Tag Archives: Kawhi Leonard

NBA’s Bubble Bursting with Rash of Injuries to Superstars

The NBA’s decision to restart the 2019-20 season is coming back to haunt them as star players drop like flies with major injuries. Think back to last August when the talk of an NBA bubble was ruffling the feathers of some of the league’s biggest stars, including its biggest in LeBron James.

It was so much of an issue that players led by James and Kawhi Leonard nearly walked out, taking the hopes of a restart with them. We know that the bubble ultimately went smoothly, but that stance is back at the forefront.

NBA’s Quick Turnaround is Coming Back to Bite Them in Playoffs with Injuries to Stars

Bad News

Los Angeles Clippers superstar forward Kawhi Leonard suffered a knee injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Reports are that it’s feared to be a torn ACL which would, obviously, knock him out of the postseason.

James took to social media to voice his displeasure retroactive to the quick turnaround after last season. In a four-part Twitter thread, the 17-time All-Star began by saying “They all didn’t wanna listen to me about the start of the season. I knew exactly what would happen” before sending prayers to Leonard on his recovery.

He (Leonard) just the latest in a long line of big-name players to be sidelined due to injury this season. It’s a season, by the way, in which studies have shown a major increase in soft-tissue injuries.

ESPN broke the story and mentioned the impact was magnified amongst the game’s stars.

Throughout the season we lost superstars like James, James Harden, James’ teammate, Anthony Davis, and so many more. It stands to reason as they are on the floor and have the ball the most. We know that. And, to James’s point, they put the most stress on their body. This is where the sympathy for the players ends, though.

If You Only Knew

Not to pick on James, but he is the vocal face of the league and spoke on this in real-time. His entire thread is flawed. Remember this story about the Lakers and Clippers, led by James and Leonard, nearly walking out of a meeting in the bubble after voting to cancel the playoffs?

How, then, are we supposed to rally behind the players when they apparently felt one way about starting the 2020-21 season but acted in another?

No, this isn’t slinging blame on the players for trying to protect their income. Anyone who works would likely have made the same decision. However, that person would not then get to stand on the other side and point a finger if things didn’t work out.

Would this be the stance if the Lakers were still alive in the postseason? Maybe, but chances are you wouldn’t hear it voiced in this fashion.

Maybe the frustration of it all played a part in lashing out. But players legitimately almost kept the bubble from happening. Why then couldn’t they combine the forces of what is viewed as one of the stronger player unions in pro sports and hold off the start of the season? If they truly “know about the body and how it works all year round”, then why not present that information?

Injuries Making NBA, Star Players Feel Effects of Quick Turnaround

The answer put simply is they made a business decision. When weighing the risks of playing after such little time off versus those of missing out on salary. Again, it’s an understandable position to take for anyone, not just in regards to the NBA’s injuries.

Just don’t be surprised when the calls for sympathy or the “I told you so” attitude falls flat. You already knew what would happen!

Triple Zeros: Smooth Jazz Clips Los Angeles in Utah

Triple Zeros

Smooth Jazz Clips Los Angeles in Utah

In this episode of Triple Zeros, Josh talks NBA Playoffs and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks chances now that they got a game against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets. He also talks Utah Jazz dynamo Donovan Mitchell‘s dominance over Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers then sets the stage for Friday’s Hawks-76ers and Nuggets-Suns tilts.

Things switch over to the NFL as the preseason schedule was released, Aaron Rodgers remains steadfast in no longer playing for the Green Bay Packers, and Russell Wilson proves a previous talking point right. All that and much more!

Anchor | Apple

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Triple Zeros: Clips and Salsa

Triple Zeros

Clips and Salsa

In this episode of Triple Zeros, Josh reacts to the first round of the NBA Playoffs continuing thanks to Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers Game 6 win over Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. He also takes a moment to acknowledge the feats of Devin Booker and Trae Young and shining brightest on the biggest stages. Then things switch over the NFL as the league is already pushing for an 18-game schedule. Plus Todd Gurley could re-unite with Jared Goff in Detroit, and so much more!

