawn Marion always plays like a man with something to prove, and half of the list has been to the finals before and come up short.

Dallas’ head coach Rick Carlisle has been looking to capture the NBA title that barely eluded him when he was fired as Detroit’s head coach before the 2003-2004 season when the went on to win the title, and this very well may be his chance to wash his hands in the redemption that is the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Mavericks have the size and talent in at 4 and 5 identify with Dirk Nowitzki, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, and Erik Dampier. They also have up-and-coming younger guys like J.J. Barea, big free agent acquisitions like Shawn Marion, a perennial sixth man of the year candidate in Jason Terry, and a hardened old timer in Jason Kidd. The Dallas Mavericks have a list as thorough as any other team in the league and if it’s redemption they’re looking for this may be their best shot.

There’s plenty of reasons to pick the Laker’s to win the 2010 NBA title, and one could certainly make the argument that no other team in the west is capable of keeping the Lakers out of the finals. However, the biggest obstical for the LA Lakers this post-season will likely be complacency and if any number of these hopeful giant killers on a mission it just may well be the recipe for the historical upset…

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