Clipper Collapse: LeBron and Lakers now heaviest title favorite since 2011

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

The Los Angeles Clippers could not meet the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — benefitting LeBron James.

I mean, wow. At this point in the calendar year, we should all expect the unexpected. But this? I don’t know if my mind, body, and soul can take another three and a half more months of these unthinkable curveballs in maybe the weirdest year in history. Certainly the strangest of my lifetime.

Last night was yet another chapter in an absurd 2020 and NBA season. The Los Angeles Clippers collectively choked and folded like the cheapest of tents via the gust of wind that is the surging Denver Nuggets.

Effectively creating a tidal wave of maybe the cruelest version of the Twitterverse ever, with any and everyone teeing off on the Clippers. Denver will now take on the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals starting Friday night from Orlando in a shocking twist.

This season was supposed to be solely headlined by the return to glory and title contention for the Lakers.

Although that’s been the case, it has been overshadowed by unprecedented tragic events forcing three postponements of games this season: the sudden death of late basketball and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, the novel coronavirus outbreak and ensuing global pandemic, and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI and collective exhaustion of racial and social injustice in America, sparking a league-wide protest in the middle of the playoffs.

In addition, California is currently dealing with its worst wildfires in history, with all-time high severity and destruction, it has created unhealthy air quality throughout the state and beyond.

This pile of disheartening events has forced the NBA season to feel so insignificant at times, even for me and countless others who live in a “sports bubble” if you will. Having said that, we still feel as if it’s an essential escape, especially with our gravely uncertain future.

So in a terrible 2020, we were at least supposed to be gifted the amazing, highly anticipated LA series between the Lakers and Clippers for the right to advance to the finals as a slight silver lining. A series which would’ve been the ultimate compelling, high drama television with loads of juicy subplots.

Instead, the second round dynasty that is the poor little brother Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to Denver last night and still has yet to reach a conference finals. Now, this Nuggets team is no slouch and I predicted they’d be a top-four seed before the season began. They have a great one-two punch in fully-emerged stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. They’re also deceptively deep, very youthful, and playing with house money in the Mile High city.

However, due to their glaring defensive deficiencies, supposed question marks at head coach with unknown Michael Malone, and lack of experience and trust, this is just a seemingly impossible run they’ve put together. Everyone and their grandma who covers this league believed this round was this team’s ceiling.

It’s clearly a star-driven league. The NBA playoffs never see the younger squad, with less established stars overcoming a legitimate title favorite like the Clippers. But as I said, expect the unexpected this year, and by god they got it done somehow.

However, the magic of this Orlando bubble that has found its way from Disney World to the Nuggets will run out against the Lakers. Experience, rest, and an overwhelming advantage with their one-two punch all heavily favoring LA makes it a no-brainer pick.

Especially considering Lakers role players Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon “Playoff” Rondo, and even NBA meme lord Alex Caruso all played outstanding in the west semis versus Houston, they look ready-made for the finals.

The aforementioned Jokic is an extremely skilled offensive player. A well rounded, versatile scorer and one of the best passing big men in NBA history if not the best. However, due to his sluggish feet and non-existent vertical leap, his defensive ability leaves plenty to be desired. This is a major problem when the freight train that is LeBron James and the most dominant big man in the game in Anthony Davis awaits you.

We’ve all learned in the realest way to never completely count Denver out with back to back series victories after being down 3-1, and six straight wins facing elimination. But, all the logistical components indicate the Lakers will advance to the NBA finals in five or six games.

On the other side of the bracket, two young, tough, fearless, extremely well-coached and talented teams await in the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. Two more great surprise stories in these bubble playoffs. However, the championship pedigree of LeBron and size mismatches his Lakers create with them as well makes this team a clear and concise title favorite moving forward.

A refreshing reality for one LeBron, whose last four finals appearances have been rewarded with drawing the vaunted Golden State Warriors. Twice pre Kevin Durant, twice post adding Kevin Durant. Both versions are obviously elite and so tough to win four games against, as the great King of Akron managed to win just one of those four finals.

Now the tables have turned a full 180. LeBron now has a worldwide expectation of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time since 2011 and 2012, as he won his first ring in Miami.

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A jarring statement for a man in his 17th NBA season, already with three titles, nine finals appearances and an established legacy as a top-two basketball player of all time. But nonetheless, fair or unfair, the most scrutinized athlete in sports history will hold the weight of the world on his shoulders yet again as he takes on these fearless kids in these wild playoffs.