Lakers Eliminate Warriors 4-2; Western Conference Finals Prediction | Where Do Warriors Go From Here?

From 2-10 to the Western Conference Finals.

From the 13th seed at the trade deadline to the Final Four.

You didn’t actually think LeBron and AD would choke a 3-1 lead, did you?

Please tell me you didn’t fall for the Bron Hater fan fiction–the ESPN wet dream.

Don’t tell me you believed the little corgi dog picking Warriors in 7.

And don’t tell me you fell for the “Bron is washed” narrative. You can’t have actually believed he didn’t still have that next gear.

LeBron, as he showed in Game 6, going for 30 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists on a ridiculous 10-14 shooting, is still capable of completely taking over a playoff game.

The Lakers were not losing that game. They were not letting the Warriors back into the series, they were not going back to Golden State. LeBron was going to make sure of it, Anthony Davis (17 points, 20 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals) was going to make sure of it… shit, AUSTIN REAVES was going to make sure of it. That half court shot he hit just before the half? That’s the stuff of legends. I thought the Lakers were always going to win the game, but their lead became a bit shakier after they built up that 27-10 lead and it was only 7 before the REAVES HEAVE.

Reaves’ shot really changed the tone of the game. Got the crowd into it, and in that moment, I knew for a 100% fact that the Lakers were winning. I was like 85% sure they would win going into the game, but when that Reaves shot hit, I went to 100%. You don’t lose a game when stuff like that goes in. It gets your team buzzing, and it kind of demoralizes the other team, too.

Reaves had 23 points on 7-12 shooting. He was excellent.

And even D’Angelo Russell, who I felt like–as I was watching the game live–was bricking a lot of shots, still finished with 19 points on 7-15 shooting. He was only 2-7 from three, but he had a much better game than I felt like he was having in the moment.

Lonnie Walker also deserves credit for getting back into the rotation and coming up huge. His Game 4 performance was an all-time moment.

But the main takeaway from this game is that LeBron can still hit that Takeover Gear–when he wants to.

Or, more accurately, when he needs to.

There is no player in the history of the league that has a better feel for what his team needs out of him, what he must do in order for his team to win. What makes LeBron the Greatest of All Time, in my view, is that not only is he keenly aware of and in control of everything going on in the game, he is uniquely capable of actually doing whatever needs to be done to win the game. Because he is the most complete basketball player in NBA history, and the smartest player in NBA history, he gets a feel for how the game is going–what his team is doing well, what his team is doing poorly, what the other team is doing well, and what the other team is doing poorly. Then he adapts his game on the fly to provide whatever it is his team needs in order to secure the win.

Does his team need rebounding? He’ll get you a bunch of boards, then. He had 20 rebounds in a game against Memphis in the first round. Does he need to take over as the point guard and run the offense? He’ll do that. Does he need to score 30? Done. Does he need to score 40? Done. Does he need to attack the rim and create rim pressure? Nobody better in NBA history. Does he need to play free safety on defense or sit in the chair and play one-on-one defense? Whichever it is, he can do.

LeBron last night came out strong, attacking the rim like he really hasn’t done much throughout the course of the series. I almost started to wonder if his foot injury had completely sapped his ability to get to the rim (after all, the guy is playing on a torn tendon in his foot that should have resulted in season-ending surgery). But then, last night, he started attacking the rim, and it was obvious that he hadn’t lost the ability to get to the rim, he was just conserving his energy and playing it safe until the moment where he absolutely had to start attacking the rim.

So LeBron came out strong with 9 points on 3/5 shooting in the first quarter. He had 6 points in the second quarter, shot 4 free throws, but the Lakers were still kind of treading water a bit.

Then, the third quarter was where he decided to really put the game away. 10 points on 5/6 shooting, and the Lakers were up 15 going into the 4th.

And so when you go back and re-watch the game, you can see that it pretty much ebbed and flowed along the same lines as LeBron’s effort level. When the Lakers were surging and expanding their lead, it was because LeBron was going hard, putting his head down and getting to the rim, and exerting maximum effort. When the Warriors were starting to draw closer and narrow the deficit, it was because LeBron was kind of taking his foot of the gas pedal.