Anchor | Apple

5 Most Impactful Guards from the First Round of the NBA Playoffs

It Needs to Actually (Finally) Be ‘Dame Time’

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Clocker Sports

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2020-21 NBA Profile: Patrick Williams

Hello basketball fans, are you ready for Patrick Williams? The NBA season is due to tip off in less than 20 days. Just a few short days ago the NBA draft was completed and the top of the draft went as projected but then at number four things start to get haywire as no one is really sure what the Bulls are going to do (for once). I also plan on dropping a video breaking down this young man as well so let’s stop wasting time and jump into it.

Patrick Williams 2020-21 NBA Profile

The Bulls Get Their Man

Patrick Williams was the Chicago Bulls guy with the fourth-overall pick in the draft. This year’s pick is the highest pick the Bulls have had since they drafted a young man by the name of Derrick Rose all the way back in 2008. This year is also the first time the Bulls were drafting without either Jerry Krause or John Paxson making the big decision. Question for the reader? Do you know who the last player the Bulls drafted with their top pick before Kraus took over in the mid-80s?

Now let’s talk about Williams. There were definitely some other big named prospects on the board that may have helped your heart rest at ease. The Bulls could have nabbed big man Obi Toppin, Deni Avdija. If you are fond listener of the Around the Clockers podcast you will frequently hear this writer adamently push for Avdija. That tune has changed to all in on this young man. Now before you fall in love, let’s set reasonable expectations. Because the only way you become dissappointed is by setting ridiculous expectations.

What Not to Expect

When people see the number Four pick they tend to add a bunch of unnecessary expectations around them like they need to be the team’s superstar or need to immediately impact the team. Well, I do not expect Patrick Williams to impact this team at least on the offensive end. He is a 19-year-old that is still learning about his body and how it works. He truly has not scratched the surface of his physical gifts yet. I expect Williams to make an impact defensively because no one on this Bulls team plays a lick of defense.

Williams can immediately step in and start guarding the best wings and forwards this league has to offer. Not many people come into the league at 6-foot-8 and 225 lbs. That is an NBA-ready body. Williams has all of the physical tools to become an immediate impact defender on this team. When I watched his college tape, he reminded me of those Bulls teams from earlier this decade. You know, when we actually hustled and played defense? You miss those days? Because I do.

Williams also comes in with the potential to develop his offensive game as well. Even though he was the 6th man on his college team he shot 32 percent from the three-point range and averaged 1 Block and 1 Steal a game. Now I know the three-point percentage is not where we want it to be but if you take a look at his free throw percentage that is a much more telling sign of learning to be able to shoot. Remember both Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz shot over 40 percent from deep in college but both of them shot in the mid 60 percentile from the free throw.

Williams is a passive style of player. He wants to help you win at all costs, which was his case at Florida State. Williams was passive towards his senior-led teammates at Florida State even his draft counterpart Devin Vassell a sophomore who went to San Antonio. Now remember those expectations I set, I understand there are some alarming red flags, but most prospects not named LeBron James have some form of a flaw, but let’s dive right into all of the positives about this young player.

The Positives:

Like I stated before, he is 6-foot-8 and 225 lbs. That is something you do not teach. You also cannot teach his very good team defensive instincts and on-ball defensive ability. He can switch and guard pretty much any position with his explosive athleticism. What I also forgot to mention was that he has a 7-foot wingspan allowing him to blow up passing lanes and quick reflex blocks with ease, which the Bulls so desperately need. Another thing I really enjoy about him is that he is ready to work. Do you remember the humble kid from Chicago that went number One overall and stole the hearts of many Bulls fans? Well, Williams carries himself with that exact same demeanor. He is humble, quiet and all he wants to do is play basketball and get better every day.

