I have never been proven wrong more times by a team than this season’s Los Angeles Lakers.
Going into the season, I thought the Lakers would finish as the fourth seed in the Western Conference at best. I scoffed at the idea of a top-heavy team with a 35-year-old LeBron James and possible rental in Anthony Davis leading the team to any meaningful success.
In fact, I favored their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, to make it out of the West, and we all know now how their season ended.
Having clinched the first seed and now vying for its franchise’s 17th championship, the Lakers have silenced the doubters for the most part. So how did they get here?
This year’s season was far from regular. With the National Basketball Association (NBA) enacting a four and a half month hiatus beginning on March 11, plans for resuming play did not become clear until the summer.
The Lakers then had to shake off some rust upon returning to play their remaining eight games, going 3-5.
Their first-round matchup was against a hot Portland Trail Blazers team led by the Bubble Most Valuable Player Damian Lillard.
After stealing game one of the series, the Blazers gave me a slight sense of hope that they could beat the one seed Lakers.
But the Lakers responded by winning four straight to complete the gentleman's sweep, and James dropped a cool triple-double of 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the final game.
Up next came the small ball Houston Rockets. With their tallest starter being Robert Covington at 6 foot 7 inches, the Rockets looked like a tough opponent against the Lakers on paper, going 2-1 against them in the regular season.
Again, I thought to myself, “could this be the end of the road for James and the Lakers?” Yet again, those thoughts were shot down, as the Lakers closed out the Rockets in five games with James scoring a team-high 29 points to clinch a spot in the Western Conference Finals.
Then came the Denver Nuggets, who made history in these playoffs by overcoming a 3-1 series deficit twice. I threw my support behind the resilient Denver squad, but James and the Lakers proved to be too much as he put up another impressive stat line with 38 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists to close out the series in five games.
The stage was set for the Lakers to play the Miami Heat.
For all the doubting I have done against the Lakers this season, this year’s Finals is for James and the Lakers to lose.
Though I will give my props to this Miami Heat team; they have been one of the most entertaining Finals-bound squads I have ever seen. Defined by their hard-nosed culture, the Heat have a lethal combination of shooters, veterans and clutch shot-makers that brought them to the biggest stage in basketball.
All that said, however, the Heat do not match the star power of the Golden State Warriors teams James had to face over the past decade.
Comically nicknamed “LeGM,” James also played a large role in shaping the current roster.
In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in Dec. 2018, James mentioned how he has always been active in recruiting stars to play with him. Lo and behold, Davis was traded to Los Angeles in June 2019, leading to the duo playing in the Finals one year later.
So James has his ideal scenario: playing in Los Angeles with his ideal running mate Davis, surrounded by complementary pieces like guards Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. And so far, James and company have matched the hype.
As talented and fun as the Heat are, the Lakers have proven to be as good as they are on paper.
For the first time in four years, James is heading to the Finals with a more than competent supporting cast and as the favorites. Playing to cement his status as the greatest basketball player of all time and to honor the late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, James faces lofty expectations to win this year.
But with the way the Lakers have been playing all year, there should be no excuse for James not to come home with his fourth championship ring.