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Kobe is the center of the Lakers' world in the NBA West

Marcus Henry | 4/12/2011, 4:39 p.m.

So many teams and so many star players: Who will represent the West in the NBA Finals? Everything starts and ends with the Lakers. Naturally, Kobe Bryant is at the center of anything the Lakers do. But the supporting cast is just as important. Pau Gasol is a double-double player. Derek Fisher is money from three-point range, while Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar round out a loaded team. With Andrew Bynum back and close to 100 percent, the Lakers could coast.

As for the rest of the West, it was still a jumble as of Tuesday night with only the Lakers and Denver etched in as the top two seeds. The Lakers' most viable challenger, if healthy, will be the New Orleans Hornets. Chris Paul is the toughest point guard in the league to guard. David West is a classic inside-out player who is effective in the paint and from 15 feet. The key for the Hornets will be Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler. Stojakovic returned to the lineup April 3 after missing 15 games, while Chandler was expected to play last night (Wednesday) after missing 15 games. If both are at full strength, New Orleans will be a handful to deal with.

No, I haven't forgotten about the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets might be the story of the year in the West. After pulling off the trade of the year--getting Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson--the Nuggets have been rolling. But as well as Carmelo Anthony, Billups and J.R. Smith have played, if Kenyon Martin doesn't come to play, the Nuggets will have a short ride.

Portland and Houston could be the wild cards of the bunch. If Portland, led by underrated Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, can play under control, Portland could be a force. Ron Artest and Yao Ming have been an impressive duo, but it's hard to envision them getting far without another dependable scorer. The San Antonio Spurs are all but dead without Manu Ginobili. The Utah Jazz have the talent with Deron Williams and a healthy Carlos Boozer, but are a terrible road team. Dallas, despite having Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard, are too old and slow. Prediction: Barring a freak injury, it will be the Lakers against the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.