The thing with Williams is before you sell all of your stock on him because you never heard of him. Let him grow. I think his floor is just below a Luol Deng type of player and his ceiling is that of a Kawhi Leonard. By the way, Leonard is the greatest development story this league has ever seen. Frustration over picking a guy you have never heard of is understandable. But the rumor was the Spurs wanted to draft him. Do we remember what happened last time they got their hands on a dynamic two-way forward? Alright then.

What Not To Like

The unknown can always be construed as a negative thought because it could be good or bad, but let’s look elsewhere. Most of the general public are not enjoying this pick because of the numbers. He barely averaged Nine points per game coming off of the bench. He was fourth on the team in points and is one of the only few players that average more turnovers than assist during the season.

Another negative thing that people take into account is his aggression as a player. I have heard the term he is “too nice” on the court. Now that would be a problem if he was the future of this team. And future means the leading scorer and the reason the Bulls win a title. If that is a concern of yours then your expectations are too high. This was the first pick by the new regime and it will set the tone for the decade to come.

Williams Outlook Going Forward

This is a good pick. The Bulls are desperate for a wing defender; something Williams can make his name in right away. We will have to wait and see about his offense. This all comes down to expectations. When the Bulls are competing for titles, Williams will be a very good role player for us. Like a Trevor Ariza on the ’09 Lakers or Harrison Barnes on those Warriors teams. He will be an excellent role player for us and if he can develop even more than that, it’s just icing on the cake.

Kawhi Learns Lesson Lebron Learned a Decade Ago

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is learning, the hard way, a lesson that LeBron James had to learn in the same fashion. That lesson is that it’s easy to assemble talent, but far more challenging to build a team. In a Game 7 on Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the NBA playoffs, the postseason’s most consistent performer tried to fly in the face of history but wound up flying too close to the sun.

LeBron’s 2010 Lesson Being Learned By Leonard

Decisions Decisions

We all remember when LeBron sat down for that ESPN special, which was the idea of a fan, by the way. The NBA world watched with bated breath as he, in search of his first championship, took his talents to South Beach. Teaming up with his friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they would go on to bring the Heat organization its second and third titles.

Instant success was elusive, though. That first postseason the Heat ran through each of the first three rounds in five games apiece and were third in opponent points per game. But they ran into the buzzsaw Dallas Mavericks, the third-highest scoring team in those playoffs, and fell in six games, cementing the legacy of Dirk Nowitzki and casting another shadow on that of James.

If he couldn’t win with his handpicked team, then would he ever get over the hump? He obviously did, but his 17/8/7 line left a lot to be desired and led to the J.J. Barea memes. James and Leonard would meet in back to back Finals but the 2010 series is where Leonard’s current path, wholly different to this point, has caught up to James’ from a decade ago.

The Same Difference

Kawhi’s legend grew from his defense of James. Even though the latter averaged 26.7/9.3/5.5 the former proved to be a James agitator; much like a bigger (and quieter) DeShawn Stevenson. The result was a Finals MVP in 2014. Leonard would see his scoring jump the following season as he made his first All-Star appearance but the Spurs lost in the Western Conference Semifinals and Finals in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Three years after winning his first championship and Finals MVP, Leonard found himself embroiled in a months-long dispute with the organization that had developed him. The issue at heart, a lingering quad issue, and the organization’s questionable (at best) handling of it. From lost faith in the team medical staff to teammates publicly comparing the severity of their injuries to his.

It all concluded with a blockbuster deal that sent Leonard to the Toronto Raptors. The season they had was storybook, winning 58 games and, ultimately the championship. Leonard earned another Finals MVP as the Raptors downed a Golden State Warriors squad that lost Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson during the series.

Catching the King

Success breeds expectations and this is where Leonard finds himself in James’ shoes of 2010 now in 2020. Leonard’s new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, whom he spurned the Raptors for, were eliminated in seven games by the “year away” Denver Nuggets. Kawhi was as steady as they came, but a supporting cast that was often touted as the deepest in the league frequently left meat on the bone.