But anytime the Warriors got close, the Lakers shut the door on them and pushed them away to arm’s length. They were never actually in any real danger of losing that game. Again, there was no way LeBron and AD were losing that game.

You know, it felt like LeBron didn’t have that great a series, but I’m looking at the series stats and he still averaged 25-9-5 on 60.1% true shooting. He shot 49.5% from the floor overall in the series. His net rating was a +10–119 offensive rating, 109 defensive.

AD had an amazing series, too. He averaged 21.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.2 blocks on 57.8% shooting–64.4% true shooting. AD had an outstanding net rating: +22. He was 123 offensive and a staggering 101 defensive rating (the Warriors for the series were 114.5 offensive rating as a team!)

But I just think the takeaway here is that LeBron is at a stage in his career–and a lot of it is admittedly due to his foot injury–where he can’t go beast mode for an entire series. He has to pick and choose his spots. He almost “load manages” within the games, coasting and going into like standby mode for long stretches of games. But when he has to flip on the jets and be LeBron James again, he is perfectly capable of doing so. And he always knows the exact perfect moment to do so.

LeBron is very fortunate to have a great team around him. If he had to go full bore for the whole series, or for this whole playoff run, I don’t think he’d be able to sustain it. I think his body would break down, as we saw in the regular season when he was trying to keep the Pre Trade Deadline Roster afloat and carry the team when AD was missing time. LeBron got hurt after that stretch. So he’s conserving his energy, he’s picking and choosing the spots in which he puts the pedal to the metal.

But it just goes to show you that the Lakers have never been in any real danger all postseason long. When the stakes are highest, LeBron will bring his A-game and the Lakers will win.

The whole team is actually kind of like this, honestly.

What’s remarkable is that the first and second rounds of the playoffs for the Lakers followed the exact same pattern: Lakers steal game 1 on the road, and then, happy with the split, they mail in Game 2 on the road, figuring that they are never going to be able to match the intensity and energy of the other team, who is desperate to avoid going down 0-2. So the Lakers lost Game 2 to the Warriors and the Grizzlies.

But then, when the series goes back to LA, the Lakers win those home games. They did it in both series, jumping out to 3-1 leads in both.

With the 3-1 leads, and going back to the other team’s building for Game 5, the Lakers kind of mailed it in both times. They figured they were up 3-1, they would shut it down at home in Game 6.

And that’s exactly what they did both times. Both Game 6s they’ve won so far were blowouts. They beat Memphis by 40 in Game 6, and they beat the Warriors by 21 in Game 6.

The Lakers win when they bring their effort, and they lose when they mail it in. It’s all by design. They have a very specific and planned out formula for winning these playoff series: steal a game on the road, win your two home games, concede Game 5 on the road, and then slam the door in Game 6 at home.

The Lakers understand that you only need to win 4 games in 7 tries. So in situations where they’re not going to be able to match the other team’s intensity, they just kind of concede early and don’t even waste their energy. That’s Game 2 and Game 5 for them.

So after 2 playoff series, once you understand their plan, it becomes clear that they were never actually in any real danger in either series.

You notice that the Lakers have only lost in blowout fashion this postseason? Their 4 losses so far were by 10, 17, 27, and 15 points. They basically just conceded those games.

All the close games, the Lakers win. Game 1 against Golden State was close, Lakers won by 5 (although they choked away a 14 point lead with 5 minutes to play and had to really hang on by the seat of their pants). The critical game 4, the Lakers won 104-101–that was the Lonnie Walker game.

Against Memphis, Game 1 was kind of close but the Lakers pulled away in the end (the Austin Reaves game). Game 4 was close too, but they pulled it out (the LeBron last second shot to tie it and send it to overtime).

They have won all the close games. They have won blowouts. And when they lose, it’s in blowout fashion because they just cut their losses and concede early.

It’s pretty remarkable when you look at it this way. They had a clear strategy for winning these series, and both Memphis and Golden State were powerless to stop them from executing that strategy. Basically the only games Memphis and Golden State won were the games the Lakers kind of, more or less, let them have. The games where the Lakers said, “Look, we are not going to bring our best effort tonight because we already got the split, or we are already up 3-1, so you can have this one.”

It’s a clear formula: steal a game on the road and then defend home court. And neither Memphis nor Golden State has been able to stop them from doing what they want to do.

