Charles Barkley Picks Lakers Over Thunder for NBA Western Conference Crown

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Kobe Bryant.

COMMENTARY | Many NBA fans believe when the Los Angeles Lakers begin the 2012-2013 season, they will be one of the most elite teams in the league

Charles Barkley, respected NBA analyst and Hall-of-Famer would agree with them.

When asked what team he thinks is the best in the Western Conference on paper, he told Sports Radio Interviews:

"The Lakers. (Host: Over Oklahoma City?) Yeah. I'm not a big Oklahoma City fan because I don't think they get any easy baskets. Like last year I didn't think they could win and the reason I picked Miami to win the championship, the only way you're going to beat Miami is beat them up inside."

Barkley knows what he's talking about and is always able (and willing) to give a thorough explanation as to why he thinks the way he does. The Lakers have only solidified their status as having the NBA's most dangerous frontcourt after acquiring Dwight Howard and will give any team fits inside, especially on the defensive end when paired with Pau Gasol.

That defensive prowess of Howard will make things difficult for opponents in the paint while being a good second level of defense behind the marginal perimeter defense of Steve Nash.

All of these factors bode well with respect to the Lakers' ability to compete with Oklahoma City. When I last wrote about the deficiencies of the Lakers when compared to the Thunder, defense, youth, and the ability to sign enough talent via free agency were major concerns.

Fortunately, a lot has changed in Los Angeles since then.

For one, the bench has gotten leaps and bounds better with the addition of Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. In addition, re-signing of Jordan Hill makes the second unit leaps and bounds better than it was a year ago.

There's no question Howard and Nash make the team downright dangerous when you group them with a legend like Kobe Bryant.

Barkley is as much of a fan of the league as he is an analyst, and it appears that like all NBA and Lakers' fans, he can't wait to see what they are going to do on the court. Talk is cheap, and winning is the only thing that matters.

Until that time comes, however, we'll all keep talking -- Sir Charles is known for that.

Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo Featured Contributor in Sports and covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He has written for Southern California's Press-Enterprise and Examiner.com and is the Editor of SportOutWest.com. For more insight, you can follow him on Twitter.

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