How do this year's Lakers compare with last year's team?
How do the current Lakers and last year's squad compare? If there were a way to pit the two, perhaps we could answer that question. Sadly, the technology does not exist, so it's tough to say definitively whether the Lakers are on pace to match or better the 2009 championship run. Anyway, such a scenario also would likely lead to numerous physical confrontations between 2009 Kobe Bryant and 2010 Ron Artest, as well as some possible trash-talking tweets from Ron Ron.
But for now, we have to rely on data and performances. But that's the complicated thing. Consider that this year's Lakers appear to be a better team based on the numbers.
Last season’s squad — even with Andrew Bynum missing 32 games — led the NBA in rebounding (43.9 boards per game) and ranked second in assists (23.3 per game), second in steals (8.8 per game) and third in total offense (106.9 points per game). This season, the Lakers are currently second in rebounding (44.32 boards per game), 16th in assists (21.09 per game), 11th in steals (7.46 per game) and 12th in total offense (101.69 points per game).
Overall, the Lakers outscored opponents last season by 7.6 points per game and allowed 99.3 points per contest, 13th best in the league. This season, the Lakers are outscoring teams by a sixth-best 4.71 points per game and allowing a ninth-best 96.97 points per contest.
Then consider the individual performances in the regular season between last season and this season, including Kobe Bryant (26.8 points on 46.7% shooting, versus 27 points on 45.6%), Pau Gasol (18.9 points on 56.7% shooting and 9.6 rebounds, 18.3 points on 53.6% shooting and 11.3 rebounds), Bynum (14.3 points and 8 rebounds, 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds), Lamar Odom (11.3 points and 8.2 rebounds, 10.8 points and 9.8 rebounds), Derek Fisher (9.9 points on 42.4%, 7.5 points on 38%), Shannon Brown (3.2 points, 8.1 points) and Jordan Farmar (6.4 points, 7.2 points). For good measure, there are always the comparisons between Ron Artest (11 points on 41.4% shooting) and Trevor Ariza (8.9 points on 46% shooting).
But then you have to consider the individual performances in the postseason, including Bryant (26.3 points on 45.4% shooting), Gasol (18.8 points on 54.8% shooting and 13 rebounds), Bynum (10.8 points on 58.3% shooting and 9.1 rebounds), Fisher (10.7 points on 45.3% shooting), Artest (10.3 points-per-game average on 39% shooting), Odom (8.3 points and 8.4 rebounds), Brown (6 points) and Farmar (5.1 points). Beyond the statistical comparisons, though, it's hard to equate whether the Lakers are better during this postseason compared with last year's postseason.
No doubt, the Lakers are in a better position in the playoffs themselves. Though they tested everyone's sanity last year with a seven-game semifinal series with Houston, the Lakers are on the verge of sweeping Utah, assuming they collect a Game 4 victory Monday night. But does this point more to the fact that Houston's scrappiness and quickness proved advantageous against a disinterested Lakers team? Does the Lakers' success against Utah have more to do with Utah not having the length to compete with the Lakers' inside game as well as the Lakers' overall health improving? Then you look at the first-round matchup, when the Lakers went nip-and-tuck against Oklahoma City this season, although they breezed past Utah last season.
I maintained all season that the Lakers couldn't simply rely on turning on the playoff switch. Yet, there is an unpredictability, for better or worse, where the matchups and injuries make all the difference. No doubt, the Lakers are in pretty good shape and should have no problem playing Phoenix in the West Finals. But as far as who's the better team? I'm going to go with the players on this one, who mentioned recently that the only litmus test entailed whether the Lakers repeated.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant signals how many NBA titles he has won while cradling the championship and MVP trophies after the Lakers beat Orlando in Game 5 on June 14, 2009. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times