Before their season opener against the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers were presented with championship rings. Photo by Jeff Lewis
The Lakers are one title behind the Boston Celtics, who will fight tooth and nail to keep the Lakers from tying them, while The Miami Heat are loaded for a historic title run of their own. By Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
For a 16th time in franchise history, the Lakers opened the season with one goal in mind. To defend their NBA title. This year is shaping up to be one of their most interesting run to the title because they are chasing history. A championship this coming June could be one of the most meaningful titles in Lakers history.Winning the title this season would mean that the Lakers would have finally caught the Boston Celtics in total championships. The Celtics have stuck it to the Lakers for decades, and at one point had 16 titles to the Lakers nine. The Lakers were always that second best franchise. But now, only one title behind, winning it all this year would shut up every Celtic great and their entire fan base. A title this year would also mean that the Lakers defeated that super team in Miami… well, that’s if the Heat can get past the Celtics. The Heat are rolling out LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, but the Celtics, that’s a never say die team. That’s a team that has grit and determination. The Celtics opening night victory over the Heat shows that they are not about to roll over for that over hyped team coming out of South Beach. Miami already threw the Heat a parade, but the Celtics pretty much brought them back down to earth. It is way too early to write the Heat off, especially after one game, but that was about as bad of a start as they could have had. For story line purposes, the Lakers going toe-to-toe with the Heat and coming out on top would be the perfect way to cap off another 3-peat. The Lakers ’09 title was all about Kobe Bryant finally winning a championship without Shaquille O’Neal. After years of hearing that he won his titles because of Shaq, Bryant was finally able to prove that he was a dominant great player. The Lakers ’10 title was payback against the Celtics. Not only payback from losing the title to them in ’08, but payback from all the times that the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the Finals. Heading into last season’s Finals, the Celtics held a 9-2 NBA Finals record over the Lakers. To add more drama, the Lakers had never defeated the Celtics in a Game 7. The historic numbers being against the Lakers made that title run even sweeter. It does not get any better than beating the Celtics for the title. Now that Bryant has titles without Shaq, and the Lakers stuck it to the Celtics, beating Miami’s super team looks like the next chapter of Lakers’ lore. The Heat have taken the villains role, and they are loaded with three of the best players in the NBA, but from top to bottom, this Lakers team has more talent, the core of the team has played together for three years, and they may have the best bench that they have had in years. Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Theo Ratliff add more depth than Adam Morrison, Josh Powell, Jordan Farmar and DJ Mbenga. The Lakers bench is certainly better than what ever the Heat is rolling out there as a second unit. The Lakers bench came up big time for them in their season opener against the Houston Rockets. Down by as many as 15 points, Shannon Brown went off in the fourth period, scoring 14 of his 16 points in a 6 ½ minute span, and Blake hit the game winning 3-point shot with 18 seconds to play in his first game as a Laker. The biggest question for the Lakers is injuries, and not to often injured Andrew Bynum. The Lakers have been to the last three NBA Finals, winning two of them, without much impact from Bynum. The injury that the Lakers really have to worry about is Bryant’s surgically repaired knee. Bryant has been hobbled the entire exhibition season, where he played poorly for the most part. He did not seem to have an explosive drive or get much lift off the court. Those were both problems in the NBA Finals, but Bryant was able to tough it out and pick up a second straight NBA Finals MVP award. Toughing it out for a couple playoff series is one thing, but doing it for an entire 82 game season might be an issue. Bryant says that he knee is getting stronger. If he gets back to 100%, then the Lakers will have a great shot to defend their title. If he’s hobbled again, it will be tough to get by the Heat, or the Celtics again. The Lakers have shown that they can win a title with little contributions from Bynum, but with the Heat loading up, they might need him to finally be an impact player when it counts the most. The Heat do not have anybody to match up with Bynum, so he may be what puts the Lakers over the top. The Heat had a tough time with the Celtics length in the season opener, so they will more than likely have issues with the Lakers too. The timetable for Bynum’s return keeps getting pushed back. At first he was only going to miss the first month of the season, but now his timetable has stretched well into December. Losing Bynum for the start of the season may not be a bad thing. The Lakers will not be challenged much in the Western Conference, so getting the top seed in the playoffs will be attainable without Bynum. Seeing that Bynum has a history of injuries, sitting him for a good portion of the season may be a good thing. The point is to be great in June, not in November. If Bynum ever wants to make an impact on the NBA Finals, he better do it this year, because this might be the final run for this Lakers team. The NBA is headed for a lockout, and it does not seem like the players are willing to give into the owner’s demands. A 30% reduction in pay is not sitting well with the players. If an agreement is not reached, then the owners will lockout the players, like they did in 1998. If this is the final hurray for this Lakers team, winning a title over LeBron and company would be great, but any Lakers fan will tell you, there is nothing better than beating the Celtics! Tying Boston in titles while beating them at the same time is as good as it gets.