A Los Angeles Lakers-Los Angeles Clippers first-round series is possible

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 04: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers pushes Landry Shamet #20 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on March 04, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 113-105. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 04: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers pushes Landry Shamet #20 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of a game at Staples Center on March 04, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 113-105. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Due to a deep Western Conference, injury concerns and roster structure, there is an increasing likelihood that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers will square off in the opening round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

At first glance, this prediction sounds borderline ridiculous.  According to Vegas Insider, the Los Angeles Clippers (7/2) and the Los Angeles Lakers (4/1) have the best odds to win the 2019-20 NBA championship.

They both have assembled some of the most dominant duos the game has seen in LeBron James and Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Most analysts have them chalked to meet in the Western Conference Finals.

How is it even remotely possible that these two powerhouse teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs, where one team would fall drastically short of their ultimate goal?

When the playoff picture is analyzed, it becomes very transparent as to why this is possible, and perhaps even probable.

The NBA throne is wide open this year, with almost a third of the league able to make a legitimate claim as title contenders and a majority of those teams being in the Western Conference. Currently, there are an astonishing seven Western Conference teams that could realistically win the West this year — the Lakers, Clippers, Jazz, Rockets, Nuggets, Warriors and Blazers.

Thus, one of these “contenders” will wind up with a seven-seed in the playoffs and others will find themselves seeded much lower than they expect, especially if the conference was not so talented. The Lakers and the Clippers might both end up being one of these teams, and here is why.

Let’s start with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Los Angeles Lakers roster was blown up during the Anthony Davis trade and has been entirely reconstructed. Only six players remain from the 2018-19 roster, including LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso. With such a new dynamic, the Lakers should not be expected to get out to a quick start.

With so many new players, it will take time for the Lakers to develop chemistry. There are a lot of questions that will need to be answered in regards to the roles each player will have. Who is going to start at point guard? Will DeMarcus Cousins play like his former self pre-Achilles injury? Can Kuzma develop into the third star? How does each player fit around LeBron?

Eventually, these questions will be answered and make the Lakers a formidable team come playoff time. But for the time being, it could result in a very slow start that adds up in the regular-season loss column.

The Lakers have the oldest average age going into the 2019-20 season at 28.0 years. While experience is valuable in the playoffs, it will cause many bumps along the way in the regular season. Hopefully, there are no significant or season-ending injuries, but many players will inevitably miss a decent amount of regular-season games due to nagging injuries.

Among these players are some of the Lakers most important players; DeMarcus Cousins only played 30 regular-season games last year, Anthony Davis only played 56 games last season and LeBron James played a career-low 55 games last season.  Hopefully, everyone is healthy come playoff time, but this old age will work against the Lakers in the regular season.

Now, let’s get to the Los Angeles Clippers.

While the Los Angeles Clippers deserve to be the favorites to win the West, their regular season win-projection may be getting overhyped.

Though the Lakers may have worse and more variable injury concerns, the Clippers two new superstars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, could both miss significant time this upcoming season.

According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, Paul George may not return from his offseason shoulder surgery until “mid-to-late November.”  This is very significant and would cause him to miss around 15 games right off the bat.

Furthermore, this is not taking into consideration how much time he was out with the injury and how much time it will take for him to get back into a rhythm once he’s on the court.

Additionally, Kawhi Leonard will miss a significant portion of games assuming he continues his load management to keep him healthy and rested and to avoid a major injury.

Due to his load management last year, Kawhi missed 22 games and could be expected to miss a similar amount this coming year with the Clippers.

With double-digit games missed for both George and Leonard, maybe the first seed is too high of an expectation for the Clippers.

Just like the Lakers, there are also going to be chemistry issues with the Clippers. Many analysts think that both Leonard and George will fit seamlessly into the Clippers system. But, with any team that adds two superstars, there are going to be growing pains. Maybe they both do fit in well, but this ignores the fact that the roles of complementary players will change.

So how does all of this play into why the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers will meet in the first round of the playoffs?

With the previously stated issues as to why the Clippers and Lakers both may not perform as expected in the regular season, there is a solid chance that they will end up as the fourth and fifth seeds in the playoffs, resulting in a first-round matchup.

Both of these teams are built for the playoffs, but the teams that will finish first, second and third in the Western Conference are better structured to tally up a large total of wins in the regular season.

These teams are the Nuggets, Jazz and Rockets.

More from LA Sports Hub

The Nuggets won 54 games last year, finishing second in Western Conference behind only the Warriors. With an additional year of development for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, additions such as Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. and with the Warriors out of the picture, it is very likely that they will win a few more games this season and attain the first seed.

The Jazz won 50 games last year, even after getting off to a slow start. They had one of the best offseasons in the NBA, adding perfect fit players including Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic and a solid bench.

Additionally, Donovan Mitchell may take the third-year leap to become a true superstar. Expect them to win between 55 and 58 games this season, and secure a spot in the top three playoff seeds.

There have been many concerns regarding chemistry when the Rockets traded for Russell Westbrook. While they are valid, Westbrook is undoubtedly a much better individual player than Chris Paul and the Rockets won 53 games last year with CP3 as their point guard.

It may not work in the playoffs when teams can develop a better strategy and adjust to the Rockets unorthodox playstyle, but they have a good chance to be a regular-season winning machine and get a top-three seed.

The Action Network reported FanDuels current win total projections for the 2019-20 season and are as follows:

  • Los Angeles Clippers: 54.5
  • Utah Jazz: 54.5
  • Houston Rockets: 53.5
  • Denver Nuggets: 52.5
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 51.5

This leaves the Lakers as the fifth seed and the Clippers tied for the first seed, with only two games separating them from the four seed.

Due to the reasons I previously mentioned, I believe the Nuggets, Jazz and Rockets can all exceed these win totals (especially the Nuggets).

The Clippers, on the other hand, will have difficulties to reach the projected 54.5 total and may even slip below due to their injury status and introducing two new superstars to the team.

I predict that the Clippers will finish fourth overall and the Lakers will finish fifth overall, resulting in a first-round matchup. I also believe that it is possible for the Lakers to slip to the sixth seed behind a team like the Blazers or Warriors and match up against the Clippers as the third seed.

Now, I do not think that any of the Nuggets, Jazz, or Rockets are a better team than the Lakers or the Clippers. And, without hesitation, I would pick a healthy Lakers or Clippers team over the others in any playoff series.

The NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. Both the Lakers and the Clippers do not care about securing home-court advantage in the playoffs. They care about being healthy and peaking come playoff time, not about regular-season win totals. Unfortunately, given this year’s Western Conference, it may result in one being eliminated in the first round by the other.

One thing that I, and any other NBA fan, has learned, is to expect the unexpected. All these predictions that analysts make often never come to fruition.

Frankly, the Clippers have a very good chance of finishing with a top-three seed, and even the first seed. The Rockets could also implode and the Lakers and the Clippers could both finish in the top four.

I am not going to pretend that a first-round matchup between the Lakers and the Clippers is 100 percent going to happen, but there is a very realistic explanation as to why it very well could.

Next. Bold predictions for Kyle Kuzma in 2019. dark

And if it does come true, then the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Los Angeles Clippers would be the greatest first-round matchup in NBA history.