On NBA’s Opening Day, fans were gifted a match up featuring two teams widely regarded as the best in basketball.
It was a back and forth game with both teams leading by double digits at one point, however it came down to a LeBron James game-winner to put the Lakers ahead for good. This was a momentous moment for both franchises, as this rivalry will likely be seen again in the Western Conference Finals where the battle for LA will be determined in a seven game series.
The Los Angeles Lakers were betting odds favorites to win the NBA Championship. Led by superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers are sitting comfortably as the number one seed in the Western Conference. However, many fans and analysts expect them to fall to the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals.
Why is this?
Although LeBron James and Anthony Davis are great, the Clippers have a more complete roster around their two superstars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Having lost two games to the Clippers already, the final regular season matchup is a significant win for the Lakers with playoffs just around the corner.
Although the Lakers came out with a win, the final score was much closer than it should have been. The Clippers strength is their bench depth, so without their two bench stars, Lou Williams and Montrez Harell, the Lakers were supposed to win this game by double digits. There was a lot of sloppy play during the game.
LeBron James struggled early, but played well in the fourth quarter. After making the go-ahead shot, James locked up Kawhi and Paul George to seal the deal. The Lakers also made up some offense with the help of Kyle Kuzma and Dion Waiters who provided much needed scoring off the bench. Finally, Anthony Davis showed up in a big way, scoring 34 points against far inferior big-men guarding him. Overall, the Lakers should be proud of how they played. LeBron James will perform consistently down the line, and Anthony Davis is showing who he can really be. The Lakers can confidently cruise into the playoffs as the one seed, as they await a rematch later on.
The Los Angeles Clippers are the “step children of Staples Center” constantly being overlooked due to a lack of flashiness and championships that the Lakers provide fans in LA. However, this year, the narrative is changing. The Clippers took a stacked Warriors team to a six-game playoff series, and managed to add superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the roster. The Clippers are the second seed in the Western Conference, and could have competed for the first seed had it not been for a policy of load management, where players sit out games to rest.
Having beaten the Lakers twice already, once without Paul George, the Clippers were feeling confident about their situation in the Western Conference, as a Western Conference Finals upset against the Lakers is looming.
The Clippers are a team designed to stop LeBron James. Kawhi and Paul George are two of the best defenders in the league, with many other pieces on the roster who can guard LeBron. This worked nearly to perfection last night for the Clippers. As they held James to making merely 31% of his shots. It also helped that Paul George and Kawhi Leonard played amazing, as it appeared they couldn’t miss from three point range.
However, the Clippers biggest weaknesses were exposed.
It is now evident that not only do the Clippers not have a way to stop Anthony Davis, but they don’t have anything close to an answer for him. In addition to this, the Clippers depth was non-existent, as the absence of Lou Williams and Montrez Harrell crippled the team’s bench. Overall, the Clippers should feel good about how they played without their third and fourth best players, but when playoff time rolls around, Anthony Davis may be a problem they cannot solve.
Both the Lakers and the Clippers are expected to make deep playoff runs, with the only thing preventing them from a finals appearance is each other. The close game last night is what fans have been waiting for since the league shut down five months ago.
A seven-game series between these teams is on its way, and both the Lakers and the Clippers are ready to take this season by the horns.
Will the experience of the Lakers be enough to edge them past the Clippers? Or will the Clippers defense be too much for the Lakers to handle? Either way, fans are in for a treat when the Western Conference Finals roll around.