There are only two teams who have a legitimate chance to unseat the Lakers in their quest to return to their fourth-straight NBA Finals.
It will come down to the Spurs or Thunder.
Though the Lakers have had trouble with the Hornets, Los Angeles will likely win the series, and then beat the winner of Dallas-Portland.
Where the Lakers dodged a bullet, is with the Spurs and Thunder likely to meet in the Western Conference semi-finals, so they will only have to face one of the two teams.
The winner of that series will likely give the Lakers a good deal of trouble.
It seems like every season that the Spurs have one of the best teams in the NBA.
San Antonio will have home-court advantage on Los Angeles, and the two teams split the season series. However, the most recent game was played near the end of the season, and head coach Greg Popovich rested key players in the Lakers' victory.
The Spurs have picked their game up a notch since last season. San Antonio is averaging 103.7 points per game compared 101.4 last season. Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair have played strong complimentary roles to stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. Meanwhile, Richard Jefferson has played with more energy than last season.
Parker had two strong meetings against the Lakers, averaging 21 points in the games, and shooting better than 50 percent.
More important than individual performances, the Spurs are a well-tuned machine, and have been this way for several years. But how they handle the Lakers will be another story.
In the past 10 years, the Spurs and Lakers have faced each other five times, and the Lakers have won four of the series.
As always, the Lakers are big, and the Spurs, with the exception of Tim Duncan, don't have much of a presence down low. The Lakers will look to keep the ball in the hands of Paul Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom, in the low post.
It will be up to Blair to Antonio McDyess to provide help for Duncan down low. That will be a tall order for both players, but they are both capable of having solid performances when it matters.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have a far better chance than many give them credit for. The Thunder are led by one of the best players in the NBA, Kevin Durant. Along with athletic perimeter player Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have a burly big man in Kendrick Perkins to defend Bynum and Gasol.
The Thunder took one game out of three against the Lakers this season, and Durant overcame two sub-par performances against the champs to score 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting in the third game in Los Angeles to get the lone victory.
Durant appears to be a shade off of his fantastic season in 2009-2010. But the young two-time All-Star still led the NBA in scoring at 27.7 points per game.
It will be up to Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Matt Barnes, and on some occasions Pau Gasol to defend Durant.
The Lakers have had their problems with Westbrook. The former UCLA guard averaged 26.7 points per game, off 47.5 percent shooting, in three games against Los Angeles. The Lakers have historically had trouble guarding athletic players like Westbrook.
In last season's NBA playoffs, the Thunder took two wins off the Lakers in the best-of-seven series. Often the Lakers looked like they were on the ropes.
The Lakers have a very good chance to beat both the Spurs and the Thunder, and deserve to be favored in either series. Anytime you have a superstar with a killer instinct like Kobe Bryant and quality big men, you can understand why the Lakers have gone to the Finals three straight years.
Phil Jackson's squad is likely to have a tougher time with Oklahoma City than San Antonio, but expect both potential series to go either six or seven games, with the Lakers finding a way to squeak out a series win.