The Los Angeles Lakers sit atop the Western Conference after two impressive wins but should not take the Western Conference lightly.
The Los Angeles Lakers, led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, have been absolute juggernauts this season and are likely to be the top-seeded team in an ultra-competitive Western Conference. However, despite the Lakers’ success this season, there are a few teams that could give them trouble come playoff time.
The teams that pose the biggest threat to the Lakers’ championship aspirations are the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, and Los Angeles Clippers. These three teams hone a unique skill set that provides what could be the challenge for the Lakers on their road to the finals.
The casual NBA fan might look at the Mavericks as a young team still trying to figure themselves out, being the seventh seed in the Western Conference. A closer look will tell they are a team that a lot of people will underestimate going into the playoffs.
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The Mavericks, led by the young phenom Luka Doncic along with the skilled stretch-four Kristaps Porzingis, could pose a deadly combination in the playoffs. The Mavericks have had difficulty keeping their duo healthy for parts of the season but over recent weeks have found their stride.
When Porzingis was asked about the chemistry between him and Doncic he told CBS Sports, “I think these last 10, 20, 30 games we’ve gotten a better feel for each other and I think over time it’s only going to get better.”
What better way to prove the potency of their growing on-court chemistry then taking down arguably the best duo in the NBA in James and Davis.
Next, we have the Houston Rockets, who have a lot to prove from multiple standpoints as they attempt to prove their small-ball style of play can win in the playoffs. Criticism also falls on their two dynamic superstars, who have put video game-like numbers for several years but have not been able to win a championship.
Defeating the Los Angeles Lakers despite their obvious size disadvantage is not a far-fetched idea. The Rockets recently won on the road against the Lakers led by a vintage 41-point Westbrook performance.
Takeaways from that Rockets win include how this small ball style can be effective against larger teams specifically because it opens the floor and quickens their pace which suits Westbrooks’ style.
Doubts still remain despite that impressive win and the fact the Rockets shot an excellent 45% from three-point range in that Feb. 6th match up. Although they have had great shooting streaks throughout the season, the Achilles heel of the Rockets has been their inability to hit outside shots when it matters most in the playoffs.
Specifically, James Harden, who has come up short the past couple years against the Golden State Warriors especially in game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference finals when he shot 2/13 from three-point range.
When the Rockets play up to their potential, they can be the most explosive offensive team in the league. In a seven-game series against the Los Angeles Lakers, if they are finally able to hit their shots when it matters most, they could win but the question remains will the shots fall at the right time.
Lastly, we have the new-look Los Angeles Clippers, led by Paul George and reigning finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. This team as presently constructed is likely the biggest threat to the Lakers championship aspirations. They have the star power, bench depth, and defense to challenge the Lakers in what looks to be an inevitable Western conference finals match up.
The Clippers have already defeated the Lakers in two of their three matchups this season. All three of these hotly contested games have looked like playoff previews as the intensity is there from start to finish.
Though they might not say it, the Clippers are obviously motivated to take over Los Angeles from the Lakers. As unbelievable as that sound,s the most apparent way to do that would be to do defeat the Lakers in the playoffs en route to winning a championship.
Answering the question of what the biggest difference-maker in how the Clippers could defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs, look no further than their talented bench unit led by sixth man extraordinaire, Lou Williams.
Possibly the most special part about the Clippers is that their bench talent is enough to be their own starting five. Despite being headlined by two dominant two-way wings, the Clippers bench unit, especially with new additions such as Jackson and Morris, could be the biggest difference-maker come playoff time.
The only major question mark that Clippers realistically have right now is if they have had enough time to gel or not as their two superstars have not had nearly as much time together as other all-star duos.
When the Clippers have not had a player on the injury report they are an impressive 10-0, so only time will tell if prioritizing health and rest versus on-court chemistry will ultimately be of benefit or downfall come playoff time.