In what was Leonard’s quest to match James’ ring total, ended in a flurry missed flailing layups from Montrezl Harrell, short jumpers from Paul George, and Lou Williams’ greatest contribution being highlighting the wings named after him at a strip club. They flashed the greatness we heard about all season but they rarely displayed any consistency outside of Leonard.

He averaged 24.3/8.6/5.9 for the series, having only two games with fewer than 23 points. But he saved his second-worst performance for the worst time. He averaged 31/10/5 against the Mavericks, a team that gave the Clippers enough issues to take notice, in the first round but found himself putting up two games of scoring in the low-teens, including 14 points on 27% shooting in Game 7.

A King’s Lesson

Kawhi may have had a poor performance in Game 7 but he had been carrying his team for the majority of the playoffs up to that point. A dud game was due even if it came in an absolutely awful situation. The bigger issue may have been the lack of cohesion from his squad that cropped all too often.

Head coach Doc Rivers can talk about conditioning being the major factor for L.A. and Harrell about locker room issues but it sure did look like the lulls in scoring and lapses in defense were the results of a team that didn’t play together much in the regular season and lacked a true point guard. It became clear they were an impressive collection of talent but not a top-flight team.

The Clippers, much like Toronto the year before, had a great record without Leonard. But with early distractions to Williams and Harrell combined with ineffectiveness from his “Robin”. George, in particular, was a disappointment in these playoffs. He averaged 18 points in the Mavs series on 36% shooting (27.5 3P%) before upping it to 21 points on 43% shooting and 38% from deep except he fell back into what has become a meme about him and scored 10 points while shooting 25% in Game 7.

Heavy is the Head

Kawhi’s earlier success this postseason doesn’t absolve him from blame. Scoring 14 points on 27.3% shooting (28.6 3P%) in a win-or-go-home situation is not the stuff superstars are made of. Except that’s exactly what they are made of. We have seen it play out right before our eyes with James in 2010 following a similarly poor showing in the postseason.

Of course, LeBron’s shortfall was in the Finals and Kawhi’s came in just the second round. But, beyond the success each had before, Leonard’s 2020 is shaping up very much like James’ 2010. How he responds will go a long way to solidifying his standings in the NBA. Standings that, right now, should show he (and everyone else in the NBA) is a step below LeBron James. For now he will just have to take solace in knowing. It’s easy to assemble talent but far more difficult to build a team.

The Bubble-Offs Have Finally Begun

Hoops fans we’ve been waiting for these upcoming moments for the last five months! The 2020 NBA Playoffs or what I’m coining the Bubble-offs. You all see what was done there? The road to this year’s championship will be like no other. It’s possible a team that had no business being in the tournament comes away with the trophy. Tell you one thing, if the bubble-offs are anything like the eight-game restart we’re in for some of the most exciting games you’ll ever want to see.

The Bubble-Offs are Here

It all kicked off this past Saturday when the NBA had its first-ever play-in game to get that last coveted 16th spot for the playoff birth. The Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trailblazers didn’t disappoint either with rookie phenom Ja Morant and bubble MVP Damian Lillard going toe to toe. Now let’s take a look at some teams that could burst the bubble of the two top-seeded and finals favorites Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Time for the Bubble-Offs

Locked In

If you had the Monday blues the NBA had you covered with a full slate of games beginning with the Denver Nuggets taking on the Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, Utah was without starting point guard Mike Conley Jr., who left the bubble for the birth of his child.  The other games on the docket were the Brooklyn Nets facing the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers taking on the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers seeing the Dallas Mavericks.

The top seeds are locked in, Bucks who take on the Orlando Magic and Lakers battling the Trailblazers, but there’s this thing called upsets or we can call them “bubble-sets.”   See what I did there again?  There’s usually one or two every playoff season and this year is no different.  The rest of the field shapes out like so, the Indiana Pacers versus the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Houston Rockets.

