Updated: May 6
The NBA playoffs would typically be underway at this point of the year. With the NBA finally being balanced in terms of competition, this year's playoffs was definitely something to look forward to. Unfortunately, we all know what happened with the pandemic affecting sports all across the world.
At the end of the day, most people expected the Battle of L.A. in the Western Conference Finals. Here's why I personally think that the Clippers would have the upper hand against the Lakers.
The Clippers are the team to beat in the west. Yeah, I know that the Lakers beat them in their last outing with a dominant performance from LeBron James and Anthony Davis, combining for 58 points. I know that the Lakers are the number one seed in the west. I know that you’re probably thinking, “This guy is a delusional Clippers fan,” or “He’s a LeBron hater."
But before you get too angry at what I’m about to tell you, let me just say that I’m a die-hard Lakers fan. I bleed purple and gold, and I’ve been sticking with the team for all my life. Through all the Larry O'Brien trophies Kobe victoriously lifted up and all the painful years of watching Ryan Kelly and Jordan Hill in the starting lineup, I fervently supported my team.
I know the Clippers have serious issues to deal with. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George need to spend more time on the court together. Their offense has sometimes looked clunky during the season. Kawhi takes too many games off. These are all problems they need to address come playoff time, but they’re all fixable issues. Everyone makes fun of Kawhi for load managing, but who’s going to be laughing when a 28-year old Leonard faces off against an aging LeBron who had to carry most of the load for his team throughout the season?
The Lakers face some fatal problems that may already be too late to deal with. Their bench is weak. They have no legitimate playmaker when LeBron’s on the bench. Kyle Kuzma, who was supposed to be the team’s third-option behind LeBron and AD, has struggled to find consistency all year long.
Their bench simply can't create much offense without the King on the floor. The Clippers, on the other hand, leads the league in bench scoring with 51 points per game. What do the Lakers have?
Kyle Kuzma? He’s been an inconsistent scorer for the Lakers as his numbers have dropped dramatically compared to last year (from 18 points per game to 12). His three-point shooting is erratic, at just under 30%. The problem is, he remains a big question mark for the Lakers. Can he be that #3 guy for the team? So far, the answer has been “no."
Rajon Rondo? He is far from a reliable playmaker when LeBron is taking a breather. Rondo has been ineffective all season, and the numbers prove it. Not only is he averaging a career-low in assists (5.1 per game) since his rookie season, his Real Plus-And-Minus stat implies that he has a negative impact on the floor. At -0.68, he logs right around the same ranks as players like Ish Smith and E’Twaun Moore
Sure, Lakers big men Dwight Howard and Javale McGee are having solid seasons. In fact, they may be key players to watch in a matchup against a smaller Clippers lineup. But the core problem for the Lakers is lacking a real playmaker besides LeBron, and that has prevented him from resting so far this season. According to ESPN, the Lakers rank second in the league in net efficiency when LeBron is on the court, but when he’s off, the Lakers come in at 22nd. Without LeBron, the Lakers play like a lottery-bound team.
If the NBA eventually resumes play and the Lakers finally face the Clippers in the conference finals, LeBron won’t simply be facing reigning Finals MVP in Kawhi, a top two-way player in PG, and the best supporting cast in the NBA. He faces another enemy in Father Time, who we all know is victorious over every athlete; LeBron won’t be an exception.
Preview photo credit: Harry How, Getty Images