It’s tough to write anything about the NBA without it being about Kobe. But here it goes.
For the last five years, especially in the previous three, NBA fans have been clamoring for more parody. By this time in the NBA calendar, we had a pretty good sense of which two teams would be facing off in the Finals.
This year, with the All-Star Game quickly approaching, it’s the first season since 2015 that the race for the title is truly wide open.
Sure, most of the faces- LeBron, Kawhi and Giannis- are the same but this year the stars aren’t seen as underdogs against the dynastic Warriors.
In the East, the Bucks look head and shoulders above the rest of the conference but are we sure they have enough scoring punch outside of Giannis to make a Finals run?
The 76ers seem like a mess but are they a Chris Paul trade away from figuring out all of their on-court chemistry issues?
Can Boston, Miami or Toronto find a player on the buy-out market (Tristen Thompson) that could catapult them to into real contention? Will Victor Oladipo return to form by April and lead the Pacers on a run?
All of these questions are sure to be answered over the next few months but it’s a new feeling to have this many problems unsolved at this point in the season.
Let’s take a look at the championship odds as they stand today:
Rockets/Mavericks/ Nuggets/Jazz: +1400
From the start of the season, it’s been clear that the Lakers and Clippers are a cut above the rest of the competition. Their star-power and styles of play will make them hard to beat four times out of seven in a playoff series.
But as the Jazz continues to surge and as Nikola Jokic has found his game those two teams could be troubling matchups for both L.A. teams.
The Nuggets possess a level of size and interior play that the Clippers have struggled to deal with all year.
Though the Clippers are clearly coasting through the regular season, it’s a tad worrisome that their two best big guys are Montrezl Harrell and Ivaca Zubac.
For the Lakers, the shot-blocking ability of Rudy Gobert and the spacing that the Jazz put around him will be tough to deal with.
Even though Anthony Davis has been in the playoffs and made Round 2 once, he hasn’t proven that he can carry the load in a deep playoff run.
I would expect both the Lakers and the Clippers to make the Western Conference Finals and set up a monumental series that could change the course of history for both franchises.
Right now, however, I believe the Lakers’ brute force and ability to protect the rim will carry them over the Clippers and into the Finals where they will face off against a Chris Paul led 76ers that is sorely lacking his shooting ability right now.