Lakers and Nets On a Collision Course for Epic Battle of Superstar Big Threes
Nothing would be sweeter than the NBA emerging from two Covid infected seasons to celebrate its 75th anniversary with an epic battle of Superstar Big Threes between the powerhouse Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets.
The NBA has always been a superstars’ league and the Lakers’ bold trade for Westbrook was just another inevitable step in the steady evolution of player movement that now has superstars openly colluding to create superteams. Never hesitant to swing for the fences or shoot for the moon, the Lakers created a LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook Superstar Big Three to match the Nets’ Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden.
By trading for Westbrook, the Lakers conceded they were unsure they could win running it back with the same roster and confirmed a Superstar Big Three was now the minimum price to compete for the NBA championship. With newly minted Superstar Big Threes, the Lakers and Nets enter the 2021–22 season heavily favored to win their conferences and locked and loaded on a collision course to meet next June in the NBA Finals.
Assuming both teams avoid the injuries that derailed their recent seasons, which superteam and which Superstar Big Three has the better chance of winning the 2022 NBA Finals: the Los Angeles Lakers or Brooklyn Nets?
THE ‘ALPHAS’: LEBRON JAMES OR KEVIN DURANT?
Any analysis to determine who has the best Superstar Big Three has to begin with a comparison of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the alpha dog superstars who are the Lakers’ and Nets’ team leaders and best players.
The question is whether LeBron James at 36-years old can continue to defy Father Time and deliver yet another MVP level performance or whether the time has arrived for Kevin Durant to take over as best player on the planet. While many NBA pundits have already moved Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of LeBron James as the best player on the planet, it could be premature to take the best player throne away from the King.
Both LeBron and KD struggled last season with injuries with James playing just 45 of the Lakers’ 72 regular season games due to a high ankle sprain and Durant only 35 of the Nets’ 72 regular season games due to a hamstring. James averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.8 assists in 33.4 minutes per game shooting 51.3/36.5/69.8% last season while Durant averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists in 33.1 minutes per game shooting 53.7/45.0/88.2%.
The 36-year old James won four NBA rings: two with the Heat in 2012 and 2013, one with the Cavs in 2016, and one with the Lakers in 2020. The 32-year old Durant won two NBA rings with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018. LeBron and Kevin are both looking for breakout seasons returning from injuries. The big question is whether LeBron has another championship run left in the tank or whether Kevin Durant will take over the best player throne.
Assuming both remain healthy, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are clearly the league’s top two superstars right now. Chances are the team who has the best alpha superstar is likely to be the team that wins the 2022 NBA Finals.
THE ‘ROBINS’: ANTHONY DAVIS OR KYRIE IRVING?
Heading into 2021–22, the next most important members of the Lakers’ and the Nets’ Superstar Big Threes are Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, the co-superstars or ‘Robins’ to LeBron James’ and Kevin Durant’s Batmen.
While Davis and Irving are their team’s second options, they are also both proven superstars who have championship resumes and rings to prove it. Both have the talent and mentality to be the best player in a playoff series. Both won championship rings as ‘Robins’ to LeBron James ‘Batman.’ Anthony won his championship ring playing with Lebron and the Lakers in 2020 while Kyrie won his playing with LeBron and the Cavaliers in 2016.
Davis and Irving, much like James and Durant, are looking to bounce back from injury riddled last seasons. Davis played in just 36 of the Lakers’ 72 regular season games while Irving played in only 54 of the Net’s 72 games. Davis averaged 21.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists in 32.3 minutes per game shooting 49.1/26.0/73.8% last season while Irving averaged 26.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists in 34.9 minutes per game shooting 50.6/40.2/92.2%.
Should alpha superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant battle to a draw, Anthony Davis or Kyrie Irving could easily emerge as the superstar who wins Finals MVP for the championship Los Angeles Lakers or Brooklyn Nets.
THE ‘CATALYSTS’: RUSSELL WESTBROOK VS. JAMES HARDEN?
The key to whether the Lakers or Nets win the NBA championship could depend on the performance of Russell Westbrook or James Harden, two enigmatic superstar guards who are wild card catalysts for their teams.
The 32-year old Westbrook and 32-year old Harden have both been severely criticized and maligned for never having won an NBA championship and for playing a selfish style of basketball not conducive to winning in the playoffs. This despite Westbrook winning MVP in 2017 and being voted to 9 different All-NBA teams during his 13-year career and Harden winning MVP in 2018 and being voted to 7 different All-NBA teams during his 12-year career.
As third wheels, Westbrook and Harden are the members of the Lakers’ and Nets’ Superstar Big Threes who will be forced to make the biggest sacrifices to their games in terms of fewer touches, shots, and possibly playing time. Russ averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 11.7 assists in 36.4 minutes per game shooting 43.9/31.5/65.6% last season while James averaged 24.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 10.8 assists in 36.6 minutes per game shooting 47.1/36.6/85.6%.
There’s a possibility the 2021–22 NBA championship could come down to how well Russell Westbrook and James Harden filled their roles as catalysts and figured out exactly what they needed to do for their team to win.
THE ‘CHAMPS’: LOS ANGELES LAKERS OR BROOKLYN NETS?
While basketball is a team game, the 2022 NBA Championship will likely be won by the team whose superstars play the best. That’s why pundits expect the Lakers and Nets with their Superstar Big Threes to be in the Finals.
The pundits believe the Nets’ Superstar Big Three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden may be the best superstar trio in the history of the league with three elite scorers who can get buckets at all three levels. Meanwhile, those same pundits see the Los Angeles Lakers’ Superstar Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook as flawed, primarily because Davis and Westbrook are subpar 3-point shooters.
The Lakers’ and Nets’ Superstar Big Threes appear to be fairly matched when it comes to combined points, rebounds, and assists. The Nets are obviously better offensively while the Lakers probably better defensively. Right now, the Nets are slight favorites because of their elite 3-point shooting but the Lakers’ Superstar Big Three have the size, length, physicality, and athleticism to bully and dominte Brooklyn in the paint and on the boards.
We’ll get a better feel for whether the Lakers or Nets will finish the season as favorites.. One thing for certain is the arms race between these two teams is fasr from over and both will be looking to make moves at the trade deadline.
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