Seven teams finished within 7 wins of the Lakers' 57 last year, so it's not hard to imagine that at least one of them might seriously challenge LA's three-year hold on the West title. Of those seven, the Spurs are probably too old and the Thunder too young to pose a real threat. Having been raided by the Bulls and despite solid pick-ups Al Jefferson and Raja Bell, the Jazz' roster has some serious holes. Dallas only has 7, maybe 8 legitimate rotation players and their 2nd-best record in the West obscured an 8th-best point differential last year.
The Nuggets were clearly the 2nd best team in the West in 2008-2009, and might have been again in 2009-2010 if they hadn't fallen apart towards the end of the season while coach George Karl underwent chemotherapy. This year they've improved with the addition of Al Harrington (16.82). Chauncey Billups' PER is nearly equal to Kobe's (20.25 to 21.95), even if Kobe is underrated by that stat. The Nuggets' Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith are better than any of the Lakers' other guards.
The Lakers added Matt Barnes (13.66) as a back-up for Ron Artest (12.12) on the wing. Maybe together they're as talented as Carmelo Anthony (22.29), who is always capable of taking over a series. While Nene (18.95) and Harrington are no Gasol (22.97) and Bynum (20.26), Denver does have depth of quality big men to contend with LA's Big 3. I would give LA a slight edge in a best-of-seven series, and it would be a good one.