Without Andrew Bynum, Are the Lakers Still Favorites to Win The West?

With the playoffs rapidly approaching, and Andrew Bynum sidelined by a knee injury for the third straight year, it's time to ask a painful question for Laker fans.

If Bynum can't come back at full strength, are the Lakers the favorites to win the Western Conference any more?

There hasn't been this much panic in Laker-land since Kobe Bryant told Stephen A. Smith that he wanted to be traded back in the summer of 2007 , and for good reason.

Since Bynum went down with a strained Achilles tendon on March 19 , the once near-invincible Lakers look suddenly mortal. Very mortal.

The Lakers, who've gone 13-8 since the All-Star break, were on a six-game winning streak when Bynum went down against the Timberwolves.  

Since Bynum's injury the Lakers are 3-3—with two blowout losses coming at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and the Atlanta Hawks just last night.

Coincidence? I think not.

See, we've known a few things about this year's Laker team for a while. 

As ESPN LosAngeles' Arash Markezi wrote today, the drop-off from the Lakers' starting five to the Laker bench is meteoric.  (Markezi writes, "The Lakers are not a deep team. They're not even a shallow team. They're a rock-solid, one-floor building with a shaky basement that probably would fail inspection.")

With Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, and Jordan Farmar manning the point, speedy guards have been having their way with the Lakers' defense all year.

The Lakers' greatest strength to combat these deficiencies has been their front-line size. With Bynum at center, seven-footer Pau Gasol as the starting power forward, and 6'11" Lamar Odom coming off the bench as the team's sixth man, the Lakers had three walking trees that could disrupt their opponents defensively.

Without Bynum, the Lakers' greatest strength has suddenly disappeared.

"You've got to under...

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