Potential Bubble Busters

The first potential bubble buster is Dame Dolla and the Trailblazers. Upsetting the Lakers would be reminiscent of the ‘07 playoffs when Golden State defeated Dallas. They match up well but King James won’t be stopped, in year 17, averaging 25 PPG, and a league-leading 10 assists a contest. Also, they have to contend with Anthony Davis‘ 26 PPG. After those two stars, there’s a significant drop off in firepower especially with no Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.

Portland has its own dynamic duo. Lillard is averaging 30 PPG, 8.0 APG, and is fifth in PER. Then you have CJ McCollum (22 PPG) who can light it up when he gets hot. Don’t forget, they also have an ‘03 draft alum in Carmelo Anthony; or should we say Slim Melo. Since the restart, he’s averaging 17.5 points a contest. The supporting cast appears to have the edge as well with Jusuf Nurkić averaging a double-double since coming back, Hassan Whiteside league leader in blocks at 2.9 and the bubble emergence of Gary Trent Jr.

The second team possibly popping bubbles is the defending champion Toronto Raptors. Though 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard left for sunny L.A. and nobody has to deal with Drake on the sidelines. Even as the second seed in the East, the Raptors are not getting their respect. They basically have the same team with a superb coach in former Coach of the Year Nick Nurse. Veterans Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka steady the team, Pascal Siakam continues to develop into a star. Lastly, we can’t leave out Fred VanVleet, who just came off a 30- point, 11-assist Game 1 performance. It’s highly likely the Raptors will clash with the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals again. Don’t be surprised if it’s deja vu.

Grab Your Front Row Virtual Seat

This year’s playoffs will definitely have a different feel. All the games are at one site, there’s no home-court advantage or crowds. Player reactions are different as the stars adjust to not being able to feed off the fans. Role players must step up without pressure from the fans. These are all factors that will bring more excitement to this year’s games.

Kyrie Irving is the NBA’s Broken Clock

“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. That quote from Marie von Ebner sticks out as much of the conversation about returning has centered around Brooklyn Nets mercurial point guard, Kyrie Irving. Some peers have responded, but are they even disagreeing? That’s what you would think if you only saw it through the lens of social media.

Tweets get crafted to maximize the impact (see: likes and retweets) all the time. But in this instance, leaving out an entire part of Irving’s comments has led to a backlash that seems fueled more by his reputation than the actual content.

Kyrie Irving, a Broken Clock in the NBA

First, what exactly did Kyrie say?

“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving told the players. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.” – per Shams Charania

His reported words prompted responses from several other players including Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, who said “Hoopers say what y’all want. If @King James said he hooping. We all hooping. Not personal only BUSINESS.” His reference to LeBron James is fair because he regularly practices his activism while playing. But Irving’s comments weren’t really speaking to the ability to do both.

Former players-turned-analysts Jay Williams and Kendrick Perkins also spoke against Irving, with the latter going so far to say “He’s not a powerful voice; he’s a popular voice” and that “All he’s doing is ruffling the feathers for no reason. The NBA is going to continue.” That’s tough coming from a retired player and still misses Irving’s message.

All of this is in addition to some prominent commentators like Stephen A. Smith. But it has been Houston Rockets guard (and coach’s son) Austin Rivers’ reply via a lengthy Instagram post that has gotten the most publicity. The well-stated rebuttal spoke of being able to both play and affect social change. It also said that for the majority of the players in the league, sitting out isn’t feasible as “99% of the NBA hasn’t made the money” Kyrie has.

Rivers wasn’t wrong in anything that he said.

But there is a problem: Irving AGREES with him. And any other player that wants to return, for that matter. It’s just that his reputation has preceded him.

The former Cleveland Cavalier and Boston Celtic earlier opined about the freedoms players would have when in the NBA’s “bubble”. Those concerns included spa treatments and were roundly met with virtual side-eyes.

This time was different, though. Yes, Irving said that he would rather focus on social justice reform. But he also said something else that has gone underreported.

