Lebron James and Lakers road to another NBA championship

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.

Anthony Davis shines for the LA Lakers just before game 3

Anthony Davis has been heating up

By: Isabel Gomez

After a less-than-ideal performance during Game 1, Anthony Davis bounced back and helped the Lakers go 1-1 in Phoenix. The Lakers got the split on the road and will now play their first playoff game at Staples Center since 2013. 

Davis couldn’t quite get his rhythm going on Sunday and took the blame for the Lakers losing the first game of the series.

“There’s no way we are winning a game, let alone the series, with me playing the way I played. This one is on me,” Davis said after struggling to get 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting.

LeBron James heard what his teammate said and accurately predicted what would happen in Game 2.

“Any time he comes to the press room and tells you we can’t win without him or with him playing the way he played, he always responds. I’m looking forward to that,” James said.

He definitely responded. Davis redeemed himself on Tuesday by leading the Lakers to a 109-103 victory with 34 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. 

The power forward/center said he felt the biggest difference was just coming out with more energy and playing more aggressively. He made 18 free throws on 21 attempts, which were both career playoff highs for him.

The Lakers were up by as many as 15 points during the game, but the fourth quarter was a competitive one. A dunk by Deandre Ayton gave the Suns an 88-86 advantage with 6:15 on the clock. The game stayed pretty tight until Davis blocked an Ayton hook shot with 3:15 remaining. The Lakers held a one-point lead at that time (93-92), but then Davis and LeBron James, described by head coach Frank Vogel as “two of the top five players in the NBA,” used that as momentum to go on a 7-0 run.

Vogel said that James, who finished the night with 23 points, is an all-time great and consistently shows it. He also praised Davis for showing “great assertiveness” in how he responded on Tuesday.

“He does it in so many ways,” Vogel said of Davis. “He didn’t settle much for the jump shot. He really ran the floor. Rolled hard. Drove the ball hard, and had the intent to attack the paint with or without the basketball.”

There is no question that both stars performing well will be crucial for the Lakers to go all the way. During the regular season, both of them suffered injuries and were out for a significant amount of games. They’re looking healthier now, but injuries are still part of the storyline for this postseason series. 

James played more minutes than Vogel originally wanted him to on Tuesday when Davis found himself in foul trouble early in the game. However, James looked comfortable out there. It’s actually the Suns who have more to worry about. 

Chris Paul only played 23 minutes on Tuesday while clearly struggling with a shoulder injury he suffered in Game 1. The Phoenix guard is listed as probably for Thursday’s game. If his minutes are limited, Cameron Payne will likely see more time in the point guard position. 

Devin Booker and Ayton are currently the two top scorers for the Suns during the postseason. In two games, Booker is averaging 32.5 points and Ayton is seeing 21.5 points while making 87.5% of his shots. The Lakers ended the regular season with the league’s No. 1-ranked defense, so they should have enough power to stop them.

The Los Angeles team will likely use the purple and gold fans as extra motivation, especially since it will be their first playoff game in LA in eight years.

“It’s going to be pretty special for our fans,” James said. “That’s what I came here for to be able to play a playoff game in front of the Lakers faithful.”

Game 3 is scheduled for Thursday at 7pm PT and will be nationally broadcast on TNT.

The New York Knicks are ready for their return to the playoffs

By: Isabel Gonzalez

Some 90s trends made a comeback this year, and the New York Knicks are one of them.

The Knicks haven’t been great for a long time, but they made it into the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Their 41-31 record earned them the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and home court advantage for the first round. 

Tom Thibodeau is one of top candidates for the NBA Coach of the Year Award. He was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for May after the Knicks went 6-3 this month . This included three straight victories to wrap up the regular season.

They will be playing Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. The Knicks came out victorious in all three of their meetings earlier this year, but this doesn’t guarantee anything.

Sure, New York has been one of the league’s biggest surprises this season, but Thibodeau admitted what everyone who follows basketball already knows: the regular season and playoffs are very different from each other. 

“Once you get to the playoffs, teams are locked in to you specifically. They’re going to know you inside and out and you’re going to know them inside and out,” he said. “You just have to be ready to play. Hopefully you’ve built the proper habits to get yourself ready to play.”

Their last encounter on April 21 went into overtime after Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a three-pointer with six seconds left on the clock. That level of intensity would be fun to see during the playoffs, and it’s actually completely possible.

