The Lakers and the Clippers are set up to dominate the Western Conference.
When Free Agency began on June 30th at 6 P.M., fans around the league were wondering the answer to one question: where will Kawhi Leonard end up? It was a foregone conclusion that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would sign with the Brooklyn Nets so fans opted to set their sights on what would turn out to be a week's worth of speculation. It appeared as though the Los Angeles Lakers has the best chance at securing Leonard and creating a superteam with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Instead, Kawhi linked up with Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers to carve out his own legacy. This decision left the Lakers scrambling to fill roster spots, while the Clippers simply smiled at the position they had been put in.
Going into next season, the assumption is that the Lakers and the Clippers will be the two best teams in the Western Conference. With the Golden State Warriors heavily depleted thanks to injuries, the Conference is wide open and there for the taking. The newfound parity ultimately raises the question: who's better, the Lakers or the Clippers?
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Starting out with the offense, it's important to examine both team's stars first. When it comes to the Lakers, they will be led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis who are always good to put up a dazzling amount of points. At 34 years old, LeBron James averaged 27.4 points per game and complemented that with a little over eight rebounds and assists per match.
LeBron will turn 35 this season but if he's able to keep up this blistering pace, the Lakers will be able to win a few games thanks to his talents alone. AD is going to be a problem as well, considering he averaged 25.9 points per game during the 2018-2019 season. Add 12 rebounds and four assists per game into the mix and you've got yourself a deadly offense.
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The rest of the Lakers lineup is a mix-and-match of players who have never played together, so there is a good reason to be a little concerned here. For instance, the team just picked up DeMarcus Cousins in free agency who played well last season but has been suffering from injury problems throughout the better part of his career. If Cousins can stay healthy and have a resurgence, the Lakers will certainly be a deadly team moving forward. However, if Cousins struggles, the Lakers might be caught lugging some dead weight.
Other pickups like Jared Dudley and Danny Green will surely help, although they don't possess the star power you would expect from a Lakers team. Meanwhile, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and JaVale McGee are all coming back so there should be a decent amount of cohesion here. With all factors considered, the Lakers will be a great offensive team, although some chemistry issues could hurt them at the start of the season.
As for the Clippers, they were the fourth best team in the league last season when it came to offense, as they averaged 115.11 points per game. With the additions of Leonard and George, it's safe to say they've improved and even have the potential to be the best offensive team in the entire NBA. Last season, Kawhi averaged a career-high 26.6 points per match, with 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Geroge wasn't too shabby either, as he was a finalist for the league's MVP award - although he eventually lost out to Giannis Antetokounmpo. The former Thunder star averaged 28 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists last season and with Leonard as his sidekick, the Clippers will be ready to terrorize the league.
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What makes the Clippers stand out is their deep bench, which includes three-time sixth man of the year award winner, Lou Williams. Coming off the bench, Williams was able to average 20 points last year which made the Clippers deadly during all 48 minutes of the game. Add players like Montrezl Harrell, Ivica Zubac, Landry Shamet, and Patrick Beverley and you've got yourself an incredibly dangerous squad.
Like any team with new players, the Clippers will have to adjust when it comes to chemistry. It might take a while for Leonard and George to adjust to Doc Rivers' system, so Clippers fans should cut their new-look team some slack. Not to mention, George has multiple injury problems in the past and if he can't stay healthy, the Clippers might have trouble leaning on Kawhi Leonard to do all of the work.
Overall, both of these teams will have great offenses but for now, it looks like the Lakers have a bit of an advantage here. If the Lakers can get all of their new players to gel and play to their full potential, they'll be able to beat anybody.
As far as defense is concerned, the Lakers could have quite a few problems if they're not careful. While LeBron and AD have proven themselves to be great defensive players in the past, they've also been lacking at times as well. When you watch LeBron out on the court these days, you can tell he's not as committed to playing defense as he used to be. At 34 years old, James has to conserve his energy to go on deep runs and playing staunch defense 100 percent of the time isn't always conducive to that. This could obviously change though, as James will be motivated to improve upon last year's 10th place finish in the Western Conference. As for Davis, if he can get back to his first-team all defender form of 2017-2018, perhaps the Lakers won't be in so much trouble after all.
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When it comes to the rest of the team, head coach Frank Vogel will certainly have his work cut out for him. Rondo was questionable at best on defense last season although perhaps the play of Quinn Cook can mask that. There are certainly a lot of questions here regarding the Lakers, so fans are going to have to wait and see. Off the ball, the Lakers will struggle. On the ball, they have a good shot at doing some damage.
Even though the Clippers gave up an average of 114.99 points per game last season, their defense could quickly improve and become one of the best the NBA has seen in a long time. George was a first-team NBA all-defensive player this season, while Leonard found himself on the second. Both players can execute staunch defense while on and off of the ball, which will be a nightmare for opposing teams.
Leonard has built a reputation for shutting down stars, with LeBron being at the top of that list. With the Toronto Raptors, Leonard re-established himself as one of the best two-way players in the game, and if he can come through with a repeat of last season, the Clippers are in for a treat. As for George, he just needs to stay healthy and avoid the wrath of Damian Lillard. If he does those two things, the Clippers will be a brick wall.
Oh, and how can you forget Patrick Beverley? During the first round of the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors, Beverley was a thorn in the side of Kevin Durant who was getting into foul trouble every single game. The Clippers signed Beverley to a three-year deal which will likely turn into one of the most underrated signings of the offseason. With all things considered, the Clippers will have a clear advantage when it comes to defending next season.
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After looking at each team's roster, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses, it's fair to conclude that both will be championship contenders. The Western Conference is wide open and the Staples Center is ripe for a Los Angeles rivalry for the ages. While the Lakers might be more "prime time," the Clippers will be the team to methodically break teams down every single night, even if it isn't always pretty.
The Lakers have a slightly better duo in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but when it comes to the overall roster and the coaching staff, the Clippers are the clear winner. If these teams meet in the playoffs, it will be a series that surely goes the distance. As of right now though, the Clippers are the safe choice. If you had to bet on either of these teams right now, who would you take, the Clippers or the Lakers? Let us know in the comments.