Will Lebron win another championship?
By: Adam Chalifoux
2020 brought more change to the world than we have seen in recent history. There was a global pandemic, major shifts of political power, battles of social justice, and for basketball fans it even felt as if the world itself stopped spinning as an intense and competitive NBA season was put on pause with just weeks left before the Playoffs began.
By midsummer however, a sense of normalcy returned in the form of a bubble in Orlando, Florida, proving once and for all that Disney World truly is the most magical place on earth. While the NBA Finals being played in an empty gymnasium provided a unique, almost eerie feel, LeBron James competing in his 10th championship series almost made everything feel almost normal.
61 days after LeBron hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy for the third time in his career, he and the Lakers were back on the Staples Center floor against the Los Angeles Clippers to begin their quest to repeat. A short offseason and a world in the midst of change are not the only factors that make LeBron’s quest for his 11th trip to the Finals and fourth NBA Championship.
LeBron James put the Cavaliers on his back to go to his first NBA Finals in 2007. We were all witnesses; Nike even made the shirts to prove it. This was the only time LeBron James went to the Finals without another All-Star on the team. In fact, usually he was the best player on a super team whether the other leading roles were played by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, or Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland the second time around.
In 2020 of course the only other All-Star on the Lakers was Anthony Davis, the 6-10 big with guard skills who ranks behind only Michael Jordan and LeBron James in all-time player efficiency rating. Some of LeBron’s roads to the finals have been historically hard, often leading to even more challenging opponents in the Finals themselves. This season could represent the most challenging path yet.
LeBron has beaten 43 All-Stars combined on his way to his ten Finals appearances; 64 if you count the Finals themselves. The most All-Stars LeBron faced on the way to the Finals was six in 2015, four of which were on the Atlanta Hawks.
LeBron has fced eight All-Stars in the Playoffs three years in a row, ranging from 2016 through 2018. This postseason it not only seems possible but likely that if LeBron and the Lakers are to make it back to the Finals (and first they need to get out of their first round series with the Suns and their two All-Stars) LeBron will likely face 10 All-Stars. This Playoff push will be the most challenging yet.
The Lakers already had to prove that they deserved to be in the Playoffs in the first place by beating MVP-finalist Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the play-in game which led to their current matchup with the Phoenix Suns, led by All-Stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Suns are currently ranked seventh in points per game and seventh fewest in points against. A strong argument could be made that the Suns will be the toughest opponent the Lakers see and the reality of the situation is that they very well could be the only opponent they see in the Playoffs.
If the Lakers do advance they would be set to face the Portland Trailblazers or Denver Nuggets who each bring one all-star and a unique matchup in their own way. The Lakers are very familiar with the Portland Trailblazers who they beat in the Playoffs last year in five games after dropping game one. Portland’s defense has been an issue most of the season but in recent weeks the Blazers have improved tremendously thanks to the addition of Norman Powell and the team getting healthy at the right time. The Nuggets would bring the challenge of MVP front-runner, Nikola Jokic and scoring-machine, Michael Porter Jr.
The most-likely opponent should the Lakers make the conference finals would be the Utah Jazz who are right up there with the Suns as the most dangerous opponent in the West. The Jazz would bring three All-Stars to the court; Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley. All-Star appearances are not the only hardware the Jazz bring however as former Laker Jordan Clarkson just was honored as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, Quin Snyder could win Coach of the Year, and Rudy Gobert is the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
The Lakers could also potentially meet the Los Angeles Clippers who bring two All-Stars in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard or the Dallas Mavericks led by their young phenom, Luka Doncic. Although on paper this would mean the Lakers face less All-Stars both of these teams would be just as dangerous opponents.
The Nets and Lakers have been the favorites to come out of their respective conferences all season. If this indeed does come to fruition it would be the toughest Finals matchup that LeBron has faced since the Warriors swept the LeBron-led Cavs in four games in 2018. This would mean that LeBron James and Kevin Durant would meet in the Finals for the third time, Kyrie Irving would meet his former co-star LeBron James in the Finals, and James Harden would have a shot at his first championship for the first time since LeBron James and the Heat beat him and Durant when they were teammates on the Thunder in 2011.
With rising stars in the East and West, as well as old rivals, and hungry newcomers waiting for their chance to strike, LeBron’s road to the finals has never been more dangerous. Only time will tell if the King will still wear the crown once again when the final buzzer sounds in the 2021 NBA Finals.