The 2021-22 NBA regular season wraps up next week, with just a handful of games for each franchise to play before the play-in tournament…
The NBA bubble is probably the most fascinating thing in the world of sport today.
Disneyworld, located in Orlando, Florida, has been home to the NBA for the end of the regular season and the play-offs. We have seen some great innovations throughout this period in the bubble. Electronic crowds via Zoom, the housing of multiple teams at the exact same resorts, portable barbers and even players selling coffee for money (see Jimmy Butler).
The bubble has really done its job to perfection. It is has provided diehard NBA fans with the ending they wanted to make sure the NBA season would be completed.
Prior to the bubble, there were two teams who stood out in the west, and both were from LA. The Los Angeles Clippers were built with only one motive for their season: to beat their city counterparts, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Clippers looked completely past any other side and presumably assumed it would be an all-LA conference finals showdown.
On the other side of the spectrum all eyes were on the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and defending champions the Toronto Raptors, both of whom had victories over the Lakers in the regular season.
Fast-forward to the bubble and the Bucks were stunned and eliminated by the Miami Heat in five quick games. The defending champs were beaten in a huge series of seven games against the Boston Celtics. Both of the perceived threats to the Lakers in the east were eliminated a lot earlier than one would expect.
In the west, even more surprisingly, the Clippers lost in a series to the Denver Nuggets in seven games after going up 3-1 before losing three games straight.
If we recount that, the three top sides that should’ve troubled the Lakers have all been eliminated earlier than we thought they would be.
A touch of luck? Perhaps.
The Lakers have now gone up 2-0 against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. It seems to be a team with swagger and bravado up against a tough, battle-hardened and challenging Nuggets side. Before it all comes to an end, the Nuggets are a team not made for the Lakers’ length and experience, hence I foresee the Lakers dealing with them fairly quick, in five games I expect.
This will lead the Lakers to their first NBA finals since 2010.
Now, onto the east, in which the series is evened up at one game a piece. Neither team has the personnel to defeat the Lakers – not four times over anyway.
Has it been a pure stroke of luck that the teams that would give the Lakers their hardest task are all eliminated, most of them somewhat surprisingly?
Each team remaining has its strong suit, but the Lakers would still confidently overpower them.
The Heat are the unsung heroes of the play-offs. Led by constant all-star Jimmy Butler and now first time all-star Bam Adebayo, they play great team basketball. They play very unselfish and have a strong defensive game. The only downfall that would affect them against the Lakers is their seeming lack of experience off the bench.
Their opponents, the Boston Celtics, seem to be getting along purely on the pure talent of their roster: two perennial all-stars in Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum and strong sidekicks in Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and former all-star Gordon Hayward. The Celtics team are also well coached, with great isolation players.
But their lack of size would be a huge issue if they were to come against the Lakers. Daniel Theis would not be able to handle Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard or Javale McGee.
The Lakers’ current opponent, the Denver Nuggets, are fighting as hard as they possibly can. The Nuggets’ only real downfall is their path to the Western Conference final. They have played back-to-back seven-game series, coming back from 3-1 in both. Continuously fighting eventually wears you out.
The Lakers look fresh and understand their identity. The Golden State Warriors cannot be there to stop them this season (or LeBron James like the past few finals). The rebuilt Nets were not ready this season. Their city counterparts choked when it mattered.
This season is literally built for the Lakers to win their 17th title.
They have the perfect balance of star power, a strong sixth-man scorer, vast experience and a very good defensive-minded coach. It is all pointing in the Lakers direction. All they need to do now is complete the journey by winning six more games and getting that brass ring they’ve been chasing for so long.
Bring on the remainder of the NBA play-offs.