Steve Nash, Goran Dragic

Lakers point guard Steve Nash lays it in as Phoenix guard Goran Dragic applies pressure during a game on Feb. 12. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / February 12, 2013)

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