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In Las Vegas, the Lakers are rated as best bets

By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times Modified: September 25, 2012 at 12:23 am •  Published: September 25, 2012

“We never worry about other teams,” he said. “We focus on what we do.”

Even with Nash and Howard on board, it's not apparent the Lakers have a ready-made solution to stop the Thunder's dazzling offense with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder didn't make any significant offseason moves besides signing 7-foot-3 free agent Hasheem Thabeet, but it still possesses a few favorable matchups with the Lakers.

“Oklahoma City has an overwhelming speed and quickness advantage,” ABC and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said, “but in the half-court, I think Howard's impact is really going to be felt.”

It remains unclear whether Lamar Odom will make a difference for the Clippers considering his recent track record. The same player who was sixth man of the year with the Lakers sulked through a wasted season with the Dallas Mavericks.

Van Gundy said Odom, back with his first NBA team, could be on the verge of a career revival.

“Adding Lamar Odom, to me, is such an interesting pickup because I love the way he plays,” Van Gundy said. “He's completely unselfish and hopefully he can bounce back from a really subpar year. If he can, boy, is that a huge upgrade for their team.”

TNT analyst Steve Kerr said forward Blake Griffin's development will determine whether the Clippers become contenders in the Western Conference.

“He has to do what Karl Malone did after the first few years of his career,” Kerr said. “He added a jump shot and started making free throws. When you could go to him on the block and get consistent scoring, it changed everything and I think that's the next step for the Clippers.”

Miami wouldn't figure to need much help to defend its title after returning its Big Three, but the Heat received a boost with the signing of free agent Ray Allen as a reserve sharpshooter.

“This is not Ray Allen at 28 or 32 or even 34,” Van Gundy said of the 37-year-old, “but certainly he had a very good year I thought last year. If he can stay healthy and make that adjustment 1 / 8to coming off the bench 3 / 8, his professionalism, his offensive energy, his shooting ability will do nothing but help an already great team.”

The Lakers are widely considered a juggernaut because of an unrivaled starting lineup featuring Bryant, Howard, Nash, Gasol and Metta World Peace.

But can the star-studded roster pass a chemistry test in its first season together?

“I think it will happen quickly because they have guys who are really smart players between Kobe and Nash and Gasol in particular,” Kerr said. “Those three guys are basketball savants and they're also all at the stage where they have nothing to prove individually, so all their efforts will go into trying to make this thing work.”

A legion of Las Vegas bettors would seem to agree.