The Knicks have been one of the best defensive teams all season long. They hold the best opponent points per game average of 104.7. However, they have one of the weakest offensive ratings from teams in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Hawks have one of the top 10 offenses but aren’t too hot in the defensive area. 

Julius Randle played really well through the three games against Atlanta. He averaged 37.3 points while shooting at 58.1% from the field and 50.0% from beyond the arc. He showed he can handle the Hawks, but he said he is trying to not think too much about those past games. 

“It doesn’t matter. We got Game 1 coming up on Sunday,” Randle said. “I just gotta be prepared for whatever comes at me. Whatever they throw my way, I’ll be prepared for it. It’s really not about what’s happened in the past.”

He’ll be an important player to watch through the series, but the Knicks have made it clear they believe their strength comes from the entire roster. In April, Randle and Reggie Bullock were asked about the Brooklyn Nets and their Big 3. Their response was that the Knicks were the Big 15.

That was not a one time thing. On Wednesday’s media availability, Randle once again talked about his confidence on his entire team.

Thibodeau agrees with that mentality. The coach said the depth of his team is one of their biggest strengths.

“The thing that I love about our team is if someone is not going good, another guy steps in. If he’s going good, everyone cheers for that guy,” Thibodeau said. “The most important thing is the team winning. That’s where I want the focus to lie.”

The times for the first round are yet to be announced. However, Knicks fans already received the news that 13,000 of them will be allowed during home games at Madison Square Garden.

Intro to the post-season for the Los Angeles Lakers

Lebron needs to outperform Steph Curry

By: James O’Reilly

It’s common knowledge that the Los Angeles Lakers are the current defending champions in the NBA.

They beat the Miami Heat in six games in the Orlando bubble, guided by the league MVP and his impressive forward counterpart. In the season since they have been rocked with injuries that have heavily impacted the trajectory of their campaign. 

At the beginning of the 2020/21 season, the Lakers had somehow managed to make their roster better. They replaced Rajon Rondo with Dennis Schroder. They replaced Javale McGee and Dwight Howard with Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol, and they signed Wesley Matthews to replace the shooting they had lost in Danny Green.

Whilst the new additions played similar roles to those the recently departed, they all performed them at a higher caliber. For example, Green’s shooting had become very hit and miss, and so in came a consistently solid shooter in Matthews. Rondo was good, even still, but Schroder has offered a much greater output in his starting role at the Staples Center.

Injuries to LeBron and Anthony Davis however, as well as the latter suffering from something of a see-saw season in terms of form, have seen the Lakeshow finish the season as the seventh seed, plunging them into the play-in tournament.

Not only does LA have to contend with an extra set of games, but their first hurdle? The Golden State Warriors.

Now on paper, this year’s Golden State side wouldn’t pose that great of a threat to the Lakers. Klay Thompson has missed the season with an injury, Draymond has had his moments, and Kelly Oubre and Andrew Wiggins have been somewhat inconsistent.

Steph Curry has had a fairly phenomenal season. He was good in the first half, but In the second half of the season, Curry caught fire and simply hasn’t simmered down. He, at 33-years-old, finished the season as the scoring leader with 31.8 PPG, and has single-handedly guided his side to the eighth seed.

A Steph-LeBron matchup in the first play-in game out west is certainly good for the likes of Adam Silver, as it is destined to garner many watchers, but it perhaps presents a genuine threat to the Lakers and their ambitions. If any side in the play-in will have the beating of the Lakers, it’ll probably be the Warriors.

Presuming they advance, however, which would secure their place as the seventh seed, any potential Lakers success stories ultimately depends on their star duo.

Now, of course, the role players will still have to play their role consistently, but that doesn’t seem fair to use as an argument towards LA. Every NBA team’s role players will have to maintain their level of play. Otherwise, they will impact their side in a negative fashion. It hardly seems justifiable to make a general point exclusive to one side.

In the case of LA though, the question marks surrounding LeBron and AD are valid, as it is a unique circumstance to them. LeBron has struggled throughout 2021 with his ankle issues, and you’d most likely bet on a Lakers exit should he re-aggravate that knock. 

It’s understandable to deduce that the success of a team depends on the fitness of their superstar. It doesn’t matter who the star is, nor does it matter what the sport is. If the key player is absent, then chances of a swift victory are noticeably reduced.

