The NBA play-offs are a week old and some teams’ bags are already packed. Toronto Raptors, the defending champions, made it a sweep in the first round of the NBA Finals tournament on Sunday, beating Brooklyn Nets 150-122 and winning the series 4-0. The Boston Celtics will join them as they also swept Philadelphia to be the first two teams into the final eight.
In the Western Conference, Utah Jazz took a 3-1 lead in their series with Denver, while Dallas took an overtime victory against the LA Clippers to tie the series at 2-2, and things are just getting started, with games scheduled each night this week.
It’s been clear that some teams came into the Orlando bubble in August with their backs firmly against the wall and Portland Trail Blazers are one of those hot teams. Since returning, Rip City have posted six wins against just two losses to sneak the eighth seed in the play-offs.
So it comes as no surprise that people felt Portland could upset the apple cart and take out first seeds LA Lakers in the first round of the play-offs. The Lakers, after all, have been mediocre since the restart at the end of July, winning just three games against five losses.
The Lakers were probably in need of a wake-up call and in game one of the series, they got it. Portland showed they were indeed the form team as they picked up a 100-93 win and set the tongues a-wagging.
But as the series progresses, the better team generally win. That’s the difference in the postseason: a seven-game series rarely sees an upset, unlike a one-off game.
Game two and three saw the Lakers restored as the dominant team in the match-up. Still, more importantly, game three demonstrated how insatiable the unit could be when LeBron James and Anthony Davis are on the same page.
James joined the Lakers, the third team in his illustrious career, knowing that if he wants to continue to grow his legacy he has to bring a first title in ten years back to the Staples Centre. You’d be a fool to bet against it, but at 35 years old, James knows, now more than ever, that he can’t do it alone.
He hasn’t had his best season – in fact, he’s had his worst average points per game since his rookie season. But scoring isn’t everything. While King James hasn’t been sinking the baskets, he has a career-best year for assists as well as a career-best year for three-point shots.
In game three of the series, James and Davis clicked in a way that any team would have found difficult to stop.
Davis is in his first year in LA after spending the previous seven playing his basketball in New Orleans. His addition to the team was a reaction to last year’s disappointing play-off run and felt like a different move for the 26-year-old. For the Pelicans, he was the No 1 and while he played big games, he didn’t have the supporting cast.
Now in LA, he is surrounded by good players, but most importantly he is flourishing in the role of sidekick to James, where the expectations of the team don’t rest on his young shoulders.
In game three the duo stepped up and recorded 67 points, 23 rebounds and 16 assists as the Lakers took control of the series. More than that, they looked like two team-mates who were having fun and when the pressures of the game ramp up what you want is someone to turn to.
Portland still have a chance, but if they wish to remain in the bubble, they need to shut down the double act. If they can’t, then it becomes a problem for everyone else in the Western Conference.
For the Lakers, they may well be in the best position they’ve been for the last decade. They have a true superstar in the engine room who can drive them forward, and he has experience of winning at the highest level. But more importantly, the addition of Davis gives them a rudder to steer their way through the more difficult series ahead.
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