Will this strategy work against Denver? I think it will, but it might be slightly altered.

I don’t think the Lakers will win Game 1 of the series. I think they might get blown out, they might just concede that one. Because Denver will be more rested (albeit only by a day), and Denver has that altitude advantage which might be hard for the Lakers to adjust to in Game 1.

So I think the Lakers’ plan is going to be to win Game 2 in Denver, then defend home court and go up 3-1, lose Game 5 on the road in Denver, and then come back to LA and slam the door in Game 6, once again, to book the trip to the Finals. That’s my best guess.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. I still want to keep it focused on the Warriors series.

Look, the reality is, the Lakers were the better team by a fairly significant margin. They are bigger, stronger, more athletic and more physical. They were able to impose their will on Golden State whenever they wanted. The Lakers really dictated the series, as I went over above.

For the Warriors, Klay Thompson did not really have a great showing. He only averaged 16 points on a pitiful 34.3% shooting from the floor (47.7% true shooting). He actually averaged more field goal attempts than points per game in this series: 16.2 points per game, 16.5 shot attempts per game. Compare that to 20 points per game on 56.3% true shooting in the first round against the Kings (17.1 shots per gm). This is a guy who led the NBA in made threes in the regular season.

Steph Curry, although he did have some moments, was basically forced to become a volume shooter against the Lakers.

Against the Kings, Steph averaged 33-5-5 on 62.1% true shooting.

Against the Lakers, Steph averaged 27-5-7 on 54.6% true shooting. He averaged 23.2 field goal attempts a game–so 27 points on 23 shots a night. That is not efficient enough to win the series. Steph only shot 34.3% from three in the series against the Lakers. They were basically able to force him into just jacking up shots left and right.

I do think the Lakers did a great job defensively on the Warriors in this series, especially on Steph, but I also think it’s true that Klay Thompson is no longer the same player he once was. An ACL tear and an achilles tear will do that to you, but I think it has become really apparent now that Klay just does not have the same impact on games that he once did.

The Warriors themselves are just not the same team they once were.

I said before this series that this was the Real Finals, and that the winner would go on to win the Championship. Do I still feel that way?

Well, I still think the Lakers will win the Championship, but I think it’s pretty clear now that the Warriors were not a Championship team. I don’t think they had the potential to go the distance. I’m not even sure they’d beat Denver in a series, although I think they certainly could. They’d certainly fare better than Phoenix did, and even Phoenix got two games off Denver.

I said before this series that the Lakers would win in 6 and that people were not concerned enough by how shaky the Warriors looked against the Kings. People focused on Steph’s 50 point game 7 against Sacramento, but I was focused on the fact that they even let that series go 7 games in the first place against a super young team with no playoff experience and no defense. I said if the Warriors needed 7 games to beat Sacramento there was no way they’d be able to take the Lakers. I was right.

I think we probably just witnessed the end of the Warriors “dynasty”. I don’t think they’ll be able to keep that roster together going into next season. Somebody is going to have to be moved, whether it be Klay, Draymond, Jordan Poole or a combination of the three. They could also lose Donte Divincenzo if he doesn’t pick up his player option–and I think there’s a good chance he won’t because he makes $4.7 million a year and seems likely some other team will offer him more than that.

It’s pretty clear that this Warriors core, with Steph now 35, Klay now 33 and with some serious injuries in his past, and Draymond also 33–this is no longer a Championship core.

And so if you’re the Warriors front office and top brass, and you come to that conclusion, then you have to blow it up. Because that roster cost $370 million this season in combined salaries and luxury taxes.

If they keep the whole roster together for next season, it will cost $489 million to do so.

That is an absolutely ludicrous number, and I just don’t see any way Joe Lacob is okay with paying that for a team that is not Championship-caliber.

So I think it’s getting dismantled in the offseason. The Warriors will look very different next year.

The Athletic has a piece out already outlining what this offseason may entail for the Dubs. Basically it seems like they’re going to ask Klay Thompson to take a pay cut to stay with the team, they really want to find a way to bring Draymond back (although it will be tough to fend off other teams on the open market if he opts out), Kuminga is likely gone, and Jordan Poole is the biggest question.