Most sports teams, though, often have a player that, whilst not quite as great as their franchise player, is within inches of breaking that barrier into stardom. In the case of the Lakers, it should be Anthony Davis.

Whilst Davis has too had his issues with injury this year, he certainly hasn’t seemed as though he is the player he was throughout his first season in California. You could argue that his form is as crucial to his sides as LeBron’s, even more so if the small forward is ever absent from the starting five.

For the Los Angeles Lakers to make a deep play-off run, their fortunes are entirely dependent on the fitness of their number 3, and their number 23. Of course, this is said, but before they need to worry about any of that, they first need to triumph against the hottest player currently in the NBA.

Washington Wizards are very underrated: Why Not Wizards?


By: Adam Chalifoux

Russell Westbrook snared his 10th rebound of the game for the 280th time of his career with eight minutes left against the Atlanta Hawks. The stadium Public Address announcer recognized what this board meant to basketball history; Westbrook’s 182nd career triple-double, passing Oscar Robertson for the most in an NBA career.

Westbrook’s season for the Wizards has been perfectly appropriate for a man whose slogan is “Why not?” Coming into the season, not everyone believed the Westbrook and Bradley Beal marriage would work. Early in the season, it looked like it may not.

The Wizards lost their first five games of the season on their way to a laughable 4-13 start. The Wizards had every reason to pack it in, to roll over and die, to tank, to call the pandemic shortened season a lost cause.

When Russell Westbrook is your point guard, however, ‘quit’ is not an acceptable verb in team vocabulary making him the perfect leader for the Wizards.

After the slow start, the fiery style of the Washington Wizards came roaring back to relevance in mid-February, crushing the heart of the Boston Celtics to begin a stretch in which they would win seven of their next eight games. 

The Wizards play at break-neck speed, leading the NBA in pace at 104.6 which creates a unique challenge for teams that like to turn games into a shootout or track meet. The need for speed is shared by Beal, who is currently second in points per game with 31.4 behind Steph Curry’s 31.9. These two race around like cats at 2 AM, wreaking havoc and getting buckets, too quick to catch, and dangerous enough to beat any team in the NBA on any given night.

While their pace of play and 116.5 points per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA, are quintessential components of what makes the Wizards so dangerous, the biggest factor that should terrify any team in the league is much more simple. Their fearless identity is the biggest reason for their sweep of the NBA’s elite teams.

Despite their 32-26 record, the Wizards have frustrated and defeated the league’s best all season. The Wizards have completed sweeps of the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, and have taken two of their three games against the Brooklyn Nets.  While the Wizards’ dismal start to the basketball year still shows its ugly face in the form of a sub-.500 record they have won 14 of their last 19 games including an 8-game win-streak. As the Playoffs approach, the Wizards’ prolific offense has reached a new level of efficiency, scorching the nets to average 133.3 points per game in the month of May.

Let’s tell the whole story though. While the Wizards style and two-headed dragon that is Beal and Westbrook powers one of the most potent offenses in the league, their defense is nothing short of horrendous. The Wizards allow a league-worst 118.8 points per game, are first in fouls and are in the bottom third of the league in every major traditional defensive category besides blocks.

This combination of great offense and horrible defense isn’t exactly the record for a championship team. It is however a great recipe for high-scoring and fun basketball games. As the Wizards approach the play-in tournament it seems most likely that they will face the Indiana Pacers. The Wizards swept Indiana 3-0 this season in games that were won 132-124, 154-141, and 133-132.

With a majority of the seeding in the NBA playoffs and play-in tournament yet to be finalized there is little point speculating how far Westbrook and the Wizards could go this spring. What is certain however is that no matter who they are matched up with, they will be taking that “Why not?” mantra with them into battle.

rookie of the year candidate LaMelo Ball is making an impact on the hornets

Ball is having an impressive rookie campaign

By: Isabel Gonzalez

James Borrego had no idea what he was getting when the Charlotte Hornets drafted LaMelo Ball. 

This week, the coach went on ESPN’s Jalen and Jacoby show and talked about what it’s been like coaching the rookie. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no Summer League to check out the new NBA talent so Borrego admitted he didn’t know what to expect at the beginning.

“The first two days I had no idea what we had just drafted, it was wild,” he said on the show. “The ball was going all over the place, it was 100 miles an hour. We had turnovers all over the place. I had no idea what we had just drafted.”

