Sameer Batla ’22
With the 2020-21 NBA Playoffs approaching toward the end of May, there are currently several questions that have fans across the globe wondering which team will overcome all odds and win the title. Will LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers become repeat champions? Will the Brooklyn Nets super team demolish every opponent? Will the Los Angeles Clippers redeem their reputation after last year’s humiliating blowout? Let’s begin by exploring some 2021 NBA Finals-worthy teams.
In the Eastern Conference, there are currently three teams which I believe have the best shot at reaching the final playoff round and potentially winning the championship. The Philadelphia 76ers hold the second seed in the Eastern Conference and the Milwaukee Bucks stand in third. Both teams were met with immense disappointment last post-season, being handed first and second round exits. Nevertheless, the 76ers, led by star center and MVP candidate Joel Embiid are amid a breakout season. The team has acquired a new head coach and numerous assets this year.
Additionally, thanks to their heart-crushing defence, they shut down their opponents night in and night out. On the other hand, the Bucks, led by reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, are also thriving. After signing point guard Jrue Holiday, the team is shaping up exceptionally and there is no doubt that a healthy Bucks team is one to fear.
However, the clear “talk of the town” in the Eastern Conference is truly about the team being deemed the “villains of the NBA”: the Brooklyn Nets. As if stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving weren’t enough, the Nets have managed to acquire James Harden, Blake Griffin, and Lamarcus Aldridge since last season and look more like an all-star lineup than a franchise team.
Ranked first in the east with one of the best offensive ratings in the league, this squad can score effortlessly due to their sheer skill. Regardless of their lack of team chemistry due to several missed games from their star players, the Nets have high expectations to crush anyone in their path.
The Western Conference, on the other hand, seems to be experiencing an entirely different scenario. It contains numerous teams that are playing extremely well and holds various ‘underdog’ teams. However, the teams which I believe to have the best potential are the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets, led by star center and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, played exceptionally well during last year’s playoffs and have acquired some highly beneficial players before the trade deadline; they have a great opportunity to bring home the hardware this season.
However, the true debate of this conference is “the battle of Los Angeles.” Despite their struggles during the last playoffs, the Clippers are shaping out to be a lethal team this season under the lead of their star forwards, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers also possess the highest offensive rating in the league.
On the flipside, there are the Lakers, who are the reigning NBA Champions and the clear favourites for this reason. However, their number-one obstacle is the injuries of their star duo, Lebron James and Anthony Davis. A healthy Lakers team has arguably the best chance in the west to win the Finals and become repeat champions. However, they currently face one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league. Without their stars, they risk losing a top seed and consequently falling into the play-in tournament, where they may face elimination.
With all that being said, I predict that in a seven-game series, the Brooklyn Nets will defeat every Eastern Conference team they face in the playoffs once their ‘big three’ returns altogether.
As far as the west goes, if the Lakers overcome their current injury stretch and secure a spot in the playoffs, I predict that they will outplay all other conference opponents and meet the Nets in the Finals. I believe the Lakers would win a Nets-Lakers finals due to the pure dominance possessed by their stars, as well as their strong defensive ability—a skill the Nets lack.
Photo Credits: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images (LeBron James), https://www.si.com/nba/2020/12/22/kevin-durant-nets-warriors-nba-season-opener (Kevin Durant)