NBA: Lakers, Clippers still the teams to beat in the west

The star power fuelling LA Lakers and Clippers makes them favourites to win the Western Conference, according to analysts.

All eyes will be on LeBron James when LA Lakers and Clippers meet on Thursday,   -  AP

The Hollywood star power fuelling the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers makes them the favourites to win the Western Conference and hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy when the novel coronavirus-hit NBA season crowns its champion in Orlando, analysts said.

LeBron James’ first place Lakers held a 5.5 game lead over Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers when the season was brought to an abrupt halt on 11 March due to the pandemic. Play will resume on Thursday with 22 teams that were in striking distance of the playoffs battling it out until one team captures the title in front of spectator-free stands at the Walt Disney World Resort in October.

The Lakers and Clippers will face off in prime time on Thursday and all eyes will be on James, Leonard and their formidable supporting casts.

“We have strong favourites in the west with the Lakers and the Clippers,” ESPN analyst Jalen Rose told reporters on a recent call.

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“Other squads that may have a puncher’s chance are the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers,” he said.

And James and Leonard don’t have to do it alone.

James has a valuable partner in dominant forward/center Anthony Davis while Leonard can look to the versatile scorer Paul George when defensive double teams are thrown his way. Compare that to the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks, which Rose argues is too dependent on MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“If people are going to question whether they can win it all, it ain’t about Giannis’s greatness,” Rose said. “It’s about who is second and who is third (on the team).”

Houston, Denver dark horses

Laker great Magic Johnson concurred.

“Definitely the Lakers and the Clippers are the two teams to beat in the west,” he said. “And then you have dark horses in Houston and Denver.”

In this picture taken on 3 March, 2020, Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis shoots during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Los Angeles. - AP


Johnson said that despite 25-year-old Antetokounmpo’s outstanding season, James, who is a decade the Greek phenomenon’s senior, is his pick for league MVP. “LeBron affects the game in so many different ways and this year he’s almost averaging a triple double,” he said of the three-time champion, who is averaging 25.7 points, 10.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds this season.

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“And you have to think about the way he’s played defence and has been a incredible leader,” Johnson said.

James himself is on a mission to show that he can go from Cleveland Cavaliers, where he won a title in 2016, to the Lakers, where he is hoping to return glory to the storied franchise. “The thing I can’t fathom with LeBron is that everybody slows down,” former coach and TNT analyst Stan Van Gundy said on Tuesday. “We want to say Father Time is undefeated but I’ll tell you what, LeBron has been a tough out against Father Time.

“At some point he’s got to decline, but when?” he said. “It’s just unbelievable what he's doing.”

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