Poole’s extension kicks in next year and he’ll start making $27 million a year. That is a heck of a lot of money for a guy who averaged 10 points a game on 34% field goal shooting in these playoffs.

Jordan Poole in the 2023 playoffs has shot 25.4% from three. That’s a shocking number.

Last year in the playoffs, Poole was an essential offensive player for the Warriors, averaging 17 a game on 60% effective field goal shooting and 40% from three.

His drop-off from last season to this season has been stunning, truly.

And the issue is that it seems like it’s going to be either him or Draymond coming back for the Warriors. They have to get that luxury tax number down, and I don’t think they’ll be able to keep both guys.

If they get rid of Poole, they will have to make a bad trade. I don’t think, after how badly he played in the playoffs, they can get a good return for him.

Jordan Poole has shown an ability to be a valuable part of the Warriors offense. We just saw it in the playoffs last year, he was an integral part of that Championship run. His offense off the bench won them more than a few games last year, including in the Finals against Boston. I don’t think they win that Championship without him last year.

But the issue with him is he’s terrible on defense, and he’s way too over-confident sometimes. He hits one shot and thinks he’s Steph Curry. On multiple occasions this season, you could see Steph and Klay’s frustration with his shot selection. There was even one game where Poole jacked up a horrible three, bricked, and Steph was so pissed at him he threw his mouth guard and got ejected.

If they choose Draymond over Poole, which seems more likely, then it means they are giving up on him and his offensive potential, his youth, and they are doubling down on older players.

It’s not going to be an easy question to answer, and there isn’t really a good answer. Sacrifice Draymond and his defense and leadership, or sacrifice Poole and his offensive spark potential and youth? The Warriors defense will fall off a cliff without Draymond.

Taking a step back here for a second, it’s crazy to think that the Warriors core rose and fell as a “dynasty” over an 8 year stretch and LeBron has basically outlasted them. LeBron was dominating the league for nearly a decade before the Warriors burst onto the scene. And now, in 2023, with the Warriors dynasty fading, LeBron was the one who drove the stake through their heart.

It really puts LeBron’s longevity into context. He’s been doing this for so long. The Warriors are on fumes 8 years into their run, while LeBron is still going strong.

But back to the Warriors. I don’t really know what’s next. Their owner Joe Lacob does not want to push the payroll/luxury tax bill up over $400 million, but as currently constructed, it will be $489 million next season. So something has got to give here.

Somebody out of the group of Klay, Draymond and Poole will be gone next season, and maybe two of them will be gone.

Bigger picture, things are changing for the Warriors. The past 8 years or so of them having this ridiculously stacked roster–that’s over now. They are no longer going to be able to spend $370 million+ on a their roster. They are going to have to build their roster differently now–the new CBA ensures it. Steph is going to have to get by like all the other stars now. He is not going to have the most expensive roster in the league anymore.

The new CBA really levels the playing field in a major way and punishes big spenders like the Warriors in particular. The Warriors benefitted from the fact that they had Bird rights on all their main guys–admittedly through great drafting and developing, but also a lot of luck–and the fact that their owner was willing to spend more than anyone else. But that’s over now.

Okay, so now we have to talk about the LeBron-Steph rivalry.

I don’t think Steph has ever been on LeBron’s level. I’ve said this plenty of times–LeBron is in a class of his own, and the only reason it’s even a conversation with Steph is because Steph has typically had the better team in their matchups. Kyrie and Kevin Love missed the 2015 Finals and that’s why Steph won. When the Cavs were healthy in 2016, they beat the Warriors in the Finals–and then the Warriors recruited KD to come save them.

Now LeBron is 2-3 in series against Steph Curry, but those three losses were laden with asterisks. LeBron also has the win over Steph in the play-in in 2021 as well, but that was a single game.

People were talking before this series how Steph has so much to gain from winning, but what about LeBron? Why doesn’t LeBron have anything to gain?

Well, obviously the answer is that most of the media is only interested in tearing LeBron down for the purposes of protecting Michael Jordan’s legacy.

But make no mistake: this absolutely boosts LeBron’s legacy. He’s 38 years old, and he takes down his biggest rival in the playoffs? It just shows you that Steph has never really been on LeBron’s level. I don’t want to hear anything about how Steph had no help–he has a $370 million roster behind him (well, partly including him but you get what I’m saying).