“If it’s worth the risk, then let’s go and do it,” Irving said on the call, sources said. “But if you’re not with it, it’s OK, too. We’ve got options for both ways. Let’s just come to a middle ground as a family.” – per Chris Haynes

In Regards to the Money

Irving said, “There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that. Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.” Some say Irving has is backward and that the max contract system keeps the disparity in check, but again they are missing the point. Players who have yet to land that contract would logically be less inclined to rock the boat.

See, an important bit of information to remember is that Irving was voted as vice president of the NBPA. That means raising the concerns of the many, no matter how trivial, to the attention of the few most powerful is quite literally his job. So while you may think some of the points were silly, that doesn’t mean they weren’t brought up in private.

That’s the other part that seems be getting swept away. With all the talk of what the stars want (we already know the likes of LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, and Anthony Davis want to return), the dissenting voices have already been drowned out.

Lakers big Dwight Howard, well-traveled and mercurial in his own right, has voiced support for Irving. He went even further suggesting the NBA needn’t return until “we get things resolved.” Lakers guard Avery Bradley also spoke up on the call in which Irving aired his grievances.

Other Players Spoke Out Too

Donovan Mitchell spoke about the dangers of returning after a layoff and is pushing for insurance for players. CJ McCollum voted ‘no’ to returning but also warned players of potentially contentious negotiations when the CBA expires should players sit out. Kyle Kuzma is also seeking insurance but flat out said, “Some of us want to hoop and compete don’t get that twisted.” He too seems to have only heard part of Irving’s argument.

That’s what is so telling about the backlash Kyrie has received. It is disproportionate to what he said.

He rightfully expressed issues that, as we see, aren’t necessarily his own. This is especially true with the increase in the number of cases in the host-state of Florida. But even more than that, he left the door wide open to continue the season if that is what the majority want.

But because of his history of being me-first and that whole flat-earth thing, people readily dismissed what he said. The best part is that they are all agreeing with Rivers even though he said the exact reason why Irving was speaking out against returning amid all the civil unrest in the country.

“Not saying that basketball is a cure for that but basketball can maybe provide a distraction.”

Bingo

The distraction is the part Irving (and Howard) are trying to avoid. And it’s already happening as we see the push to return ramp up even amid continuing concern over COVID-19 and protests. But all the other stuff is true too and that’s the issue. We are so busy trying to pick a side, that we forgot we are all on the same side. No person has embodied that more than Kyrie, the NBA’s broken clock

NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview

The calendar has turned to March and the madness is about to begin. Yes, that might have been a reference to college basketball but that still doesn’t change for the NBA. Last week I covered the Eastern Conference.

The playoffs bracket in the West is closer in terms of playoff positioning, but the Los Angeles Lakers sit at the top led by all-time great LeBron James. Can we consider LeBron a legend even though he is still active? We can get to that next week when I’ll be diving into some of the more debatable topics this league provides its fans.

Previewing the Western Conference Playoffs

The Front-Runners

The Lakers have a sturdy 5.5-game lead on the Los Angeles Clippers who many consider the favorite to come out of the West. The Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Dallas Mavericks are all separated by 5.5 games. These last few weeks could help win homecourt advantage for certain teams that thrive in there home arena.

Home-court advantage is going to be critical. If Denver gets home court over the Thunder (which would happen if the playoffs started today). Both teams are significantly better at home than on the road. Think about if Oklahoma City stole home-court advantage and was able to win their first-round series. That could change the outlook on the franchise.

The current seventh-seeded Mavericks actually boast a 21-11 road record, so they could play spoiler in a series. Luka Doncic is built for the playoffs. They might lose their first-round series, but there will be fireworks because of the Mavericks averaging 116 PPG, which ranks third in the NBA.

Last, Not Least

The battle for the eighth spot in the west might be the most interesting. The Memphis Grizzlies are sitting with a 3 game lead over the Sacramento Kings.

