It is finally done. James Harden, 3-time scoring champion, is now a part of the Brooklyn Nets. The Rockets struck the deal late this afternoon and that means the Nets currently have a superteam with Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Cleary, Brooklyn is the favorite in the Eastern Conference and a showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers is expected in the NBA Finals.
But are the Lakers out-manned with Harden’s arrival in Brooklyn? The Lakers still have the best player in the world in LeBron James, and Anthony Davis is easily a top-5 player in the world when playing at his best. With the Lakers’ additions of Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder among others, a showdown with Brooklyn could be in the cards. Here is how a 7-game series would play out if this actually occurs at the end of the 2021 season.
The Best Duo vs. The Big Three
There are a total of 5 superstars competing for the NBA title in this 7-game series. The Lakers have 2 and Brooklyn has 3. The difference here is Kyrie Irving because the scoring point guard is by far better than any third option that the Lakers currently have. LeBron James and Anthony Davis can easily have a couple of games where they outshine the Brooklyn trio, but this is very unlikely over a long 7-game series.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and James Harden are all arguably top-5 players in the world. Irving, when playing at his best, is top-10. This means that the Brooklyn trio can have a bit more fire on offense than the Lakers duo, and they are also younger and more explosive than an aging LeBron James. LeBron is the best player in the world, but he has to deal with 3 Hall of Famers at once which could be too much to handle.
The Lakers have an excellent starting lineup. LeBron and Davis are playing alongside Dennis Schroder, Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, and Marc Gasol. Schroder is an excellent scorer, averaging 14.3 PPG this season while Caldwell-Pope is draining 53.6% of his threes this season. Gasol is older and won’t put up big stats, but his defensive leadership is critical for the Lakers. Still, the Lakers are outmatched by Brooklyn.
The Nets have a lineup of Irving, Harden, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, and DeAndre Jordan. They are stacked with specialists in each position which makes them the most formidable team in the NBA when they are all healthy. Harris, with his 51.5% 3-point shooting, paired with Jordan’s defense leadership complements the 3 superstar scorers exceptionally well.
Lakers Bench: Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, Wes Matthews, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, Alfonso McKinnie, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Jared Dudley, Montrezl Harrell
Nets Bench: Bruce Brown, Chris Chiozza, Landry Shamet, Tyler Johnson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Reggie Perry, Jeff Green, Nicolas Claxton
If there is one area that the Lakers have a massive advantage over other teams, it is their bench. The Lakers are incredibly deep, with the likes of 6th Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Kuzma, and Alex Caruso playing major minutes. Harrell is a double-double threat every night and is averaging 13.0 PPG and 7.7 RPG this season. Matthews, Kuzma, and Caruso can all defend their position well and can get buckets playing alongside LeBron and Davis.
On the other end, the Nets have Landry Shamet and Jeff Green as their main role players with Spencer Dinwiddie out for the season. This means that thanks to the Harden trade, which took away Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and Taurean Prince; Brooklyn have a massive disadvantage compared to the Lakers. If Dinwiddie was healthy, this is possibly a different story but Brooklyn has a disadvantage in this area.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Coach: Frank Vogel vs Steve Nash
Frank Vogel deserves a ton of credit for leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA title in 2020. Vogel was an unpopular choice at first but his defensive schemes and locker room leadership were pivotal for the Lakers last season. Vogel had success with a pretty good Indiana Pacers squad, but he made them better than they actually were. Vogel’s experience is a major advantage over rookie head coach Steve Nash.
Steve Nash is one of the greatest floor generals in NBA history, but he is still finding his footing in the NBA as a head coach. The Nets have Mike D’Antoni, James Harden’s former coach, as an assistant but the head coach is the one who makes the decisions. Nash and D’Antoni make an excellent tandem, but the advantage has to go to NBA champion Frank Vogel.
Advantage: Los Angeles
In conclusion, this series should go to 7 games. The Lakers have a massive edge in their bench and coaching staff, but the Nets will most likely capture the NBA title in 7 games. Superstars control the outcome of games in the postseason, and the Nets happen to have an extra superstar on their squad. LeBron James, one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived, is talented and dominant enough to make up that difference but he would need to play at an inhuman level for 7 straight games.
James is older now and that amount of burden can prove to be too much, even if he has a superstar like Anthony Davis by his side. Durant is back to his best, Harden is the best scorer in the NBA, and Irving is one of the most clutch performers with the game on the line. Brooklyn needs to make sure that Irving and Harden are focused on this season because they have an excellent chance to win the 2021 NBA title ahead of the Lakers.