Author: Danielle Christopher & Joshua Biers
After winning back-to-back NBA championship titles, the Los Angeles Lakers look forward to a three-peat as the 2010-2011 season approaches. The Lakers are experiencing pressure from fans after beating long-time rivals Boston Celtics in game seven of last year’s Finals. With the help of their new, experienced team members, the Lakers hope to beat both old and new rivals and make Phil Jackson proud in his last year as a coach.
While much of the media was focused on the Miami Heat’s acquisition of Lebron James during the offseason, little attention was given to the Lakers, who also made significant changes to their line-up. The addition of 16-year veteran Theo Ratliff, guard/forward Matt Barnes and guard Steve Blake has given them additional depth in the guard position, as well as an improved defense. Ratliff, a defensive-minded center, is a former three-time league leader in blocked shots, and is currently number five on the all-time blocks list. He will join Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to create one of the the league’s most dominant forces of big men.
Matt Barnes, on the other hand, is a small but versatile forward who comes from the Orlando Magic. Known for his aggressive and bold style of play, he will provide a spark off the bench with the high-flying Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom. He is best known by Laker fans for attempting to throw the ball at Kobe’s face during a regular season game last year between the Lakers and the Magic. However, the two have settled their differences: Both mutually respect each other, and Kobe actually encouraged the Lakers management to sign Barnes this summer. The last major acquisition that was made by the Lakers this offseason was Steve Blake, one of the league’s most underrated point guards. He is deadly from behind the arc and will prove to be a great backup to Derek Fisher at point guard.
Despite terrific gains in their roster, the Lakers suffered a blow this offseason when they learned that center Andrew Bynum would have to take time off to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery. With the loss of Bynum during the first two months of the season, Lamar Odom will have to be instrumental in scoring while filling Bynum’s shoes as a starter.
Odom, who won the International Basketball Federation World Championship with the U.S. national team this summer, is a gifted power forward who has the ability to run the point with his vision and dribbling skills.
Together, Odom and Ratliff will prove to be crucial to the Lakers’ frontcourt while Bynum rehabilitates his knee. Since this year is long-time Head Coach Phil Jackson’s last season before his retirement, the Lakers will settle for nothing more than a championship and a 12th ring for Phil.
With these goals at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the Lakers will undoubtedly fare better than they did last season. The only potential obstacle is rival teams’ strength. Teams such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics have grown tremendously during the offseason. The main focus is on the Miami Heat, who acquired superstar free agents Lebron James and Chris Bosh. With James and Bosh joining all-star Dwyane Wade, the power of the Heat will be intimidating and difficult to beat. However, the Lakers have a deeper bench this year and are thus prepared to dominate as necessary.
Another Eastern conference trade that struck the interest of fans during the offseason was the addition of Shaquille O’ Neal to the Celtics’ roster. After the initial shock of the “Big Diesel” postponing his retirement and joining his third team in three years, Lakers fans realize they have nothing to fear. The aged Shaq is far past his prime, and thus is not expected to add a significant amount of skill to the team. Instead of fretting about Shaq, the Lakers will need to focus on continuing the strategies that worked against their long-time rivals in the Finals last year.
The only serious threat the Lakers have to take into account this year is the strength and drive of the Thunder. Although they didn’t acquire any superstars in offseason trades, the youth and agility of the Thunder gave the Lakers trouble last season. Thunder forward Kevin Durant averaged over 25 points a game last season, making him a viable contender for the Most Valuable Player award last year. Having such a player on the Thunder team means that the Lakers will have to work harder to win the championship title.
In addition to having Durant on the roster, the Thunder are a younger, faster-paced team than the Lakers. With 10 of the 15 players on their roster under the age of 23, the Thunder have the potential to outmaneuver the Lakers on the offensive end. However, the Lakers will be able to put the Thunder in their place. Though the Lakers are not a fast-paced team, their multiple experienced players will aid in their success.
Though the Thunder is a talented group of athletes, they lack the experience of veterans on their team, whereas the Lakers have veterans Fisher, Ratliff and none other than superstar Bryant to lead their team to victory.
As both the Lakers and their loyal fans aspire toward an end-of-season championship, the upcoming season is sure to be filled with excitement and vigor. Although the Lakers will have their fair share of challenges in the games to come, they have the skill and dedication required to end the season on a triumphant note.
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