You may find it a unique roster.
The Los Angeles Lakers have four of the NBA’s top seven active scorers. Three of the most prominent active rebounders. Three of the four top active assist leaders. Three out of five top blocks players are in the Top Five. Three out of five top wins. Six of the six top-ranked steals are from four different countries. Five Olympic gold medalists could be on the floor simultaneously and one at the bench.
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Given all that talent — LeBron James leading the way, with a half-dozen players on the roster with at least reasonable chances of one day being elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame — it’s easy to see why the Lakers would be a fashionable pick to emerge as the Western Conference representative in the NBA Finals this season.
“I’m excited for what’s in store for us this year,” James said. But every day is a journey. Every day, it’s all about the journey and then you just put in the work.”
James and Anthony Davis are back from the team that won the 2020 NBA championship — two seasons, yet only 12 months ago. Talen Horton-Tucker was also on that team, but didn’t play in the NBA Finals. The Lakers are new to everyone else, or at least they think so.
Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were part of that team. They left the Lakers to rejoin their former teams. DeAndre Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony were all added to the roster this offseason.
Anthony, Trevor Ariza, James, Howard and Rondo are all 35 or older already, and Wayne Ellington — another newcomer — turns 34 in November.
James said, “The story about our age is kind of funny.” “I do really enjoy laughing. I’m not just saying that.”
Despite all their talent and proven ability, it is unlikely that the Lakers will make it back to the Finals. Here’s a look at West in the predicted order of finishing:
1. Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, it is old. Yes. It’s really good… the time will show. James convinced players like Anthony and Westbrook to run with him, which suggests he’s loading up for a title run.
2. Phoenix Suns. Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton made it work last season, but the Suns won’t be surprising anyone this year. Monty Williams, coach, pushed all the right buttons last season.
3. Utah Jazz. Donovan Mitchell’s ankle played a big role in Utah’s playoff demise last season. He’s raring to go, and with him, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles there’s no reason why the Jazz shouldn’t think title.
4. Denver Nuggets. Michael Malone remains one of the league’s underrated coaches. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic is all-worldly good, Jamal Murray will be back and Denver’s defense gives it a chance every night.
5. Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry was an MVP-level performer last year. Klay Thompson’s return will be a big lift whenever it happens. Andre Iguodala will be returning for the final season. There’s nothing not to like here.
6. Dallas Mavericks. Luka Doncic keeps improving. Jason Kidd is the new coach. As a player, he won a Dallas championship. This team will score an incredible amount of points. Kristaps Porzingis is the wildcard.
7. Los Angeles Clippers. Clippers could do enough to reach the playoffs. The Clippers will then be able get Kawhi Leonard, a fit and healthy player back from knee surgery for their stretch run. This is a scary prospect for the opponents.
8. Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard, a leader and scorer in hockey, will surely benefit from the Olympic team. Blazers must — must — take a leap forward.
9. San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich should have taken his Olympic gold medal and retired to enjoy wine the rest of their lives. His return was for a purpose. Don’t forget the Spurs.
10. Memphis Grizzlies. Automatic scores should be earned by Steven Adams when he plays pick-and-roll alongside Ja Morant. Morant, it is clear that he’s on the way to being elite. However, the Grizzlies remain so young.
FACE LONG ODDS
11. New Orleans Pelicans. Zion Williamson is key to everything. If he’s great, they’ll be higher.
12. Sacramento Kings. For the Kings, this is too high. However, this is not the West’s fault.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves. This is the T’Wolves fate — unless they are winners of the Ben Simmons Trade Sweepstakes.
14. Houston Rockets. Jalen Green will put up huge numbers and compete for the title of top rookie.
15. Oklahoma City Thunder. Basketball fans will soon find out what the future holds for all of those draft picks.
What to Know
FanDuel Sportsbook lists the Lakers second in the West’s top picks, as they are considered the best bet for the title. Based on FanDuel odds, the following are the top five NBA Finals candidates in the West: Phoenix, Utah and Golden State.
The order of betting on West races is slightly different. There are five top-five Lakers, Golden State, Clippers and a tie for second. Utah, Phoenix, and Utah round out the list.
The NBA has not had a streak of four international MVPs consecutively. If a few West players do as many believe they will, that could change. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo won in 2019 and 2020, Jokic won in 2021, and Jokic and Doncic have to be considered among the frontrunners in 2022.
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James scored 25 points with his last shot during the regular season 2020-21. It was a made layup that he took at 6:41 remaining in the season finale in New Orleans. He was subbed out six seconds later and didn’t return. The significance was this: It gave James a scoring average of 25.02 points for the season — extending his record streak of 25-point-average seasons to 17 in a row. Had he not gotten that final basket, he’d have averaged 24.98 points and (technically, anyway) the streak would have ended.
3’S REMAIN WILD
Utah was the NBA’s most successful team last season, averaging 16.7 points per game. This means that the seven top spots in NBA history’s most coveted positions are now filled by West teams. They include Houston (16.1 in 2018-19), Portland (15.7 in last season), Houston (15.6) in 2019-20), Houston (5.3 in 2017-18), Houston (15.3), Houston (15.3), Dallas (15.1), and Golden State (14.6).
WEST VS. THE EAST
The champs may hail from Milwaukee and the Eastern Conference, but the Western Conference — again — won the head-to-head against the other side of the league last season. Five-fourths of the East’s games were won by West teams. This was the 21st consecutive season in which the West had a lead over the East.