Other potential suitors for that eighth and coveted spot are the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Pelicans. All of these teams sit no more than four games back. The most compelling story is the upstart Pelicans who are led by rookie sensation Zion Williamson. But we have to respect what Memphis has done here. Their schedule after the all-star break was second in difficulty, and with a little over a month to go, they have a solid three-game lead. The Grizzlies are led by another rookie sensation in Ja Morant.

Look at the top-seeded Lakers. They have two of the top-five players in the league. Some are here to argue that Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best in the league and I have no qualms about it. I would be remiss to say that LeBron is still the number one player in the world given his incredible IQ, distribution, and understanding of the game and what needs to be done to win a title.

Still Up There

At this point, we are tired of LeBron and it skews our view on him in terms of greatness. In any best-of-seven series, the Lakers will have an all-time great as the best player on the floor. But will his supporting cast be able to do enough to get him to the finals?

The number-one threat to the Lakers returning the NBA Finals is the Clippers. After an intense six-game series where the upstart Clippers pushed the Warriors to the brink with inspiring play, free-agency ended with them having acquired the defending Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, a two-way superstar who could help the Clipper reach the promised land. The Clippers have the star power and defensive prowess to wear the Lakers down and are 2-0 against their cross-town foe.

But this reporter has seen this before. Who remembers when the 2011 Chicago Bulls went against the Lebron James led heat? Yes I know, we have different levels of stars. And Leonard and George are lengthy defenders who can combat LeBron. But when it comes down to it in a best-of-seven, give me LeBron.

Keep an Eye On

The Nuggets and Rockets are third and fourth in the Western Conference. The Nuggets main question still remains. Do they have the star power to get to the finals? Simple answer. No.

Denver is a good team, don’t me wrong. But right now they would face the Thunder in the first round; no easy out. In the second round, they would face the Clippers. They don’t have the bodies to guard the likes of Leonard and George. The athleticism of the Clippers would be too much.

The Rockets are a gimmicky team trying to beat you by spreading the floor and being unconscious from the three-point line. They have the superstar power to get to the Western Conference Finals but those stars haven’t punched their ticket to finals since 2012. That was when James Harden and Russell Westbrook were with the Thunder.

How It Plays Out

Throughout a seven-game series, the Rockets will be worn down. If they come out of the first round, they’ll be minced meat for either the Lakers or Clippers. The bottom-four teams in the playoffs have young (to a degree), up-and-coming teams that will have their title window soon. Just not quite yet. The Thunder are the surprise of the season.

After trading Westbrook and George, everyone thought the team would tank to hopefully draft their next superstar. That is not the case. Chris Paul and company are having a fantastic season and look to ruffle some feathers in the first round. Utah is a defensive dynamo led by Rudy Gobert. Unfortunately, they do not have enough pop to get to the finals. Hopefully, they’ll see Donovan Mitchell pop in the playoffs again. The Jazz are just hoping to advance to the second round.

As for the Mavericks and the Grizzlies, the only thing I want to see is the blossoming of Doncic and Morant. These two young players are on another level, and I hope to see them raise their game in the playoffs. Doncic has been in big moments for nearly a decade and you can tell in his early career he has the makings of being something special. He is currently averaging 28.5 points per game, 8.8 assists, and 9.3 rebounds.

One for the Road

Ja Morant is the Rookie of the Year in my opinion. Trust me I love Zion just as much as the next guy. But Ja has been nothing short of special for this upstart Memphis bunch and a playoff appearance in his rookie season is nothing but a sign of great things to come.

It is March and that can only mean one thing. The basketball world will come into the focus with the NCAA tournament and the NBA playoffs to follow shortly after. These are all the things I am looking for in this year’s playoffs. If you read last week’s article I chose the Boston Celtics, and for this week. I believe the Lakers will meet them in the NBA Finals, and the winner will be in next week’s article.

If you have anything you want to discuss you can hit me up on twitter @illiniRyan7