Will Kobe Bryant and the Lakers finish ahead of the Utah Jazz in the Western… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference.
In the first four 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 and San Antonio Spurs.
Are the Lakers better than the Utah Jazz?
Trey Burke was a force at Michigan but he needs to prove he's ready to play at the NBA level over an 82-game season. The rookie should get major minutes for the rebuilding Jazz.
Behind Burke is John Lucas III, who will be asked to pick up the slack when Burke goes through any growing pains.
The Lakers have a much stronger, more experienced crew at the position with Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.
The Jazz rotation isn't quite clear. Gordon Hayward could start at shooting guard or small forward.
Hayward is gradually developing into a very solid NBA player. He shoots well, defends with effort. He's just not at Kobe Bryant's level -- assuming Bryant makes his way back successfully from Achilles surgery.
Behind Bryant, the Lakers boast 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 Jazz picked up Brandon Rush from the Golden State Warriors. Recovering from a torn ACL, Rush is an above-average defender and shooter.
If the starter isn't Hayward or Rush, Alec Burks may get the call. Utah also has Ian Clark and Jerel McNeal.
The starter at small forward for the Jazz could be Hayward, Rush or Burks.
Marvin Williams is recovering from his own torn Achilles. He is also an option as starter, although not initially.
The Jazz are relatively solid at the swing positions with Jeremy Evans and Richard Jefferson also available.
The Lakers may start offensive-minded Nick Young with Wesley Johnson backing him up as the stronger 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 Jazz are on par with the Lakers at small forward.
The Jazz let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson leave in free agency, giving Derrick Favors the opportunity to own the position.
Favors is extremely athletic and will be asked to help carry the team. That's a lot to ask of a young player -- at times he'll live up to that challenge but consistency may be elusive.
The Lakers may start Pau Gasol at power forward, giving the Lakers more experienced size and skill. Favors is faster and more agile than Gasol.
Gasol gives the Lakers the advantage, but if the Lakers start Jordan Hill at power forward, Utah might have the edge.
The Jazz don't have much size behind Favors at the four. They may need to play small forwards such as Jeremy Evans or Marvin Williams in reserve.
Elias Harris and Ryan Kelly are young possibilities off the bench for the Lakers at power forward (both fighting to make the team). Small forwards Williams and Landry can also play at the four spot.
Enes Kanter should benefit from the opportunity to play. He's still learning the game but has tremendous potential.
The Jazz also brought in Rudy Gobert and can play Favors at center. Andris Biedrins was acquired from the Golden State Warriors but he may not be a significant part of the rotation.
Chris Kaman, penciled in as the Lakers starter, is more skilled and experienced than anyone the Jazz can play at center.
The youngsters with the Jazz may have more long-term upside, but this season the Lakers hold the advantage.
Whether or not Gasol starts at center, he will log minutes at the position. So will Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre.
Who is better?
The Jazz are not going to be a great team this season -- probably a good thing for their franchise long term, given the quality at the top of the 2014 draft class.
The Lakers are reliant on Bryant's healthy return from the Achilles injury but even if he takes until December or even January -- his team should be better than Utah.
The Jazz will win in the low 30s, at best. The Lakers should finish in the 45-win range.
Shaquille O'Neal becomes minority owner of Sacramento Kings
Lakers to rely on youth and athleticism to bolster defense
TWC SportsNet kicks off news season, premiere of 'Backstage: Lakers'
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.