Steve Nash dribbles past the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry… (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated…)
To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference.
After nine of 14 entries, the Lakers were ruled better than the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz but not as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and Clippers.
Are the Lakers better than the Golden State Warriors?
Steve Nash might be one of the top shooters of his generation but Golden State's Stephen Curry could be the top of his.
When Curry gets hot, he's capable of hitting shots from anywhere, demoralizing the opposition (a la Kobe Bryant).
Curry isn't as strong a playmaker as Nash has been throughout his career, but Curry averaged a strong 6.9 assists a game last season.
Defensively, neither Nash nor Curry offer much. Curry is a bit injury prone, specifically his ankles. Nash is coming off a season in which he broke his leg in the second game of the season and never fully recovered.
The Warriors lost a key rotation player in combo guard Jarrett Jack but added Toney Douglas, Nemanja Nedovic and camp invitee Cameron Jones. Jack was a key decision-maker late in games for Golden State; Douglas or forward Andre Iguodala will need to fill that role.
The Lakers have two solid reserves behind Nash in Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.
In Curry alone, the Warriors have the advantage at point guard.
The key for the Lakers is getting Bryant back healthy. If he recovers well from his Achilles injury, the team will have the advantage against any other at shooting guard.
The Warriors do have one of the brighter young two-guards in the league in Klay Thompson, who is a strong defender, scorer and shooter.
Curry will also get time off the ball. Iguodala is a defensive option at shooting guard as well. The Warriors also have Kent Bazemore and Curry's brother, Seth, as options for Coach Mark Jackson.
Behind Bryant, the Lakers boast a long list of players who will fight for minutes, including Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Darius Johnson-Odom -- the last two are camp invitees who still have to make the team -- and even point guards Blake and Farmar.
The Lakers have the edge if Bryant is healthy but the Warriors are very strong in the backcourt.
Golden State has two very strong small forwards in Harrison Barnes and Iguodala.
Iguodala is a top-notch defender and skilled passer. Despite a very impressive rookie season, Barnes might move to the bench in a sixth-man role because of Iguodala's arrival.
Either player would have the edge over the Lakers at the position.
Coach Mike D'Antoni might start offensive-minded Young with Johnson backing him up as the stronger defender.
Shawne Williams, Marcus Landry and Elias Harris, each fighting to make the final roster, bring shooting and toughness to the position. Harris still needs to develop his outside shot but brings versatility to the floor. Bryant might also play some small forward.
The Warriors also have Draymond Green, who is another solid defender and rotation player.
The Warriors also have depth at power forward with David Lee and acquisition Marreese Speights. Both Barnes and Green can play minutes in a smaller lineup, which is generally a strength for Golden State.
Veteran Jermaine O'Neal signed this summer and though in his prime he was a power forward, he could better suited in his later years as a defensive center.
Power forward is somewhat up for grabs with the Lakers, who could start Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Shawne Williams or even Wesley Johnson. It's an area in which D'Antoni appears willing to experiment initially.
Gasol might be better than Lee, but not dramatically. If he's not the starter for the Lakers, Lee and the Warriors have the advantage.
When healthy, Andrew Bogut is one of the better defensive centers in the league. After a couple of freak injuries earlier in his career, he appears to be on the right track for the Warriors.
If the Lakers start Gasol at center, he's more skilled offensively than Bogut, but not by a large margin. Chris Kaman gives the Lakers a nice offensive option but he's not as strong a defender as Bogut.
The Warriors also have O'Neal and will develop rookie Ognjen Kuzmic. Reserve center Festus Ezeli is sidelined with a knee injury.
The Lakers will also play Robert Sacre and Hill at center.
Neither team has a dramatic advantage at the position.
Who is better?
The Lakers have the clearest advantage at shooting guard, providing Bryant returns healthy, otherwise the Warriors are close or better than the Lakers at every other position.
Golden State won just 47 games last season before a solid playoff run. They'll crack 50 this year and possibly 55.
The Lakers are likely in the 40-50 range, with too much riding on the surgically repaired Achilles' tendon of Bryant.
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