“Trading Baskets” is a weekly NBA column written by Reagan Griffin Jr. and Eddie Sun. The writers “hand off” each week’s installment, continuing an ongoing dialogue to challenge the way fans think about basketball. Click here to read last week’s edition.
You’re right, Eddie. Although we’ve witnessed aberrations such as TJ Warren’s sudden leap and Phoenix’s undefeated streak, the top teams likely will still reign supreme when it’s all said and done. However, I must admit – I do have some concerns regarding some of the top seeds, particularly the one in purple and gold.
I’m a Lakers fan. And I’m nervous.
I’m nervous at the thought of having to feel the wrath of a pissed off Damian Lillard. I’m nervous that LeBron has not looked like himself as of late. I’m nervous that the team’s shooting has been consistently inconsistent in Orlando. I’m absolutely petrified by a Portland-Houston-Los Angeles path to the NBA Finals.
I suppose my fears could be unfounded. We’ve seen James and his teams shift things into high-gear in the playoffs on many occasions. Maybe LeBron has been purposefully taking a step back in an effort to allow guys like Kyle Kuzma and Dion Waiters to get their bearings. As tactful a player as he is, this strategy is not outside of the realm of possibility. These eight mere games are no real reason to doubt this Lakers team that clawed its way to the No. 1 seed in a stacked Western Conference, right?.
So why can’t I shake this uneasy feeling?
Look, I know LeBron James and Anthony Davis are going to be phenomenal on both ends of the floor. That’s a given. They are arguably two of the league’s top five players, after all — teams can only hope to slow that tandem down, because there is no stopping them. What’s uncertain, however, is just about everything and everybody else.
Simply put, I’m not sure I trust the Lakers’ supporting cast.
That was the concern following the 2019 free agency period. The Lakers, in their fruitless pursuit of Kawhi Leonard, missed out on some of the best role players in the NBA, the Seth Currys and Marcus Morrises of the world. Many thought that the players that were left over to fill out the Lakers roster were inadequate, incapable of meeting the championship expectations that come with employing LeBron and Davis.
Those concerns were answered throughout the course of the season, though, with guys such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley stepping up to reinforce the league’s greatest duo. It wasn’t the best bench in the NBA, but it was enough.
But that was before the bubble. Orlando has been a different story.
Bradley elected to forgo the remainder of the season. His absence alone, though not damning, has significantly impaired the Lakers’ perimeter defense, being that he was the only player capable of consistently defending smaller, shiftier guards.
Danny Green has not been the knockdown shooter that NBA fans have become accustomed to and that the Lakers need him to be: through eight games, he’s shot an abysmal 25% from beyond the arc.
J.R. Smith, who was brought in to serve as somewhat of a spark plug, has been a nonfactor. And Lord help me if I have to endure just one more ill-advised Javale McGee post hook.
The only saving grace for the Lakers has been the consistent defensive effort and 3-point shooting of Kyle Kuzma. If things remain the way they’ve looked thus far, Los Angeles is looking at a team that would be carried almost exclusively by the talents of The King and The Brow.
In the most stacked Western Conference in recent memory, will that be enough? Enough to best Damian Lillard and a resurgent Trail Blazers squad? Enough to outlast the Rockets if the small-ball unit starts making it rain? Enough to beat out a Clippers team that has seemed destined for the Finals since Kawhi Leonard put pen to paper?
I don’t know, man. I just don’t know. I’m nervous.
“Trading Baskets” runs every Friday.