Borrego said it only took three or four days for Ball to settle into the group. Fast forward to today and there is no doubt about the positive impact the young player has had on the team. 

Ball was the favorite to win Rookie of the Year since the beginning of the season, but was forced to sit out for six weeks after suffering a wrist injury on March 20. At first, his broken wrist looked like it would be season-ending, but the young guard healed quickly after surgery. When he returned, Borrego said Ball was still the obvious candidate for ROY. 

The coach said Ball is setting the Hornets franchise on a path for success. Off the court, Borrego said, the rookie always brings a lot of energy and has an infectious joyful spirit. On the court, he is a talented play maker that makes good decisions and executes creative passes. 

Borrego has compared Ball to the now-retired NBA legend Manu Ginobili on multiple occasions. One of those times was after Ball’s first game back on May 1 against Detroit, when Ball sent an impressive underhand pass across the court to Miles Bridges. 

The coach said he did not teach him how to do it, and in fact, he didn’t know a lot of players who could pass like that. 

“I just closed my eyes, I had nothing to do with that,” Borrego said. “He’s the only guy I know. Maybe Ginobili would’ve thrown that one as well. I’ve seen him throw some crazy stuff out there. I put Melo in that same Manu category.”

However, it didn’t seem like anything new for Ball. He said it “felt normal” because it’s something he did a lot while growing up playing with his dad and brothers.

“Just playing when we was young, it was pretty much passes like that every play,” he said.

Ball is clearly very comfortable in this area. He has thrown a lot of no-look behind-the-back passes and his fair share of left-hand lobs through the season. The 19-year-old leads his team in assists with 6.1 per game. Ball is also averaging 15.8 points and six rebounds through the 48 games he’s played with the Hornets.

Borrego said that Ball’s confidence at such a young age surprised him. He also wasn’t expecting him to show as high of a level when it comes to shooting ability and finishing at the rim. 

Ball is competing against Minnesota Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards and Sacramento Kings’ Tyrese Haliburton for the ROY honor. Edwards started making a lot more noise since March and is Ball’s biggest competition for the award. However, Ball is in a better position to show he can make an impact on his team.

The Timberwolves hold a 22-47 record and were eliminated from playoff contention three weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Hornets are 33-37, which is not ideal but they still have a chance at making the playoffs for the first time since 2016. On May 11, they officially clinched a spot in the play-in tournament so they do have at least that postseason appearance guaranteed.

Ball doesn’t seem too worried about his personal achievements right now, he said that making it to the playoffs will be all about taking it one day at a time as a team.

“Just going into every game and trying to win, that’s pretty much my main goal. Take it day by day,” he said.

NBA: 3 Things to watch for playoffs

A 2021 NBA Playoff Preview

By: James O’Reilly

The NBA season is nearing its close.

Still, without fans, the NBA has driven through the current campaign. Although shortened to 72 games, the usual intensity has been ever-present amongst the 30 sides in the league.

With a high number of injuries and an entirely new play-in tournament, there have been many talking points in the build-up to the playoffs, regardless of the form of any team.

Below are some of the more spoken about stories as we head towards the post season.

The Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s hard to gauge how the season has been for the Lakers. Well, sort of. By their standards, it’s been awful. Instead of locking up the 1st seed, they’re currently battling for the sixth seed, in a bid to escape the play-in tournament.

That being said, however, it’s hardly like it has been entirely down to form. Anthony Davis, whilst he has struggled for consistency, has had his battles with injuries. As for LeBron James, he was sidelined for over a month in what was his longest stretch away from the game in his career.

LeBron has missed over 20 games of the season, whilst Anthony Davis has missed over 30. The duo’s misfortune overlapped, which meant the Lakers were playing without either of their stars for a solid portion of the year.

Whilst role players have done what they can, the loss of your two best players would impact any team. The Lakers are still above .500, but at the time of writing, they sit on a 38-30 record. With only four games left of their regular season, chances are the Lakers will have to win all of them if they stand any chance of exceeding the seventh seed, where they currently sit.

You would assume that the Lakers, should they end up in the play-in, would breeze by whoever they are matched up against. That being said, Davis seems set to maintain his inconsistency, whilst LeBron James has already stated that he will never be back to who he was before the ankle injury that currently plagues him.