No longer can people say that Steph’s teams have dominated LeBron’s teams whenever they met in the postseason.

The Warriors had never lost a playoff series in the West since the start of their run in 2015–until they met LeBron’s team. This is the first time the Warriors have lost a playoff series before the Finals in the Steve Kerr era.

Since 2015, the Warriors have only lost in the postseason three times: the 2016 Finals, the 2019 Finals and now this series in 2023.

And the 2019 Finals really doesn’t even count since KD and Klay were both injured.

LeBron is legitimately the only guy who can beat the Warriors.

If you don’t think that boosts LeBron’s legacy, or at least invalidates a lot of the unfair criticism leveled towards him, you’re just not thinking about the situation clearly.

Think about if the Lakers would’ve lost this series. Nobody would’ve given LeBron a break saying he’s 38 and he has a hurt foot. They would have destroyed him. They would have said Steph is the best player of this era, LeBron is a fraud, Jordan would never, Steph is ahead of LeBron all time–LeBron had a ton to lose in this series.

None of it would be valid, but if all the hacks on TV are saying it, then it becomes the conversation. Narratives, even false narratives, have a way of catching on if the most prominent voices are constantly repeating them and driving them into people’s heads.

Now they can’t say shit. Now they will have to talk about how LeBron’s Lakers drove a stake through the heart of the Warriors dynasty.

Of course, it wasn’t all LeBron. AD played a massive role–maybe a bigger role than LeBron, honestly. And guys like Lonnie Walker, Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and even Jarred Vanderbilt for a stretch in this series, they were all instrumental.

But that’s not how these media hacks talk about basketball. It’s one superstar vs. the other, and that’s it. They never mention the supporting casts. They never mentioned how Steph’s teams were so much better than LeBron’s teams during the Cavs vs. Warriors era. It was only “STEPH BEAT LEBRON HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

So keep that same energy now, douchebags.

I’m sure they won’t, though. I’m sure on Monday they will immediately move to their same old bullshit: LeBron got carried by AD, Wiggins got a boo-boo, the refs rigged it for the Lakers, etc.

And then, after they spend a few minutes giving LeBron backhanded praise for winning this series, they are going to move on to how Denver is going to destroy the Lakers.

That will be the topic of conversation going forward. They’ll quickly move off the Lakers soundly beating their Golden Child, giving as minimal praise as possible, and start fantasizing about how the Nuggets will demolish the Lakers with ease, even though most of these media hacks have spent the better part of the last three years slandering Nikola Jokic mercilessly.

The pivot to being pro-Jokic in the media will be a bit jarring, but it will happen nonetheless because above all else, the media always has to be anti-LeBron. When it comes to choosing between two guys they despise–LeBron and Jokic–they will always choose the guy that isn’t LeBron. In their eyes, LeBron is always the greater of two evils. Because LeBron threatens MJ, and they worship MJ.

So the switch-up is coming soon, make no mistake of that.

How about the series, though?

Lakers vs. Nuggets, who wins?

I’m taking Lakers in 6.

The Lakers are just more battle-tested than the Nuggets are. The Lakers have proven experience, they have size, defense, length, and they have two of the three best players in the series.

This is the worst possible matchup for the Nuggets.

The Nuggets were rooting for the Warriors to come out of that series against the Lakers.

Because the Lakers have the one guy in the whole league that Nikola Jokic doesn’t want to see: AD.

Look, I wrote just the other night that Nikola Jokic is the best player in the NBA. I still think that’s true in the big picture–in terms of an 82 game regular season and the playoffs.

But Anthony Davis is very close to him, and as they often say, styles make fights.

Anthony Davis is the one player in the league that can offset the impact of a guy like Nikola Jokic.

Jokic is the best offensive big man in the league, Anthony Davis is the best defensive big man.

The one time these teams matched up in the postseason before was in the Conference Finals in the Bubble three years ago. Obviously the Lakers are much different team outside of LeBron and AD (in fact they’re a completely different supporting cast), and the Nuggets are older, more experienced, and more cohesive than they were back then.

The Lakers won that series 4-1, and AD just feasted. He averaged 31 points a game on 67% true shooting matched up against Nikola Jokic.

