Make no mistake about it: the Los Angeles Lakers still own LA. Lob City is cute and all, but come playoff time, the Clipshow won’t cut it.

For the first time in five years, the Lakers will enter the playoffs with expectations that may fall short of an NBA championship. Los Angeles, before being bounced in the second round last season by eventual champions Dallas Mavericks, had been to the NBA Finals each of the previous three years. This season, the Lakeshow is not the best team in the league. They are probably not even the best team in the West.

But, especially in this awkward, lockout-shortened season, the Lakers have a legitimate shot at winning the championship. They have two things that make them every bit a title contender as any other team in the league, and more of a real threat than the other occupant Staples Center: the best player in basketball in Kobe Bryant, and the best starting frontcourt in the league with Pau Gasol and Andrew

Bynum. Let’s start with Kobe: He is 33 years old

(it sure does seem like he is closer to 40) and ranks second in the league with 27.9 points per game (Kevin Durant averages a clean 28.0 per game). This year, The Black Mamba has shown he has not lost a step, coming off a down season in which he was unable to practice all season due to an ailing knee. Despite this, many were calling the Kobe era in LA finished. Make no mistake: Kobe Bryant (in the words of Mark Jackson) is still the baddest man in the league. He is the best crunch-time scorer and the best, proven big-game player in the league. And you know if you are on the opposing bench, you are scared to see that nasty underbite going (see graphic). While both Bynum (his bad attitude) and Gasol (his sandy vagina) have concerns, each is mitigated by the other’s presence. Bynum, healthy for once, has emerged as the best offensive center in the league, as well as one of the best defenders and rebounders, averaging career-highs across the board. The only problem? He doesn’t get the ball enough. Gasol has plateaued these past few years, but may even be underrated now due to this. After all, 17.4 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game is no walk in the park. When he does get the ball, Gasol is such a willing passer, that it pays to run the offense through him. This frontcourt is a nightmare for almost any team, all they need is the ball. And if the Lakers (read: Kobe) can successfully pound

the ball inside to run the offense through their bigs, they will have success. Meanwhile, the Clippers, although they do have a deeper team with a more formidable bench, lack the experience and perimeter scoring to make them a legitimate title contender. As great as he is, Blake Griffin cannot become a dominant force in the NBA until he learns how to make free throws and play better low-post defense. Chris Paul does have the potential to single-handedly swing a series, but he can’t get it done alone. Because of his foul-shooting woes, Griffin is not yet a player who you can throw

the ball to on the block, and say “go to work.” I’m crossing my fingers for a Lakers-Clippers showdown in the Western Conference

Finals. The battle for LA is on. And although there are no lakes, I’m pretty sure there are no clips in Los Angeles either. Regardless, this is still Kobe’s town.

Daily Nexus Sports Editor Ryan Porush brings out the Kobe underbite whilst dominating at The Great Nexus Forum on a nightly basis.