If the playoffs started today, what would the Lakers’ road to the NBA Finals look like? Let’s find out. Here is the most probable path that the Lakers would have to cross in order to represent the West in the finals, assuming that these seeds hold.
Western Conference Quarterfinals: Lakers vs. Clippers
A battle for Staples Center! These two teams have never met in the playoffs, not surprising considering that the Clippers have only made the playoffs four times. At the beginning of the season, most people would have picked the “Lob” Angeles Clippers to beat the Lakers in a series and rightfully so, considering that the Clips had won both the pre-season matchups and the earliest regular season matchup between these two teams. However, these aren’t the same highlight reel Clippers that dominated the league earlier this season. No these are the struggling Clippers, who are 4-6 in their last ten games and have failed to score 100 points in nine straight. These Clippers really miss the veteran leadership and offensive prowess of Chauncey Billups. The Clippers’ strength is their ability to get out in transition where Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can utilize their 50+ inches of vertical leap. The Lakers clearly hold the advantage over the Clippers, as the Lakers can easily slow the tempo of the game by pounding the ball inside to their big men. Blake Griffin has never been considered a great individual defender and Bynum has a significant weight advantage over DeAndre Jordan so look for the Laker bigs to have no problem getting theirs. Also, Kobe Bryant has averaged 33 points a game against the Clippers this season. Look for that trend to continue as the Clippers do not have anyone who can be considered a shut down perimeter defender. Despite all this, the Clippers still have Chris Paul, who has given the Lakers’ fits in previous playoff series as a member of the New Orleans Hornets. Look for Paul to keep his Clippers within striking distance, late in games. In the end though, the Lakers will be too much for the Clippers to handle. I predict that this series will last five games but it could go to six if the Lakers aren’t able to keep the Clippers in the half court.
Western Conference Semi-Finals: Lakers vs. Spurs
Ahh a classic matchup between the two most successful NBA teams of the last decade. These two teams are compiled in similar ways. They both have veteran leaders surrounded by significant role players. Here is where the Lakers’ addition of Ramon Sessions will play a significant role. The Spurs live and die with Tony Parker. He is not only their primary scorer but he’s also their facilitator. He not only has the ability to get his own shot but also creates quality looks for Tim Duncan, Greg Monroe, and now Stephen Jackson. The Spurs and the Lakers have not met yet this season so it is difficult to see how the Laker defense will fare against Parker but if the Lakers are able to mitigate his impact on the game, the entire Spurs offense will become stagnant. Of course, this is easier said than done. Offensively, this series, more than the previous one, will come down to the Laker bigs asserting themselves in the paint. The Spurs don’t have anyone inside that can handle Gasol or Bynum and it is critical that they are offensively active because historically, the Spurs have played great defense against Kobe Bryant. Even with Bruce Bowen now providing color commentary on the sideline, the Spurs have had Kobe Bryant’s number, playing defense on him by committee and making him extremely inefficient from the field. Kobe will have to realize where his advantage his and continue to pound the ball inside. If the Lakers are able to play inside-outside, they will have the advantage and should be able to steal a game in San Antonio, finishing the series at home in six.
Western Conference Finals: Lakers vs. Thunder
Who would have thought three years ago that come 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be the favorite to win the Western Conference? The dichotomy between these two teams is incredible. The Thunder are young, exciting, fiesty, and are looking to take the throne from the older Western Conference teams. The Lakers are older, more experienced, and will refuse to give in to the persistent Thunder who are eager to get a shot at the Larry O’Brien Trophy. This will easily be the toughest matchup for the Lakers, not just because of the scoring duo of Durant and Westbrook but because the Thunder have Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, both of whom matchup well defensively with the Laker bigs. However, when these two teams met earlier this season, the problem for the Lakers was not necessarily establishing their presence inside. Rather, it was the Thunder’s second unit which blew the Lakers bench off the court, outscoring them 45-11. Once again, the addition of Ramon Sessions will be critical to the Lakers’ success in this series. If Sessions is able to not only be aggressive in terms of his own scoring but also able to provide better quality looks for Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy, and other Laker reserves, look for the Lakers to be able to stay in this series. The key for the Lakers in this series will be to be aggressive inside early on and hope that Kobe Bryant can get into a zone, especially in the fourth quarter, where the Lakers might be able to steal one of the first two games in Oklahoma City. Then it will come down to the Lakers defending home court as they have all season long and they should be able to finish the Thunder in six.
Keep in mind here that the West is truly wild this year and that all of the aforementioned matchups could potentially not happen. These are just the most likely matchups if the playoffs started today, but a lot can happen between now and early May. The key for the Lakers in any series will be pounding the ball inside, having Kobe Bryant be efficient from the field, and receiving solid contributions from their bench players. If the Lakers are able to do this, look for them to beat any team in the West.
Tags: Andrew Bynum Blake Griffin Bruce Bowen Chauncey Billups Chris Paul Clippers Deandre Jordan Durant Greg Monroe Kendrick Perkins Kobe Bryant Lakers Matt Barnes NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Pau Gasol Ramon Sessions Serge Ibaka Spurs Staples Center Stephen Jackson Tim Duncan Tony Parker Troy Murphy Westbrook