Posted on 12/4/19
By, Matthew Holmes – Staff Writer
NBA Top 4 Title Candidates
Los Angeles Clippers (16-6)
In last year’s playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers took a fully-loaded Golden State Warriors team to six games in the NBA Playoffs, resulting in a surprisingly competitive series. After a blockbuster off-season, acquiring two-way forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, this team is completely reloaded and ready for a championship run.
The Clippers are at the top of the list for one of, if not the best, defensive teams in basketball. From Leonard, to George, Beverley, and Harrel, they can all cause teams nightmares on the defensive end. Along with this they have one of the deepest benches in the league. Their bench consists of pure scorer and three time Sixth Man of the Year winner, Lou Williams, versatile rim defender Montrezl Harrel, and great ‘3 and D’ players within Moe Harkless and JaMychal Green.
As Paul George has recently returned to the line up and is already averaging 4.0 3PM the Clipper’s offense will look to improve as the season progresses.
The team is currently ranked 5th in net ranking and is 2nd in adjusted margin of victory. The Clippers are now 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference. The Clippers may not be at the absolute top of the conference at the end of the season because of controversial load management on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
The Clippers have an extremely deep bench, the former NBA Finals MVP, a pair of two way All-Stars, and a veteran Head Coach. The Clippers are the clear favorite for the title this year.
Los Angeles Lakers (18-3)
Showtime is officially back ladies and gentlemen. The Lakers have entered the season with a refueled Lebron James, a dominant new co-star in Anthony Davis, and many new key role players in: Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, Dwight Howard, and Jared Dudley.
The biggest blunder the media had last year was calling Lebron James washed up, despite averaging about 27 ppg, 7 asst, and 7 rebs in the past season. After Lebron James’s first absence in the playoffs in his 17 year career, he has come back with a huge chip on his shoulder. The King is playing point guard for the Lakers and is currently leading the league in assists with 10.8 AST, while also averaging 25.6 ppg.
The Lakers defense has been sensational. Frank Vogel’s system seems to be a good fit for this group of veterans, as they have third fewest points allowed in the league. Anthony Davis is one of the anchors of their defense and is currently second in the league averaging 2.7 blocks a game. Dwight Howard has been having a comeback season and is making solid contributions off the bench. Veterans, Danny Green and Avery Bradley are tenacious defenders and fit perfectly with Lebron with their ‘3-and-D’ playstyles. Additionally, Rajon Rondo supplies veteran leadership and playmaking abilities off the bench
Overall, this Lakers squad has plenty of veteran experience, two top 5 players in the league, and a defensively oriented head coach. They are right up their with the Clippers and, if they stay healthy, you can expect a Western Conference Finals in the Staples Center.
Milwaukee Bucks (18-3)
The Milwaukee Bucks were the top seed in the East this past season, but were defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals as a result of Kawhi’s historic playoff run. However, they still have the reigning NBA MVP in Giannis ‘The Greek Freak’ Antetokounmpo who looks to be coming back better than ever. Key additions the Bucks made this year included acquiring Robin Lopez and sharp shooter Kyle Korver.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been having another great season. He is second in points per game in the league with 30.8 and fourth in rebounding with 13.4. The Bucks have used a similar strategy that past Lebron led teams did, which is surrounding The Greek Freak with shooters. This includes small forward Khris Middleton, who has just got healthy again, Kyle Korer, George Hill, Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews, and Brook Lopez.
The Bucks defense is as strong as it was last year. Antetkounmpo has proven to be a great rim protector and they have great defenders who have returned from last year in Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton. Also, the addition of Robin Lopez has given them a deeper presence in the paint.
I would not be surprised if this was the year that the Bucks came out of the east and made a run for the NBA championship.
The Houston Rockets were the top seed in the Western Conference last year, but were defeated by the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Despite the Warriors losing former 2-time NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant during Game 5, the Rockets were still unable to get past the dubs. Following the alleged team chemistry issues between Chris Paul and James Harden, the Rockets decided to make a trade sending Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder and return, receiving point guard Russel Westbrook heading into this season.
It looks like James Harden is en route to producing another monster season for the Houston Rockets. Love him or hate him, The Beard is one of the greatest scorers ever. He’s leading the league in scoring with 39.5 ppg and is seventh in assists with 7.8 apg.
The Rockets were criticized for their decision to pair two ball dominant point guards in Westbrook and Harden. Let’s forget that they received the same criticism when acquiring Chris Paul years ago, which resulted in one of the best offensive teams in NBA history. The idea of putting Westbrook into D’Antoni’s fast paced offense should scare opponents. The two appear to meshing better than ever as Westbrook is averaging 21 ppg and 7.1 apg alongside Harden.
Houston has assembled a similar supporting cast they’ve had for years. Shooters everywhere. This includes Eric Gordon, who is a dependable sharp shooter and a good third option, P.J. Tucker who has the highest 3 point percentage from the corner, and Daniel House Jr. who is a promising wing player.
Clint Capela is making an impact in the paint and is currently second in the league in rebounds, averaging 15.1 per game. Tyson Chandler is a solid rim protector and should allow Capela to have some rest on the bench.
The Rockets have a legitimate shot of winning a championship if they can improve their overall perimeter defense and if injuries plague one of the two teams from Los Angeles.