In L.A., this is the part of the basketball season that really matters, and while the Lakers aren't prohibitive title favorites, there are plenty of interesting storylines heading into Sunday's postseason opener against a tough Denver team.
With that in mind, we present to you -- in no particular order -- the 10 most exciting things about watching these Lakers in the postseason. Did we miss anything? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
1. Watch Andrew Bynum in his first playoffs as a featured cog.
Bynum has two rings in his jewelry case, but this will be his first postseason as a truly featured member of the Lakers. The best center playing in the postseason, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 60 regular-season games -- only one missed due to injury -- and is the catalyst for everything the Lakers do defensively. If he’s engaged, they can be dominant.
2. Pau Gasol: The redemption.
No Laker suffered more in last year’s playoff meltdown than Gasol, who averaged a mere 13 points on 42 percent shooting in the postseason. This season, he has bounced back well, providing his customary metronome-steady performance on both sides of the floor and filling whatever role Mike Brown has asked. Rock-solid play notwithstanding, he’ll need a good spring to fully restore his reputation among Lakers fans.
3. The first day of the rest of Mike Brown’s coaching life.
Kobe Bryant told ESPNLA.com earlier this week that even Phil Jackson needed a postseason to prove himself to his players in Los Angeles, and he arrived from Chicago with six rings. Brown comes with real regular-season success and one run to the Finals, but plenty of questions about his ability to make adjustments in a playoff series. If he’s perceived to be outcoached this postseason, his job next season gets substantially harder.
4. Kobe Bryant is healthy.
At 33 years old with nearly 19.5 seasons' worth of regular and postseason minutes under his belt, Bryant came within a whisker of leading the league in scoring. Now he’ll enter the postseason as healthy as he’s been in years, the seven late-season games he sat with shin inflammation allowing the rest of his body to heal, as well. He’s always highly motivated to win, but this year he will be battling only opponents, not his body as well.
5. The Lakers are playing the unusual role of underdogs.
Following Gasol's arrival in L.A, the Lakers have enjoyed four consecutive seasons as one of the NBA's chief bullies. Between the championship pedigree, Zen Master coach and glorious franchise history, the Lakers have been reflexively favored in virtually every series. This year, however, not so much. Should the Lakers reach series against the Thunder, Spurs, Heat or Bulls, it'll be as David staring down Goliath. It's an unusual hat to wear, and we'll see how it suits them.
6. No Derek Fisher.
First, the naysayers said Kobe would never win a title without Shaquille O'Neal. That storyline is now long since dead, but Bryant is now without another key teammate. Derek Fisher's stature doesn't match Shaq's, but his big shots and incomparable leadership were critical in Bryant's five ring runs. How much of a void does he leave in the playoffs? If the Lakers advance and play the Thunder, seeing close friends battle for all the marbles is the very definition of drama.
7. Ramon Sessions on the big stage.
Before the trade deadline, the journeyman guard wasn't on the radar of most casual NBA fans. He's largely been a backup, and the three teams he'd previously played for (Milwaukee, Minnesota, Cleveland) never made the playoffs. On March 15, he became the potential point guard of the future for the NBA's most glamorous franchise. Big things are now expected. Will he deliver?
8. Watch the ball.
The triangle offense may be history, but the Lakers still take advantage of excellent passers. Bryant’s scoring gets all the attention, but he sees the floor as well as any guard in the league. At 7 feet tall, Gasol can lead the break, is deadly from the high post, and is deft enough with the ball to handle the ball in the pick-and-roll. When they’re clicking, the ball movement is beautiful.
9. The “fanatic” in fan comes out.
Lakers fans are routinely lampooned as perfectly manicured, sunglasses-wearing fashionistas more interested in courtside cameras than the action on the floor. No doubt there’s some truth there, but at playoff time even the stars get serious and the regular folks -- meaning the 10 or so million residents of L.A. County who aren’t famous -- become purple and gold zealots. Staples Center gets loud, and around town flags fly and the energy builds.
10. Change is gonna come.
The Lakers face massive decisions in the very near future as cap/tax issues loom. Do they extend Bynum, likely to enter his walk year next season? Does Gasol get traded? Sessions is expected to opt out of his final year. How much do the Lakers spend to keep him? Does Metta World Peace have a future in L.A.? Can Jordan Hill play his way into next season's plans? The answers could depend a lot on how these playoffs play out.