Basketball in Los Angeles is going to be sweet once again. The Clippers are still in search of that first NBA title, while the Lakers are coming off their 17th NBA Championship in franchise history. The longtime rivalry has been going steadfast since 1984 and the 2020-2021 season will add an extra layer of competitive battles to the longtime history.
Since 1999, the two franchises have played at the Staples Center. The Lakers have featured most of the success having won six NBA rings over the last 20 years. The Clippers should have played the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, but failed to hold onto a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets. The team has been left wondering what could have happened since that time.
As the new season begins in just a matter of weeks, the question remains out there. Who will have the better team this season?
The Duel Of The Superstars
For both teams, not a lot has changed on this front. Today, Anthony Davis signed a 5-year, $190M with the Lakers. Right now, the Lakers own the best superstar tandem in the league with Davis and LeBron James. Even at the age of 36 (turns this age on December 30), James has shown no signs of slowing down after averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and a career-high 10.3 assists per game. Davis will turn 28 years old next season and is coming off a season that saw him average 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game.
As for the Clippers, the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George experiment turned out to be an overhyped thought. The two never seemed to gel together very well, but a lot of that had to do with chemistry. When the NBA season turned to January 2020, the two had only played 18 games together. Even with the pandemic, the two didn’t find chemistry because games weren’t being played. Still, Leonard and George are superstar caliber players. A full offseason could be the best for them, but we will have to wait and see.
When LeBron is your point guard and Davis is your power forward, those are potentially the best-rated players in their respective positions. While James is not a natural point guard, he found a way to nearly averaged a triple-double last year. If James had been playing this position in his prime, we might have seen Russell Westbrook-like numbers and championships.
The rest of the lineup looks like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the small forward, Markief Morris at the power forward, and Marc Gasol at the center. While Gasol is not in his prime anymore, the 35-year old can serve as a veteran voice and as a role player for Davis and is a former Defensive Player of the Year.
In comparison, along with George and Leonard, the Clippers don’t have a splashy starting lineup. Patrick Beverly is a great defender, but he has lost his step and is on the wrong side of 30. Comparing Zubac to Davis is like comparing vegetables to fruits.
As for Marcus Morris, Markieff’s twin brother, he never settled in after coming over from the New York Knicks via trade. With the Knicks, he was averaging 19.6 points per game and that dropped to 10.1 points. You may say it’s because his shots were limited. That’s not really true either because he was playing just four less minutes per game. The alarming stat is that his three-point shooting percentage dropped from 43.9% to 31.0%.
The Lakers starting five gets the nod in this category too.
Lakers bench: Dennis Schroder, Alex Caruso, Zavier Simpson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, Alfonso McKinnie, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Jared Dudley, Montrezl Harrell
Clippers bench: Reggie Jackson, Ky Bowman, Jordan Ford, Lou Williams, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Jay Scrubb, Nicolas Batum, Rayjon Tucker, Patrick Patterson, Daniel Oturu, Mfiondu Kabengele, Serge Ibaka
How can you not pick the team that signed the top two vote-getters in Sixth Man of the Year? Along with Schroeder, the Lakers signed former Clippers big man and Sixth Man of the Year power forward Montrezl Harrell. The 26-year old is coming off a season where he averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
That’s not all. Schroeder averaged more than 18 points a game last season and was the Runner Up for Sixth Man of the Year. He could come off the bench, but he has made statements that he wants to start. If James can get him the ball in his favorite corner, he could average north of 20 points per game. Morris is a solid defender and will serve a role on this team. You can’t forget Kyle Kuzma, who has the ability to be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Kuzma averaged nearly 19 points a game before last season, so he could be this team’s version of Lou Williams. Along with Alex Caruso, who started in the playoffs, this team is solid from players 1-10.
The Clippers should have brought back Harrell, especially when the Lakers signed him for just $10 million per season. Instead, they let him walk out for free. The team has three-time Sixth Man of the Year guard Lou Williams, but the 34-year old has been rumored to be on the market. However, Serge Ibaka is a huge upgrade at center and is coming off a solid season where he averaged 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds for the Toronto Raptors.
Outside of Williams and Ibaka, the Clippers have a washed-up Nicolas Batum, a solid role player in Patrick Patterson, and Luke Kennard. Nothing screams special out of that group.
Coach: Frank Vogel vs. Tyronn Lue
When the Lakers swung out on every coaching choice before the 2019-2020 season, the media laughed when the franchise hired Frank Vogel. Instead, Vogel convinced LeBron that he was the right fit. He turned the team into a top-5 defensive team in the league, ranking fourth in points allowed per game (107.6).
The Clippers did away with Doc Rivers after collapsing to the Nuggets and hired Ty Lue. While Lue won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, he has not done much since. The argument could be made that Vogel did not complete anything until he had LeBron on his team, but Vogel is coming off a season where he led the Lakers during a pandemic, the death of Kobe Bryant, and was a laughing stock when hired. Vogel deserves the nod for now.
Isn’t it obvious who will have the better team? The Clippers will make the playoffs, so don’t let this make you believe that the Clippers are not a good team. There is potential for a Big 3 in Kawhi, George, and Ibaka. It has an old Oklahoma City Thunder feel to it, and don’t forget that team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Ibaka made the Western Conference Finals in 2012.
In the end, the Lakers have the depth and talent to repeat as NBA champions. LeBron is on a mission to chase down Michael Jordan and cement his legacy. He has never appeared to be as focused as he is now, especially in the later stage of his career. While the Clippers didn’t necessarily regress, the Lakers just got plain better.