How entertaining would an NBA Finals that contain LeBron James & Anthony Davis on one side, and Kevin Durant & Kyrie Irving on the other? Imagine LeBron trying to win his fifth ring against Durant and Irving. If the Lakers could beat this Nets team, would it cement LeBron’s name right up there with Michael Jordan?
The Los Angeles Lakers are predicted to win the Western Conference, while the Brooklyn Nets will contend with the Milwaukee Bucks for the Eastern Conference. The two teams met for the first time this season on February 18, 2021. This could be a preview of the NBA Finals.
The Duel Of The Superstars
A down year for Anthony Davis was 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.3 blocks. However, one major improvement was that Davis shot a career-high 84.6% from the free-throw line. In his first game of the season, Davis did not disappoint with 18 points and 7 rebounds in 31 minutes of action. As the season moves along, Davis will be in the running for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year this season.
On the other side of the court, LeBron James is still in the conversation as the league’s best player. Last year, LeBron was the only player in the league to average double-digit assists (10.2) and assisted on 49.1% of his team’s offensive plays. Even at the age of 35, LeBron can still produce borderline triple-double numbers. In the team’s loss to the Clippers, LeBron finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.
As for the Nets, the combination of Durant and Irving shined in their season debuts. Durant missed all of last season recovering from an Achilles injury but jumped onto the scene in a flash. Durant finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, while the Nets were +26 when he was on the floor. That number was second to only his teammate Irvin, who had a game-high +32 rating. Irving dazzled 26 points, which included 4-of-7 shooting from three-point range.
The Nets were patient after waiting on Durant to recover last year. Irving only played in 20 games last season. With both players healthy, this could be one of the most lethal superstar pairings in the league. It could be too early to tell, but Durant and Irving put the rest of the league on watch with their opening performance.
The Lakers were a top-5 team in defensive efficiency last season and are hopeful that some of their new acquisitions can contribute. That will start with the center Marc Gasol, but the 35-year old looked very rugged in his season debut, playing in just 12 minutes. We already know about what the seven-time All-Star Davis can produce offensively and defensively at the power forward position. LeBron will serve as the team’s point guard, and can still handle any one-on-one situation.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot over 38% from three-point range last season and will play at small forward. While his numbers will be eye-popping, he can provide solid production as a role player. The team’s starting shooting guard, Dennis Schroder, popped out in his season opener. The Sixth Man of the Year runner-up sparkled in his debut with the Lakers nearly finishing with a triple-double. Schroder finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists.
The Nets are capable of getting 50 points a night from Durant and Irving with both players owning the abilities to make their surrounding cast play even better. Spencer Dinwiddie received the start at the small forward position and provided very similar stats to Caldwell-Pope in the opener. However, Dinwiddie has much more of an upside after averaging over 20 points per game last season. Joe Harris will serve as the team’s primary outside shooter. Harris is a former Three-Point Shooting champion and ranked near the top in three-point field goal percentage.
At the center position, DeAndre Jordan played in just 17 minutes but finished with 11 rebounds. Jordan was once a contender in rebounding titles, but with the team’s depth, the Nets don't need Jordan to play 30 minutes a game. When Jordan was on the floor, the Nets were +21, which was much higher than his replacement, so we could see Jordan close out games later in the season.
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, Landry Shamet, Caris Lavert, Tyler Johnson, Taurean Prince, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Rodions Kurucs, Reggie Perry, Jarrett Allen, Jeff Green
Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell is going to be a force once again this season. The 26-year old is coming off a season where he averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Harrell ended up closing out the game playing in Gasol’s position and led the Lakers with 32 minutes of playing time and a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. It’s safe to say we could see Harrell close down games in close situations.
Among others, Markieff Morris will bring a tenacious defender and can serve as the team’s power forward if Davis ever gets in foul trouble. Kyle Kuzma looked sharp in his season debut with 15 points. You can’t forget this is someone that nearly averaged 19 points as a starter two years ago. Alex Caruso was the team’s starting point guard in the NBA Finals and provides quality minutes. Talen Horton-Tucker is also a very intriguing prospect that scores in limited minutes. In the opener, Horton-Tucker scored six points in 11 minutes. Keep an eye on if the Lakers use him more often this season.
The Nets might have their own Sixth Man of the Year contender in Caris Lavert. In the last three seasons, Lavert has been one of the most streaky scorers in the league. Last season, he averaged a career-high 18.7 points. After coming off the bench, Lavert led the team in shot attempts, scored 20 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, and gave the Nets a +18 rating while on the floor. Needless to say, Lavert could thrive in his new role.
Landry Shamet was a solid acquisition and will provide relief from outside the arc, while Harris is out. Jarrett Allen coming off the bench will be great for Jordan. The young center has the capability of averaging a double-double after finishing with 11.1 points and 9.6 rebounds last season. Tyler Johnson, Taurean Prince, and Jeff Green are all seasoned veterans. For now, we will give the Nets the edge since Schroder was moved to the starting lineup.
Coach: Frank Vogel vs. Steve Nash
This isn’t much of a discussion since Nash has coached just one game this season.
Vogel owns 353 wins over nine seasons as a head coach with the Pacers, Magic, and Lakers. Vogel changed the identity of this team by getting everyone to believe in team defense.
As a defensive unit, the Lakers allowed the fourth-fewest points (107.6) per game, allowed the seventh-best three-point shot percentage (34.9%) and held opposing teams to the second-fewest rebounds per game (42.2). Even though the Lakers were on the losing side in the opener, look for this team to be a top-5 defensive team once again. Besides, Vogel is an NBA champion.
Again, this is for right now. As the season progresses, Nash could be a darkhorse for Coach of the Year. Durant and Irving both wanted Nash to coach them, which speaks high volume. Not to mention, Nash surrounded himself with some high-quality assistants.
For starters, Jacque Vaughn stayed with the Nets and he didn’t have to stay. Vaughn took over as the interim coach after the team fired Kenny Atkinson midway through the season. Vaughn helped lead a team that had no Irving or Durant down the stretch and qualified for the playoffs. Former Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni joined the staff and is one of the best coaches in the league in implementing an offense. There’s also Ime Udoka, the former 76ers assistant coach, who received multiple interviews for head coaching positions. He is well-regarded as a top assistant in the league. With the help, Nash could thrive in Year 1.
As the season progresses and we learn more about each team, we will have more data to make a valid argument. For now, neither team has the advantage and this is a straight toss-up. The two superstars on both sides are top-10 caliber players in the league. The starting lineups both contain key role players that have similar attributes to the other. There is a chance that the Lakers and Nets could be leading their respective conference when the two teams play on February 18. That should be a date you mark on your calendar.