1. Let’s face it – It’s tough to repeat
Each year, the defending NBA champion has a bulls eye on its back. Every opponent throughout the season is eager to get a crack at the reigning best squad in the league. No one has been able to repeat since the Los Angeles Lakers won three straight crowns from 2000-02. The last six NBA champions have been unable to repeat. Only one of those clubs (2004 Detroit Pistons) was able to even get back into the finals in the following year after winning a title.
2. The strength of the Western Conference
Just to reach the NBA Finals, the Lakers are going to have to survive three playoff rounds within its conference. All eight Western Conference playoff teams are likely to have at least 50 wins in the regular season. In the first round, Los Angeles may have to face the battle tested San Antonio Spurs. Led by Tim Duncan, the Spurs are the only team since 2003 with more than one NBA crown. While San Antonio isn’t having a stellar regular season, the Spurs still have its nucleus in place from its three championship squads over the last seven years.
3. The Lakers aren’t as good this season
While the Lakers are a lock to be the top seed in the West, Los Angeles has regressed a little from last season. Last year, the Lakers posted a 65-17 record in the regular season. This year, the club is on pace to win six fewer games at 59-23. The most significant change from last year’s squad involves a basic swap of two forwards. Los Angeles decided not to re-sign young forward Trevor Ariza. He is having a strong year in Houston by averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds per game. To fill his void, the Lakers added veteran Ron Artest. After playing in Houston last year, Artest is averaging just 11 points and 4 rebounds per outing this season.
4. King James is due to win a ring
While Kobe Bryant has been viewed for several seasons as the league’s marquee player, a passing of the torch could soon take place. Cleveland’s LeBron James has done everything in his career but win a championship. Three years ago, he carried the Cavaliers into the NBA Finals. Last season, James led his club to a league-best 66-16 record. This season, the Cavs are once again poised to have the best regular season mark in the league. Cleveland is on pace to finish with a 65-17 record. The time could finally be right for James to pick up his first tile ring this summer.
5. Does Kobe have enough left in the tank for another playoff run?
The 31-year-old Bryant is in his 14th NBA season. With 175 playoff games in his career, he has played the equivalent of 16 regular seasons. In the last two postseasons alone, he has played in 44 games or a little more than half of a regular season. While he has come through many times before, there is some wear and tear on Bryant heading into this year’s playoffs.
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