The seat of power in the NBA is out west. No, not in San Francisco anymore. 2019’s injury-riddled season finale for the Warriors made sure of that. Instead, the throne of NBA brilliance lies in Staples Center, at the heart of Los Angeles, split between two teams. After the summer of 2019 brought Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Anthony Davis to the City of Angels, it was clear to the NBA world that its new capital was Los Angeles. But is it really?
The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers are good teams. Really good. Prohibitive favorites to win the NBA title, even. LeBron James and Anthony Davis on one side; Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the other. Savvy trades and boatloads of cash built these teams from the ground up, centered around a pair of stars on either side of the battle for Los Angeles. But I’m here to argue that this pair of teams is overhyped and overblown, and stake my claim as a truther for a Western Conference Finals devoid of either Los Angeles team.
The rosters of these teams are the first and most obvious markers of their success on the court. The flashy star duos obviously take center stage in any debate. But when I look deeper, I hear whispers of a soft Lakers squad that won’t respond well to physicality in the playoffs. When they get punched in the mouth by a scrappy, physical team, they find themselves unable to control the game. Teams will review instances of this in the regular season, and ‘playoff mode’ Lebron may not be able to overcome it.
The Clippers, meanwhile, can’t build chemistry. Leonard and George have missed games playing together due to injury, and the roster from last year can’t properly adjust to the presence of either star. This leads to a team that rarely hits that second gear you see driving deep playoff runs. Additionally, the chemistry issues on the court translate to locker room drama and spats. A team built from the personalities of Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams can only truly gel when they experience a euphoric degree of success. I don’t see them hitting any big enough strides to make that a reality.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles media is a better stat-padder than any individual player or stretch of garbage time. Winning streaks are emphasized, and big moments and highlights are shared across the country. If a team in LA is performing well, the massive media market of Los Angeles spins that into something much greater. This can also work against them, overblowing minor drama and generating friction. This creates an immeasurable sense of momentum for teams, momentum that can grind to a halt with the slightest miscue. All it takes is one locker room fight, one bad loss or one interview misstep to turn the NBA media against these teams.
As we kick off the second half of the NBA season, watch carefully for the underlying issues of these teams. I expect the Western Conference to be less predictable than the election cycle, and it’s gonna be a wild, Los Angeles-free ride to the finals.