Jokic averaged 22-7-5 on 61.6% true shooting–still good numbers, but if he’s not outperforming AD on a nightly basis, Denver has no shot.

AD has the defensive acumen to handle Jokic. He’s not going to shut him down, but you are not going to see Jokic put up the numbers he did against Phoenix.

Going up against AD vs. going up against Deandre Ayton and Jock Landale is like moving up from the JV team to Division 1. The Suns may have been the weakest interior defensive team in the league, the Lakers are arguably the best.

The Lakers are not going to let Jokic average 34-13-10 on 66% true shooting.

He’ll be closer to what he averaged against Minnesota: 26-12-9 on 57% true shooting.

He’s still going to put up numbers, he’ll still have some incredible games, but he is going to have to work so much harder on both ends of the floor. AD is going to make him work for his buckets, and he’s going to have his hands full trying to defend AD.

And this is my biggest thing: I think Denver is good, I respect the hell out of them, but people are vastly overrating them because of the Suns series.

The Suns are not a good basketball team. People have been fooled by the Cult of the Midrange Jumper–Bag Twitter–about the Suns. The Suns were not a good team. Vegas even was fooled by them, having them as the favorites to win the West before the playoffs started.

People were just fooled by them. They saw KD on the Suns and because they’ve had it drilled into their brains by Max Kellerman, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless that “KEVIN BLEEPIN DURANT” is the GREATEST BASKETBALL PLAYER IN THE WORLD, they believed it.

But the Suns were not a good team. KD is not that guy anymore. In my opinion, he never was.

People are acting like Jokic is going to continue putting up the same numbers he put up against Phoenix. It’s not happening. The Suns were the worst defense in the playoffs, the Lakers are the best.

The Suns legitimately should have lost to the Clippers. If even just Kawhi is healthy for that series in the first round, I think the Clippers win.

The 2023 Suns were legitimately one of the most overrated basketball teams ever. And people have an inflated view of the Nuggets because of how good they looked against a terrible Phoenix defense.

The Lakers, meanwhile, have already beaten two teams who are significantly better than the Suns. And they did so with relative ease, building a 3-1 lead in both series.

It all hinges on your perception of Phoenix. If you bought into the lie that Phoenix was great because they had KEVIN BLEEPIN DURANT and they were good at shooting midrange jumpers, then you probably think Denver is on par with the 2017 Warriors.

But if you’re like me and you think Phoenix was vastly overrated and never stood a chance (which I wrote before the playoffs even started), then you know that this Denver team is being overblown.

Again, I still think Denver is a good team, but they have not proven a thing. The Lakers have.

The issue for Denver in this series against the Lakers is that the Lakers are a rim-pressuring team, and Jokic is not a rim protector. He’s much better on defense than people think, but he is not an AD-style shot swatter and area denier. He doesn’t just lock down the paint the way AD does.

And that’s an issue because the Lakers have lots of guys who can get to the rim, LeBron first and foremost. And AD, of course. Phoenix largely didn’t–they couldn’t exploit Jokic’s lack of rim protection.

The good news for the Lakers is that this will be a series where Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura play a big role. They really didn’t fit well in the Warriors series as that series called more for smaller, quicker guys who can get around screens (like Schroder and Lonnie) rather than bigger, longer guys who can contest shots and stonewall drives (like Vando and Rui).

Murray and Porter are going to have to step up big time in this series if Denver is going to have a chance, and that means hitting outside shots, since they’re not going to get much inside on the Lakers. I just don’t know if they are going to be consistent enough as shooters, especially against the Lakers’ length, to win this series.

But in a larger sense, after two playoff series against very good, yet very different, teams, and seeing how the Lakers were in basically complete control of those series, I think it’s pretty clear that the Lakers are the best team left and that the only thing stopping them from going all the way is health.

If they stay healthy, they’re winning the whole thing.

Denver won’t be able to stop them, nor will whichever team comes out of the East.

What really convinced me was LeBron flipping on the jets in Game 6 against the Warriors. In that moment, I realized he could be the best player on the floor anytime he feels like, but he’s trying to conserve his energy so unless he actually has to, he will hold back a bit and let his teammates do their thing. But he is always waiting there in case they need him to takeover the scoring burden,

Obviously he’ll still put up 20-25 points efficiently, grab a bunch of rebounds, and play high-level defense. But in terms of scoring, he picks and chooses when to flip on the jets, and it’s on a per game, even per quarter basis.

