Can anyone in the West beat L.A.?

Randy Hill –

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to

When it comes to fan participation, few battle chants are worthy of application in multiple team sports.

One that crosses sport-specific barriers is “We’re No. 1!” Another is “Beat L.A.!”

And “Beat L.A.!” just happens to work extremely well when attempting to define fan predicaments as they relate to the NBA’s Western Conference playoffs.

As we ease into the final week of the league’s regular season, the
Los Angeles Lakers stand alone in terms of playoff seeding. The defending champs are inked in as the conference’s No. 1 seed, with the other seven contenders still grappling for postseason position.

A couple of months ago, we were wondering whether any other Western team was capable of even challenging the Lakers in a seven-game series. With that task still at hand, the fluid nature of the standings requires us to examine the credits and debits of the other playoff qualifiers. Fortunately for them, the Lakers’ recent mediocrity makes the challenge a bit more reasonable.

Lakers fans have been made uneasy by the surfacing of several potential problem areas. For example, Kobe Bryant has struggled physically and