The NBA champion is rarely the perfect team. It is always the team that is able to most effectively play to their strengths and overshadow their weaknesses. This is my breakdown of every team’s weaknesses in the loaded Western Conference in order of playoff seeding.
Aside from LeBron James, name one playmaker on the Lakers roster. Considering the lack of guards on the roster with Avery Bradley not playing in the bubble and optimistic estimates expecting Rondo back only in round 2 of the playoffs, the Lakers should be concerned about the serious hole in their backcourt depth. Growing up with the king’s dominance on full display, I’ve learned to not bet against LeBron, but the lack of players the Lakers have to initiate offensive sets and get others easy opportunities is dangerously short. The Lakers have been circumventing this flaw through James’ and Anthony Davis’ greatness, but how far can this take them against the tougher teams in the West? Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green have to be reliable floor spacing threats to complement the size advantage the Lakers have in the paint for this team with heavy championship aspirations to live up to the brutal standards of Laker nation. Now don’t get me wrong, the Lakers have some ballers. All memes aside, I think Alex Caruso gives great energy for the Lakers with his athleticism and great movement without the basketball, but in a conference stacked with elite scoring guards, can the Lakers find a way to generate enough offense to be crowned as champions?
The Clippers are arguably the most complete team in the NBA. I believe their biggest flaw is their lack of big man depth. Montrezl Harrel is a great player. He reminds me of Dennis Rodman on the Bulls — an undersized athletic big that plays his role to perfection. However, he is coming off of injury, so can he alone slow down the likes of Anthony Davis and a resurgent Dwight Howard on the Lakers, Steven Adams on the Thunder or even Giannis Antetokounmpo if they make the finals? Teams are going to try and exploit this weakness as much as possible because nobody wants to go head to head on the wings with the three-headed monster of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverly patrolling the perimeter on defense.
3. Nuggets – what is their issue?
I actually believe the Nuggets have a legitimate shot to get to the finals. People don’t realize just how loaded their team is. Between their core of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray controlling the offense, hidden gems in Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol and an athletic bench that could quite realistically pass for a starting five, the Nuggets have all the pieces of a championship puzzle. The Nuggets biggest problem is mental. They have all the talent to achieve their championships aspirations and now is the time. Their biggest problem is finding out who will lead them through adversity deep in the playoffs and I believe Murray is the key to ending the championship drought.
The Rockets are built and play by the numbers. Threes and points in the paint make up the vast majority of the offense, but what happens when those long balls stop making the satisfying swish sound Houston fans have become so accustomed to hearing? What happens when the game slows down, especially without Westbrook’s services on the court for the time being, and the game comes down to a matter of who can get a few extra possessions? If the Rockets manage to get past the Oklahoma City Thunder, which I predict will be a dogfight to say the least, they are most likely in for a world of struggle against the big body Lakers if D’Antoni and the crew don’t find a way to limit opposing paint dominance.
The Thunder rank No. 21 out of 30 in points per game. This is largely due to their lack of perimeter shooting. Outside of Danilo Gallinari, they don’t really have anybody to space the floor. Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can hit an occasional three but that’s not what their game is centered around. To beat teams like the Rockets, Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets, they are going to have to stretch the floor. Otherwise, athletic wing defenders will blanket Chris Paul, stunting the Thunder offense altogether.
How are the Jazz gonna take the pressure off of Donovan Mitchell? With Bojan Bogdanovic, who averages 20.2 ppg, out for the season, there is a glaring hole in their current offensive output. This puts immense pressure on the Jazz to stop a team like the Nuggets in round 1 that has at least five players capable of scoring thirty-plus points in a game. Rudy Gobert is the league’s premier rim defender, but what happens when the big man is forced to leave is paint haven and defend on the perimeter against five out spread offenses. Teams like the Nuggets have bigs who can shoot with range means there will always be defensive matchups on the Jazz to exploit. The Jazz have got to find a way to mitigate this damage or they are in for a very short playoff run.
The Mavericks are actually my dark horse team to get to the finals. They have the best offensive rating in the league, a guy in Porzingis that has no set defensive counterplay and a twenty-one-year-old playmaking phenom in Luka Doncic that has complementary shooters to do some real damage. This team is set to make a statement that they have arrived and their success isn’t of future concern to the league. The only weakness of this offensive juggernaut is defense. While this team has some defensive specialists in 6-foot-7 Dorian Finney-Smith, 6-foot-10 Maxi Kleber and 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic, the stars of the team are not particularly great pick and roll defenders on the perimeter. This forces the Mavericks to switch a lot defensively which can prove to be an issue against teams with superstar isolation perimeter threats.
Can the Blazers shoot teams out of the bubble? Will CJ McCollum be able to remain healthy enough? Will the lack of Rodney Hood’s scoring punch off the bench put too much onus on their star backcourt? I believe it all starts and ends with Dame time. The fans know it and the players know it. Damian Lillard exudes a type of leadership aura that captivates and galvanizes the Portland Trailblazers. His deep threes seem to have the Steph Curry effect that when you see them go in, it seems as if anything is possible. This belief that they always play better in crunch time is what makes this team formidable. Even with their defensive deficiencies and injuries woes, they’ll be a tough out for anyone.
Karthik Iyer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.