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Are the Lakers better than the Phoenix Suns?

To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference.

In the first two entries in a series of 14, the Lakers were ruled better than the New Orleans Pelicans but not as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Are the Lakers better than the Phoenix Suns?

Point Guard

Goran Dragic is a player the Lakers often seem to struggle to cover, whether with the Houston Rockets or the Suns.

While he's not the most athletic or dominant point guard in the league, he's crafty, quick and a capable shooter.

Phoenix also picked up former Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe in a trade. Bledsoe is strong and explosive.  He's still developing as a floor general but his knack for breaking down defenders and getting to the basket can pose a problem. He's also an aggressive on-the-ball defender.

To make room for both Dragic and Bledsoe in the starting five, Phoenix may play Bledsoe at off guard.  The Suns also have Kendall Marshall and Ish Smith to round out the position.

The Lakers have arguably the best player in Phoenix history in Steve Nash. While he's almost 40, and not quite the guard who won back-to-back MVP awards with the Suns, Nash is still a creative playmaker and one of the best shooters in the game.

Steve Blake is a feisty reserve, coming off a strong year with the Lakers -- when he was healthy.  That's the rub for the Lakers, whether both Nash and Blake can play most or all of an 82-game schedule. If they do, the Lakers are strong at the point. Last season Nash played just 50 games, Blake 45.

The Lakers also brought back Jordan Farmar, who adds some athleticism, shooting and depth to the position.

With Dragic and Bledsoe, the Suns may have a slight edge at the position, but less so if the Lakers are healthy.

Shooting Guard

The recurring theme in any Lakers preview is the status of Kobe Bryant as he returns from a turn Achilles' tendon.

Assuming he returns to form, even if it takes a month or two into the season, Bryant is still one of the top players in the NBA.

In addition to Bledsoe, who may start at the position, the Suns have rookie Archie Goodwin, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and Dionte Christmas. Phoenix needs to cut at least two players before the start of the season, which could thin out some of the two-guard logjam.

Goodwin is only 19 but has tremendous potential as a scorer. Former Laker Brown is still an explosive, exciting dunker.

Behind Bryant, the Lakers have a long list of players who will fight for minutes, including Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry (a training-camp invite who still has to make the team) and even point guards Blake and Farmar.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding Bryant, the Lakers hold the advantage at shooting guard.

Small Forward

The Suns have three viable players at small forward in Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green.

Morris can play either forward position but might start alongside twin brother Markieff.  Marcus has some shooting range and some power, although he's not as strong as his brother.

Tucker is an aggressive defender and emerging role player. Green, an athletic scorer, was acquired from the Indiana Pacers in a trade for power forward Luis Scola.

The Lakers might start Nick Young at small forward.  Wesley Johnson is also an option, although the former Sun may come off the bench.

Young is a high-volume scorer. Johnson is still looking to emerge as a consistent contributor.  The Lakers hope Johnson develops into a lock-down defender with a steady outside shot.

Shawne Williams and Marcus Landry, both fighting to make the final roster, bring shooting and toughness to the position.

Small forward is not a standout position for either franchise.

Power Forward

Coach Mike D'Antoni has to decide if the Pau Gasol/Chris Kaman tandem is the right choice, or whether Gasol should start at center with Kaman coming off the bench.

Heading into camp, Gasol is probably penciled in as the power forward.  While that wasn't a natural fit for Gasol last season alongside Dwight Howard, D'Antoni can better play to the 7-footer's strengths next to Kaman.

Gasol can be the inside focus. Kaman has a steady jump shot and thrives in the pick and roll.

The Lakers can start Jordan Hill at the four, adding energy and rebounding.  Both Elias Harris and Ryan Kelly are young possibilities off the bench, both fighting to make the team.

Williams and Landry also can play power forward.

Markieff Morris has an impressive combination of power and skill.  He's strong and can play in the post but also can make the three-point shot. His best-case scenario might be developing into a Rasheed Wallace-type player, although Morris' inside game hasn't yet neared Wallace's prime.

Channing Frye is hoping to get back on the court after a heart issue. His status is unclear.

The Suns also have Miles Plumlee and can play Marcus Morris at the four.

With Gasol starting, the Lakers clearly have the advantage.  If it's Hill, the two teams are about even at power forward.

Center

The Suns have a solid center in Marcin Gortat.  They also picked up Alex Len in the draft and traded for Vyacheslav Kravtsov.

Markieff Morris, Frye and even Plumlee can play center, but Phoenix isn't particularly strong at the position.

Kaman is arguably the best center offensively on either roster.  Certainly Gasol, if starting, gives the Lakers the advantage at center.

The Lakers also have Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill at center.

Who is Better?

The Lakers are more skilled and experienced than the Suns at four positions -- with small forward being a toss-up.

The Suns won just 25 games last season and while they may improve by a handful of games, their upside isn't much more than 30 wins.

If Bryant, Nash and Gasol show their age and struggle with injury, the Lakers could drop into the 30s -- but a more realistic projection is close to last year's 45-37.

Dragic and Bledsoe will give the Lakers the most trouble offensively for the Suns.  The Morris twins are promising but are still developing.  It is unclear whether Gortat is part of Phoenix's future plans.

Both the Lakers and Suns are in transition but the Lakers are a borderline playoff team and Phoenix may be in contention for a top lottery pick.

Where exactly the Lakers stand in relation to the rest of the West isn't quite clear but they are better than at least two Western teams in the Suns and Pelicans.

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Watch a failed attempt to replicate Kobe Bryant's (fake) car stunt

Coach Mike D'Antoni looking forward to a 'normal' season with Lakers

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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