I know it’s been over a week after the Christmas Day tussle between in-town rivals the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers but I couldn’t help but give my insights in what could be a preview of the 2020 National Basketball Association (NBA) Western Conference finals.
In this marquee match-up, defense won over the offense in a game that wasn’t decided until the last few seconds of the ball game with a gem of a ball deflection by Patrick Beverley on Lebron James. The referees had to review the play to assess who gets ball possession and the camera showed “The King” having the last touch on the basketball. Turnover Lakers, ball possession to the Clippers. It was game over after that brilliant play.
If you were to assess the match-up, I can say both teams are very much even. The Lakers had the obvious height advantage down low with Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and Javale McGee clogging the lane and with the Clippers having more depth at the wing and guard positions with solid two way players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George along with hard-nosed guards in Beverley and perennial NBA sixth man of the year, Lou Williams.
A Clippers-Lakers match up will guarantee a down the wire finish as witnessed last week and the obvious game changers would be how the bench and coaching staff adjust to game time rotation and plays.
If we were to fast forward and envision a game 7 in the Western finals pitting both squads today, I foresee a closing line up of Beverley, Williams, Montrezl Harrell, George and Leonard against Danny Green, James, Davis, Kyle Kuzma, and Rajon Rondo. I believe the tougher team will nail the series and if Christmas tussle were any gauge, the Clippers will barge into the finals.
The pairing of Leonard and George is like a perfect fit for the Clippers puzzle. It’s like instant chemistry between the two. Watching the game, you felt like they’ve teamed up together for a while now as they complement each other on both sides of the court. The Clippers showed more extra passes than the Lakers’ drive and kick staple play.
Leading to the playoff run, I expect some midpoint tweaks in both LA teams. I believe the Lakers need a stronger outside shooting presence to help ease things up for Davis and James. The perfect target could potentially be JJ Redick of the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers could possibly give up a rotational player or two to the Pelicans for the services of a grizzled playoff veteran whose off-ball movement and use of screens is on the elite level. The Pelicans are no strangers in dealing with the Lakers with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart moving to NOLA for Davis. What’s one more trade to complete their overhaul? NOLA is under-performing with the loss of top pick Zion Williamson to pre-season injury and Redick most certainly wouldn’t want to break his amazing postseason streak.
For the Clippers, they need a solid big man. An upgrade to resident center Ivica Zubac. Greg Monroe, currently playing in Europe, comes to mind as a potential back up to Zubac in case the Clippers couldn’t acquire a quality big on the trade market. If the Clips shop Zubac around, a deal involving Andre Drummond or perhaps Hassan Whiteside could be a potential go. Adding a big can help the Clippers ease off the burden on Harrell having to defend Laker big men. Harrell, measured at a generous 6’8, has a 3-4 inch height disadvantage against Davis and McGee and that difference is huge in a seven-game series.
A second big, back up to Zubac, would obviously be the better option for the Clippers. Big men are valuable in the playoffs especially if you have to get past teams with the solid post up guys like Nikola Jocik of the Denver Nuggets and LaMarcus Aldridge of the San Antonio Spurs and of course against the Laker bigs. If the Clips check the free-agent market, the likes of Joaquim Noah and Marcin Gortat could be worth revisiting. They can give 12 mins of quality time and spell Zubac and Harrell some beating down low and those quality minutes are crucial in managing the workload of the two over the remainder of the regular season.
A lot of things could still change the landscape such as injuries, a tough road series, and sometimes even midseason trades so the Lakers and Clippers lock for the top 2 places in the West is not a guarantee just yet. If they continue their course and if they are able to add some more pieces on their roster, they could go all the way and my prediction is that whoever is tougher on the defensive end, will move on to the finals … where the Milwaukee Bucks or the Philadelphia 76ers could possibly be waiting.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)