As the first round of NBA Playoffs is concluding, the Lakers remain the favorite to win the Western Conference and appear in the Finals. Despite losing their first game against a Damian Lillard-led Blazers team, the Lakers were able to pull through and win 4 straight games to take the Series. Although the Lakers faced inconsistency on offense during this series, their defense was able to make up for this and give them the edge on a Blazers team that came into the Playoffs on fire.
With the Lakers having one of the largest and most athletic rosters in the NBA, their defense was able to step up and consistently trap PG Damian Lillard. Because of the lengthiness of Anthony Davis and Lebron James (at point guard), the Lakers were able to easily close out on shots and limit the Blazers’ top scorer in Lillard to only a 40 FG%.
Even some of the Lakers least athletic players in Caruso have shown strides in defense, totaling 4 steals and a block in the Lakers’ final game against the Blazers. Due to this, the Lakers have recorded the 4th best defensive rating in the postseason at 104.1.
For the Lakers’ second round matchup, they will be going up against either the Rockets or the Thunder, which will be decided in a Game 7 matchup on Wednesday. With the Thunder edging out the Rockets on Monday night, OKC now has a shot to play the Lakers in the second round; despite Harden averaging 32 points this postseason.
Although the Lakers’ next matchup is still unknown as of now, they should have little difficulty in making it through the second round in less than 6 games — regardless of their opponent.
Between the Rockets and the Thunder, the Rockets seem to be the objectively better team. Although Chris Paul has been playing great and Steven Adams has allowed the Thunder to consistently out-rebound the Rockets, the Rockets remain a very balanced team with reliable defense and scoring.
Similar to the Blazers — who heavily rely on Lillard and McCollum for scoring — the Rockets rely on Harden and Westbrook for scoring. Because of this, the Lakers should have no problem in this matchup locking them up similarly. Especially with the Lakers HUGE size advantage over the Rockets, it would be unlikely to see the Rockets prevail in a full series against the Lakers.
One of biggest potential boosts for the Lakers team would be the return of backup point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo, who was injured in early July with a broken thumb, will return as one of the Lakers’ top playmakers and should help them establish their consistency on offense.
While Davis and James are each averaging 27+ PPG, getting guys like Kuzma and Danny Green going on offense could be a difference-maker. Although the timetable is still unclear for Rondo’s return, the Lakers should see the return of their backup point guard at some point in the near future.
Looking at the Western Conference, the Clippers remain the biggest threat for the Lakers to make it to the Finals. Led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers looked like a Championship team in Game 5 after beating the Mavericks 154-111. Although the Clippers were looking shaky by cutting it close with the 7 seed Mavericks during this series, Doncic was playing out of his mind — averaging nearly a 31 point triple-double at 31-10-9.
Similar to the Mavericks Series, however, the Clippers biggest downfall seems to be inconsistency in scoring by Paul George. Although George broke out in Game 5 with 35 points, he returned to his old form shooting 6-19 from the field in Game 6. If George continues to have these struggles — especially in clutch moments — the Clippers stand no chance against the Lakers if they play in the Western Conference Final.
With continued defensive dominance from the Lakers and the potential return of Rajon Rondo, the Lakers are going to be unstoppable. Especially with matchup advantages against the Rockets and continued struggles from Paul George, it seems like Lebron James will appear in yet another NBA Finals.