The Los Angeles Lakers are playing a daringly flirtatious game with failure this season. Whilst injuries have played their part, each team has to cope with such frustrations also. Are the Lakers destined for a first-round upset, or will they fall at the first hurdle and fail to make the post-season?

The play-in tournament.

Has there ever been an alteration to the league more spoken about? Perhaps not in recent years.

The play-in tournament has certainly divided opinions amongst those involved with the NBA. Fans and players have no fear in voicing their concerns. The likes of Luka Doncic, LeBron James and Draymond Green have all noted that they are far from keen on the new idea.

The tournament proposes three games. The first game will see the seventh seed take on the eighth seed. The winner becomes the seventh seed, whilst the loser will play once more in game three.

The second game of the play-in will pit the ninth seed against the tenth seed. The loser enters the draft lottery, whilst the winner progresses to the third game.

The final game of the play-in tournament will see the loser of the first game take on the winner of the second game. The overall victor takes the final playoff spot, ending the tournament as the eighth seed. The loser enters the draft lottery.

Player concern surrounding the tournament is understandable. The 2020/21 season has already been rife with absence. TJ Warren, Jamal Murray and Markelle Fultz are just a few examples of the plethora of NBA talent that have seen their seasons ended through injury. The play-in proposes even more games, in an already condensed campaign, for players that lacked a true pre-season.

It could be assumed, however, that for many fans, the play-in offers an otherwise unobtainable dream. Franchises like Charlotte, Washington, Memphis. These are teams that, most likely, wouldn’t make the regular playoffs without the play-in, at least this season. The tournament offers a way for them to do this.

The play-in offers a potential gold mine in terms of ratings. These are one-game shootouts. The casual won’t be turned away by a lengthy play-off series, but instead will be transfixed on three ‘win or go home’ style games. As for the fans, they’ll obviously watch their side regardless.

The tournament is certainly controversial. There is no denying this. In spite of this though, it does offer an outlet towards a new audience, which would expand a set of ratings that the business side of the NBA is forever looking to increase.

Who is the favourite?

It’s a valid question and is perhaps unanswerable. The West is arguably far more competitive and, as such, far less predictable. Above, the sorrows of the Lakers have already been discussed. Utah and Phoenix are the current one and two seed, but will they have enough to win it all? The Nuggets have the unofficial MVP on their roster, but can Jokic single-handedly drag his side to the Finals?

Out East, the gut reaction leans towards one of Philadelphia or Brooklyn. The 76ers have added competent shooting to an already strong side. They have one of the top three players in the league in Joel Embiid, and a DPOY candidate in Ben Simmons. As for the Nets, well, it hardly needs an expansive explanation. KD. Kyrie. Harden. An automatic contender.

On the other side of New York, the Knicks have caught absolutely everyone by surprise. Guided by Julius Randle channelling his inner Tim Duncan and becoming not only one of the best power forwards, but one of the best players, in the NBA, the Knicks currently sit as the fourth seed.

It’s highly unlikely that they’ll win it all, but it would be some fairy-tale if they did. Other than that, it’s hard to say who else could win it out East. Boston seem far too inconsistent to contend. Milwaukee have added Jrue Holiday, but will he prove to be the answer to the playoff woes of the Bucks?

Of course, there are countless other teams in contention, either for the play-in, or sides that will compete in the playoffs. A prediction is certainly hard, but it’s harder to see a final that doesn’t involve one of Brooklyn or Philadelphia. As for the West, it feels wrong to call the Clippers a ‘dark horse’, but given their poor playoff history, it seems fitting. Could this year finally be the year?

LeBron James is back on the sideline with ankle soreness

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel confirmed Lebron James will miss Thursday’s game against the Clippers.

Isabel Gonzalez @cisabelg

It’s been a “long, super quick” season for the Los Angeles Lakers, as described by LeBron James.

The Lakers star spent six week out due to a high right ankle sprain that occurred on March 20 against the Hawks. Missing 20 games became James’ longest absence of his career, and unfortunately for the Lakers, that count didn’t stop there.

He returned to the court last Friday against the Kings and admitted it had been stressful to not be able to help his team, which currently holds a 37-28 record. He talked about the number of hours he spent doing rehab because of the determination he had to get back.

“It was a lot more than I slept. Over the last six weeks that’s all I’ve been doing, having the urgency to get back and play,” James said. “I knew getting back to 100% was impossible. I don’t think I’ll ever get back to 100% in my career, but I felt comfortable that I could get out on the floor and help my team win.”

