Lakers power forward Pau Gasol puts up a shot over Spurs power forward Tim… (Ronald Martinez / Getty…)
To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference.
In the first three of 14 entries, the Lakers were ruled better than the New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns but not as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Are the Lakers better than the San Antonio Spurs?
Tony Parker is often be overlooked on the list of top point guards, but he shouldn't be. The Lakers, like most of the league, always seem to have problems covering Parker.
The Spurs were seconds away from winning the NBA title last season and Parker was a major reason why. Last season he averaged 20.3 points a game with 7.6 assists.
San Antonio also has Corey Joseph and Patty Mills behind Parker.
Steve Nash, at his best with the Phoenix Suns, was almost always stymied by the Spurs in the playoffs.
The Lakers have better depth at the point than they did last year with Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar -- more than the Spurs can boast.
If healthy, the Lakers will be skilled and competitive at point guard, but their players are not as good as Parker is for the Spurs.
Unguarded, Danny Green is one of the best three-point shooters in the league. He was so hot during the NBA Finals, there was some talk he might win MVP.
The Miami Heat adjusted and Green was less effective while defended. The hard part of dealing with the Spurs is that it's difficult to give a lot of attention to a role player like Green with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Parker and some of the other quality players San Antonio has at its disposal.
Green is a very strong defender. He'll be backed up by Marco Belinelli and Nando De Colo -- Ginobili will also play two-guard.
Belinelli proved to be quite a clutch shooter in his recent stint with the Chicago Bulls. Ginobili is still an unpredictable and potent offensive force for the Spurs.
If Kobe Bryant is healthy, the Lakers are better at shooting guard. Although the All-Star guard may not be himself by opening night, if he can return to form before the end of 2013 the Lakers will be a competitive team this season.
Behind Bryant, the Lakers have a long list of players who will fight for minutes including Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry (a camp invite who still has to make the team) and even point guards Blake and Farmar.
The young Kawhi Leonard was a key part of San Antonio's run last season. He's both a strong defender and scorer.
Ginobili backs up Leonard, making the Spurs very difficult to handle at small forward.
San Antonio can also play Green and Belinelli at three.
The Lakers are a bit of a question mark at small forward. Nick Young is expected to start, adding an athletic scoring punch.
The team hopes Wesley Johnson develops into a lock-down perimeter defender.
Shawne Williams and Marcus Landry, both fighting to make the final roster, bring shooting and toughness to the position. Bryant may also play some small forward.
The Spurs are in good shape at small forward, better than the Lakers.
Tim Duncan is still one of the top power forwards in the game. Improved health and conditioning has allowed him to contribute at a very high level the last couple of seasons.
Matt Bonner is a dead-eye shooter. Jeff Ayres (formerly Pendergraph) is a scrappy, energetic addition for San Antonio. The Spurs also have Boris Diaw and Aron Baynes, who can play the four.
If the Lakers go with Pau Gasol at power forward, the two teams are relatively even in the starting lineup.
Jordan Hill would back up Gasol, unless he's starting with Gasol at center.
Both Elias Harris and Ryan Kelly are young possibilities off the bench, both fighting to make the team. Small forwards Williams and Landry can also play at the four spot.
With Gasol at four, it's essentially a draw between the Lakers and Spurs.
Tiago Splitter is strong role player. Diaw is a little undersized but is one of the better play-making big men in the league.
Duncan also logs significant minutes at center. Bonner, Pendergraph and Baynes can all fill in at five as well.
The Lakers may start Chris Kaman, who is more skilled than Splitter offensively but needs to prove he can be a defensive anchor.
Even if Gasol doesn't start at center, he'll slide over to the position throughout D'Antoni's rotation.
The Lakers also have Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre available at five.
Who is Better?
If Bryant recovers well and quickly from the Achilles injury, the Lakers can compete with the Spurs on a given night -- but over 82 games, San Antonio has the better team.
While the Spurs used to be "old," management has done a strong job adding younger pieces to their aging, but potent, core.
It's the combination of Coach Gregg Popovich's system and roster that always seems to keep the Spurs at the top of the West.
The Lakers have a lot of question marks and while they may get to the 45-win range, that won't be enough to catch San Antonio.
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.