When he wants to turn back the clock and go back to Prime LeBron, though, he is more than capable.

And so I just think that with LeBron in this Overseer mode, where he’s essentially the team’s safety net, watching over things, keeping tabs on everything, analyzing the flow of the game, ready to bail them out anytime they run into trouble–it gives me tremendous confidence in them.

It’s like, “Oh, he’s not going to let them lose. They’re not in any real danger.”

I have been rewatching the Batman “Dark Knight” Trilogy, so that’s kind of where my mind is, but at the end of Dark Knight, Police Commissioner Gordon tells his young son that Batman is not a hero–instead, “He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”

Now, I know it’s kind of corny analogy and maybe it’s a bit over the top, but I think that’s kind of like LeBron’s role. He watches over his team, and the moment they start to falter, he springs into action.

I’m also reminded of the Toby Keith song–“I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” LeBron can’t play at Prime LeBron level for a whole series. But he is capable of reaching that level for a game here or there, or just a quarter, or even just a few possessions here or there.

And because he has the Greatest Basketball IQ ever, he knows exactly when to turn it on. He knows exactly how good he needs to be at all times, he trusts his teammates to step up when he’s kind of hanging back, and he also has a guy on his team in Anthony Davis who is as good a player as you will find in the whole NBA. That helps, too.

The Lakers are winning the Championship as long as they stay healthy. LeBron and AD are the two guys left in the playoffs who have done it before, they recognize the opportunity at hand, and they will not let it slip away. There is no one that can stand in their way.

They are one of the greatest duos in NBA history and they will prove it with 8 more wins.

The Nuggets are a really good team, and Jokic is on a trajectory to being one of the all-time greats, but I just think LeBron and AD are something else entirely. I just don’t see them losing unless one of them gets hurt–which is a very real possibility, but not one I’m going to factor into my prediction.

The Lakers are not going to sweep the Nuggets, they’re going to win in 6 most likely.

They are executing a long-term, 16-game plan. It’s very methodical how they’re working their way through the playoffs. They know exactly what they need to do and they’re doing it. The goal is 16 wins, by any means necessary. They don’t care how they get it done, they just care that they get it done.

I just think that, given what the Lakers have already been through, the Nuggets are nothing they can’t handle. They’re not better on defense than Memphis was, nor is Jokic quite as scary on offense as Steph Curry was (although he is very close).

Lakers will probably lose the first game because of the altitude and the fact that Denver has an extra day to rest, but it will still be Lakers in 6.

It’s going to be tougher to execute, though. Because the way the Lakers have been doing things–again, they win Game 1, concede Game 2, defend home court in Game 3 and 4, concede Game 5 on the road, and then come back home in Game 6–enables them to basically get extra rest by mailing it in for 2 games in the series. They don’t play 100% in back to back games other than the home games, 3 and 4. This is why the Game 4s against Memphis and Golden State were both nail-biters: it’s because it’s the only time in the series where the Lakers played with must-win intensity for two straight games.

And it’s all enabled by winning Game 1 and stealing home court advantage.

So if the Lakers don’t win Game 1 against Denver, that means they will have to win the next three games in a row, which is something that will be incredibly tough to do given that they have built this whole playoff run on basically not having to go hard for consecutive games.

Perhaps the Lakers take this 3 day rest off, then mail it in for Game 1 on Tuesday, and basically treat it like another rest day. Game 2 isn’t until Thursday.

I really don’t know how the Lakers are going to approach this given that Game 1 is going to be extremely tough to win, and losing Game 1 would in theory throw off their whole plan.

But the Lakers are the better team, and they should win this series.

Maybe it goes 7 games. Maybe the Lakers lose Game 1, then win Game 2, lose a home Game in either 3 or 4, lose Game 5 in Denver, win Game 6 in LA, and then they just figure they like their chances with LeBron and AD in a Game 7 even if it’s on the road.

I don’t know what the strategy will be here. I assume they are still going to try to get Game 1, the problem is that it’s going to be a lot more difficult to do so in the Denver altitude.

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