Western Conference threats to the Los Angeles Lakers:
The Western Conference is off to a somewhat strange start. Most NBA fans did not expect the Dallas Mavericks or the Phoenix Suns to be out of the playoffs through the first quarter of the season but here we are.
As of right now the hottest team in the entire league is the Utah Jazz who are currently on a 10 game winning streak while holding a narrow half-game lead over the Clippers for the top seed. Despite their hot streak, the Jazz haven’t made enough noise to be considered as major title contenders in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles Clippers:
A lot of people might think otherwise given their widely criticized playoff collapse in September and their 51-point blowout loss to the Mavericks earlier this season, but the Clippers have no choice but to be on this list.
The Clippers currently hold a 14-5 record, which gives them a half-game lead above the Lakers who are now the third seed after a loss to the Detroit Pistons.
So far this season, both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are playing some of the best basketball in their careers, especially George who is currently averaging 24 points per game on approximately 50-48-91 shooting splits.
Given the fact that the Clippers typically their best against the Lakers, they could potentially pose the biggest threat in the Western Conference bracket this upcoming May. The two Los Angeles squads have only matched up once so far this season, on opening night back in December.
The Clippers won that night 116-109 with George chipping in 33 points on 72.2% from the field. Although it was eerily similar to the battle of L.A. game on opening night 2019, it still shows that the Clippers are not willing to back down to their cross-town rivals.
The Lakers’ next game against the Clippers is still yet to be announced, but with that game taking place closer to the end of the season, it will be exciting to see if the Clippers are still a big threat, or if they’ll crack under pressure again.
The only other obstacle for the Lakers in the West is the Denver Nuggets, who are finally finding their stride after a slow start to the season. The Lakers beat the Nuggets in five games during last season’s conference finals, and the Nuggets are arguably worse after losing their power forward Jerami Grant to the Detroit Pistons in free agency.
The Nuggets are currently on a five-game winning streak putting them only two games behind the Lakers with an 11-7 record. The team recently got back their young star forward Michael Porter Jr. who missed a month of play after contracting COVID-19, and they are rolling with their team finally healthy.
Behind superstar center Nikola Jokic’s MVP caliber numbers, the Nuggets are still one of the top teams in the West. Unfortunately, just like some of the big threats in the Eastern Conference, the Lakers haven’t had a chance to play Denver yet this season.
The two teams will face off in a Western Conference Finals rematch on February 14th in Denver, and it will be interesting to see how much these two teams have grown by then.
It’s hard not to say that the Clippers are the bigger threat to the Lakers from what we’ve seen this season. It’s no disrespect to the Denver Nuggets, but the Clippers have been relatively consistent through their first 19 games, while Denver has more losses and close call victories as of late.
New head coach Tyronn Lue seems to have the Clippers moving in the right direction 18 games into the season, and unlike past coach Doc Rivers, he is willing to make the necessary adjustments to win games. It’s very clear to anyone who has seen a Clippers game this season how different the rotation is, and how much better the team plays as a whole.
A playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers is something everyone wants to see given the talent level on both teams, but the Lakers cannot afford to underestimate the Clippers, despite their past history of failing to close in the playoffs.