Don't Believe the Hype: Lakers are the Best in the West

Now is the time of year when fans of seven teams in the Western Conference — the teams ranked two through eight — are coming up with reasons they could maybe upset the Lakers. Journalists are looking for storylines to make the playoffs interesting in the Western Conference.

Blazers fan Henry Abbott of the ESPN blog TrueHoop wrote a novella Thursday rationalizing how all the other teams in the West, together, changed the odds to better than half that the Lakers could be beat. By the end, he had convinced himself.

"But it does mean that I think the Lakers have a decent shot of losing a Western playoff series, and (the Blazers) team is as likely as any to be the one to beat them."

Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets had convinced himself of the same thing.

“When I look at the West, I don’t really see that one dominant team. Everybody says the Lakers. Yeah, the Lakers are pretty good. But I don’t really see that one team that you say is going to win the West. I think it’s pretty much even now.’’

The problem is, every time one of those teams gets on the court with the Lakers, the Lakers win. Handily. The latest victim was Denver, who fell to the Lakers 116-102, on the night that the Lakers got Andrew Bynum back in the paint. He looked rusty, and he still scored 16 points and had seven boards. Meanwhile Paul Gasol had 27 and 19 rebounds, and Kobe dropped a nice 33. The Lakers have now won 22 of 24 at home against the Nuggets.

To be fair, Denver was in the second game of a back-to-back, and they were tied at the half. But a lot of teams have been tied at the half with the Lakers, only to have them adjust and blow them out in the second half. Still, Nuggets will remember the good parts, they will try to convince themselves that Melo is right.

Other teams are trying to do the same thing, trying to ignore what happens on the court. Like when the Lakers destroyed the Rockets twice recently, and beat San Antonio on the road. Every time they get tested, every time they get focused, the Lakers win. Handily.

Even the numbers that Abbott sites to convince himself show a dominant Lakers team. Fellow ESPNer John Hollinger’s statistical system says the Lakers are likely to win the West “only” 43% of the time. His system has not really loved the Lakers this year. The problem is, the next best team is Portland at a whopping 13%. For those doing the math at home, even in this system the Lakers are more than 300% more likely to win the title than the next closest team.

Those Blazers take on the Lakers tonight, in Portland. Where the Lakers have not won since roughly the Nixon administration. Portland will likely win this meeting, too, because it is a schedule-makers loss for he Lakers — a late night national television game followed by a later night plane ride and getting to bed so late there will be no practice or walk through before a game 21 hours later. Portland is too good to beat under those circumstances. They are hard to beat at home under any circumstances.

But that is different than being able to beat the Lakers in a seven game series — one where the Lakers don't even have to win a game in Portland to win the series. There is a reason everyone in the West is jockeying to get out of the Lakers side of the bracket. Because deep down they know the stats do not tell the whole story of just how much better the Lakers are than everyone in the West right now.

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