Through the two games after his return, James said he started out fine but could feel his ankle getting tight and sore after halftime. He said there hasn’t been much practice time this season, so during his rehab he didn’t experience five-on-five or contact. Instead, he had to focus on individual workouts and a lot of running to keep his conditioning going.

His pain caused him to check out before Sunday’s game against the Raptors was over. James then sat out Monday’s game against the Nuggets for the same reason. The Lakers picked up a much needed win without him, but on Wednesday head coach Frank Vogel announced that he will continue sidelined for at least one more game. James will miss Thursday’s game against the Clippers and then be day-to-day after that. 

The Lakers will also be missing starting point guard Dennis Schroder. On Monday, Vogel confirmed that he will be out 10-14 days due to health and safety COVID-19 protocols.

This is a continuation of what the Lakers have been dealing with for the last couple of months. Forward/center Anthony Davis was out of the lineup for 30 games due to a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis. He returned on April 23, but the time off was noticeable at first.

Vogel said Davis is slowly getting back to where he wants to be in rhythm, timing and conditioning. The coach liked the defensive effort he saw from him on Monday.

While Davis is improving, the Lakers are still missing some key pieces. Kyle Kuzma didn’t shy away from pointing out that his team felt disconnected because of all the inconsistency in the lineup. James agreed with him but also said that at the end of the day, whoever was on the floor had to figure out a way to get it done. 

The veteran said the Lakers can hang their hats knowing they can perform well in the postseason because of the experience in the roster. However, the team is currently sixth in the Western Conference, which means dropping one spot would force them into the play-in tournament. 

Vogel said the Lakers were not in an ideal situation right now, but also that the No. 1 goal is to get James’ ankle better, even if it’s not 100%.

“Wherever we end up in the standings, we want him as healthy as possible going into the playoffs,” Vogel said. “Other than that, we are just going to compete and win as many games as we can down the stretch here.”

Devonta Smith can revitalize the Eagles offense

By: Pat Pitts

Devnta Smith is an Eagle. How high will he fly?

The Philadelphia Eagles have not had the most success at the wide receiver position over the past few years. On Thursday night, they made a deal with the Devil down in Dallas to erase 2020’s mistake. 

The Eagles selected 2020’s Heisman winner Devonta Smith with the 10th overall pick. The pick itself was not a shock, but the Eagles following through with it was. Jalen Hurts does not just gain a receiver, but an old teammate. Chemistry does not completely disappear. 

There has been a lot of discussions around if Smith is “NFL ready” based on his measurements. At Alabama’s Pro Day, Smith weighed in at 170 lbs and measured to be six foot flat. Not the biggest kid on the playground. 

Even with being undersized, Devonta Smith fits into the Eagles offense with his route running and his versatility. 

How can Devanta Smith be the answer Eagles fans crave?

The Eagles were an offensive disaster in 2020. Between the QB controversy and lack of pass-catchers made it pretty impossible for the Eagles to produce. Wentz is gone; Hurts is in. It is a new era in Philly. 

The lack of receivers may not have been the problem. When Jalen Hurts stepped in against the New Orleans Saints, He rushed for 100+ yards, breaking a Saints record too, and proceeded to throw for 300+ yards in back-to-back games. 

Wentz did not throw for more than 242 yards in 2020. It was time for a change. 

Hurts brings explosiveness to the Eagles offense. With his style of play, he needs a reliable asset lining up next to him. Please welcome, Devanta Smith.

Devanta Smith steps into an offense that fits his style of play extremely well. Smith has one of the best route trees out of all pass catchers in the 2021 NFL Draft class. His route tree makes Hurts life a lot easier. 

Smith ran a lot of drag routes in Alabama’s offense. These routes allow the QB to dump the ball quickly if being rushed. Hurts needs a safety blanket like Smith in 2021. 

He can execute short routes well, but what about deep ones? Not a problem. 

Smith’s breakaway speed gave him a lot of space between the defender and him. He displayed his speed with his swift feet. His footwork puts defenders on skates as he passes by them with ease. 

Smith’s separation allows Hurts to air the ball out with more confidence than a year prior. In his few starts, he averaged 7.4 yards/attempt. He is not dumping it every down. He’s looking for the open receiver downfield—a different mentality than the last guy. 

