Double trouble for Lakers in West?

Try as we might to avoid discussing the Lakers every day, we can't help ourselves for one very good reason: Any discussion of other contenders in the West automatically takes us back to L.A. as a reference point.

The theme of the Western Conference this season has been "Will anybody challenge the Lakers?" Support for affirmative answers has been scarce; much like last season, when L.A. won 11 more games than any other team in the conference, the Lakers have opened up a large gap over the competition. That L.A. has done this despite nonexistent point guard production, the loss of Pau Gasol for 17 games and a laundry list of minor dings to Kobe Bryant suggests the Lakers are highly likely to claim a third straight conference title.