Some may say it’s unfair that the 2020 title in the Bubble has been called illegitimate by a number of fans around the world. After facing an unprecedented global lockdown, the NBA had no choice but to shorten the regular season and then hold the playoffs in front of no fans, just to keep the season going.
The eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, certainly benefited from the long rest that came during the mid-season pause, because LeBron James and Anthony Davis were able to come into the bubble healthy. With their legs under them, the Lakers beat the Miami Heat 4-2 in the NBA Finals, where James won the Finals MVP award by averaging 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.2 steals.
That was a big feather on James’ cap because it gave him his fourth title while on his third team. It also felt like the last time he would win a title, as many predicted that Father Time would eventually catch up with him.
Since then, James has gone on to continue playing at an elite level. While he may no longer be the world’s best player, he’s certainly still within the top echelons of the NBA. He broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s regular scoring record this year, but most of the talk before the All-Star break was how he was putting up empty stats on a team that had no real hopes for a title contention.
Well, it turns out that Father Time did start to slow James down, but not enough. Health is the thing that’s really held back the Lakers from contending since then, especially when it comes to James’ co-star in Davis, who has earned the unfortunate moniker of ‘Street Clothes’ because of the injuries that he’s battled throughout the last three seasons.
While the pair did have some injuries this season, it’s the first time that they’ve both been able to stay on the court in the postseason. James is averaging 23.4 points, 10 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game while Davis is putting up 21.2 points, 14.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 3.3 blocks. With no prolonged rest between the regular season and the playoffs, no opponents can make excuses about how they’re doing now.
James and Davis’ health, along with the midseason acquisitions of Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt, along with the rise of Austin Reaves, has now put the Lakers in a good position to make the NBA Finals and take a shot at their 18th title in franchise history. They’ve already gone through the young upstarts in the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, famously ending the Dillon Brooks era there, and they also took out the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who needed a 50-point Game 7 from Steph Curry to make the second round before running out of gas.
If they do manage to make the finals and win the chip, it will be a legacy-defining moment for both stars. James will attain his fifth championship which will bring him even closer to Michael Jordan’s six rings, while Davis will get a second ring as arguably the more important player for this title run. It’s not going to be an easy path, considering that they still have to get through the top team in the Conference in the Denver Nuggets, but this should be a fun series. The Nuggets have a well-balanced team with a wide array of offensive weapons, so the Lakers’ defense will be put to the test.
Davis, to his credit, has not shied away from his role as the team’s defensive anchor. He pulled out some crazy defense on the best shooter in the world to help close out the series against the Warriors, so it will be interesting to see what he can do against a supremely skilled counterpart in Nikola Jokic.
James, on the other hand, has a chance to show us all that he’s still got plenty left in the tank, even at the age of 38. He looked pretty unstoppable in Game 6 against the Warriors, and the Nuggets will not have an easy time stopping him from controlling a game.
It’s a great matchup between two strong teams, so the jury’s still out on who’s going to be crowned the Western Conference champions. All I know is that this is going to be a fun series.