Smith’s versatility acts as another reason he fits the Eagles scheme so well. He can be utilized in all types of plays. 

Jalen Hurts is not afraid to utilize the run to move the ball downfield. Hurts ability to scramble away from defenders and execute RPO’s allows Smith to thrive in the offense. 

Also, Nick Sirianni, Eagles head coach, comes from a run-heavy offense in Indy. He worked with Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, and Nyheim Hines, who have all had break-out seasons since 2019. The Eagles have a plethora of running backs for Sirianni to replicate in 2021. 

The Eagles using Smith in run plays is already an improvement from a year ago. They are capitalizing on a player’s strengths to mold the offense around him and a few others. 

Smith is the difference-maker Philadelphia needed. It is Jalen Hurt’s offense. The future of the WR core shines bright with Reagor paired alongside Smith. 

2020 was the year of losing. 2021 begins the uphill journey back to the top of the mountain. Devonta Smith needs to lead this charge unless it is back to square one for Howie.

Becky Hammon is on a mission

By: Adam Chalifoux

Becky Hammon is used to being told “No.” 

The 5-foot-6 guard was a star in South Dakota’s high school scene but did not receive any offers from major college programs. So, Hammon took her catlike reflexes and ankle-breaking crossover to Colorado State. Despite being a three-time All-American and the all-time leading scorer for the Western Athletic Conference for both men and women, Colorado State’s undisputed superstar went undrafted in the 1999 WNBA Draft.

Undaunted, Hammon turned a training camp invite from the New York Liberty into a legendary WNBA career featuring seven All-Star team selections across 16 seasons. One of the most dangerous guards on planet earth, Hammon now sits at sixth all-time in assists and 12th in points in the WNBA record books. From being named one of the 20 Greatest Players in league history in 2016, Hammon’s determination paired with sky-high basketball IQ and ability made her a titan of women’s basketball. 

In the summer of 2013, now with the San Antonio Stars, a 36-year-old Hammon tore her ACL following a stellar season in which she was second in the WNBA in assists and 3-pointers. The difference between good and great is often in a person or player’s adaptability. While this injury ultimately represented the beginning of the end of her playing days, a new beginning came by way of a historical opportunity. 

Having proven her basketball IQ and vision throughout her legendary playing career, Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs invited Hammon to spend time with the team and coaching staff while she missed the season. By 2014, Hammon was asked by Popovich to become the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach in league history. Popovich has not only proven himself as one of the greatest basketball minds of all time but has also groomed head coaches such as Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer, Mike Brown, James Borrego, and many more. 

Hammon became the first-ever woman to lead an NBA team as head coach late in the game in December of 2020 when Gregg Popovich was ejected. Popovich turned to Hammon and said, “You got ’em.”

Although the Spurs lost the game 121-107, Popovich’s message to the basketball world was clear. Of his entire coaching staff, he trusted her with the keys to the car while other potential head coaching candidates such as NBA legend and basketball genius, Tim Duncan stayed in the assistant role for the remainder of the game.

Hammon was more concerned over trying to steal a win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers than she was about the historical significance of the game saying, “What dawned on me was I wanna beat the Lakers, Hammon said on the Today Show where she was celebrated as a trailblazing woman in sports. 

Now with NBA head coaching experience under her belt and multiple endorsements from Popovich who some consider the best coach in the modern NBA, if not ever, the writing on the wall is that it will only be a matter of time before Hammon is the first female head coach hired by an NBA franchise.

While the NBA has enjoyed one of its most competitive and fun seasons in recent history there are sure to be head coaching vacancies for underperforming teams around the league. Whether one of those franchises will be the team to break the gender is hard to predict but if a team is to make the move the candidate is clear. Becky Hammon is ready to lead an NBA team.

Rumor is that Gregg Popovich discovered the Holy Grail, Indiana Jones style. This would explain his beautiful flowing silver hair. This means he may never step down as head coach of the Spurs. If he does, however, Hammon seems to be the obvious replacement. All jokes aside, Popovich, 72 is on a year-to-year contract.

If not the Spurs, the Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, or even the Portland Trail Blazers jobs could potentially become open this summer. Whether or not one of these teams is ready or willing to give Hammon a shot will become clear in the coming months; regardless, she is one of the hottest names in NBA coaching searches as she waits for the “Yes” that will change basketball forever. 

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