LOS ANGELES -- Forget the challenge of the Los Angeles Lakers entering the playoffs with their starting small forward suspended and pay no mind to their 3-7 record during the regular season against the five teams ahead of them (San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Miami and Indiana) in the NBA standings.
Kobe Bryant still believes the Lakers will be the team to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy come June.
"I expect to win it, absolutely," Bryant told 710 ESPN's "Max & Marcellus Show" on Wednesday. "I think the thing that's our biggest strength is our versatility and our size. (Ramon) Sessions has added another dimension to our team in terms of speed and point guard that can score the ball. Our bench has been playing extremely well. We've been shooting the ball extremely well, and our biggest key is our perimeter shooting, limiting our turnovers, and keeping the game at our pace. If we can do those things in the postseason, I like our chances."
The Lakers play their final regular season game on Thursday in Sacramento but already have locked up the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff standings which, as of Wednesday, would pit them against the Denver Nuggets in the first round. There is still a chance the Lakers would play the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round, however. Dallas trails Denver in the standings by just a half game.
Not that the opponent really matters to Bryant.
"Everybody's a problem," Bryant said when asked who the top contenders were. "The Western Conference has been tough from top to bottom now for years. There are no easy matchups. You can't look at one particular matchup and say, 'OK, that's going to be an easy series. That's going to be a gimme series.' That just doesn't happen in the Western Conference.
"The Clippers have a good seed at the four slot, and they've got to face Memphis. You're looking at us in the third slot, and we've got to deal with a Denver team that's incredibly active and a great scoring team or we've got to play the defending champs. There's no easy matchup."
One thing the Lakers will have on their side through the tough playoff run is the collaboration of their leaders. Bryant said that he and first-year Lakers coach Mike Brown are on the same page after a rocky inaugural season together.
"It's better than it's ever been," Bryant said when asked about his relationship with Brown. "At the start of the season, the relationship was all new. So we still were kind of trying to feel out each other, and see what he likes, what I like, what the team needs and so on and so forth. Midway through the season, you have struggles, you have bumps on the road where you have to figure things out. That's true with any championship team.
"You look at the (New York) Giants last year; that was a dysfunctional crew. Not to say that we were dysfunctional, but you have ups and downs and that's just part of working through it. I think teams that are standing at the end are teams that are able to figure things out, continue their open lines of communication, and make themselves a better ballclub at the end. So right now, we're in a very good place."
When asked about his future after basketball, Bryant dismissed the idea of owning an NBA franchise.
"No. No thank you ... Are you kidding me? You want me to own a team and deal with these rich, spoiled stubborn athletes, and try to get them to perform? No thank you."
Bryant also said he doesn't use Michael Jordan's accomplishments as a measuring stick, choosing to continue his legacy rather than competing with it.
"To be really frank with you, I really do not look at it as that, for the simple fact that Michael has really taught me a lot. Really taught me a lot. The trainer of his, Tim Grover, he's passed on to me and I work with him a great deal, and he's shown me a lot. So I can't sit there and say, 'Well, I'm trying to catch Jordan at six, I want to pass him after six.' That's not how I approach that, because most of the things that I have learned, most of the things that I do, I owe to him. People don't really understand that. They want to make it a me versus him type of thing, and I just don't feel that way.
"I have a great sense of admiration and respect for the things that I've learned from him. I feel like I owe it to him, and I owe it to Jerry West, and I owe it to Oscar (Robertson), and I owe it to Elgin (Baylor) and I owe it to all those players who I've come in contact with and have passed on a lot of information to me, to carry that torch and to carry that mantle."