- Los Angeles Lakers favored to win back-to-back division titles ahead of Clippers
- Does Chris Paul to Phoenix make the Suns a worthy underdog wager?
- Read below to find out who we like to take the Pacific Division this year
If it feels like the NBA has been in warp speed the past two months, well … it has.
The Lakers won the title in October and the NBA Draft and Free agency filled November. We’re in a mini-lull just before camps open for a December 22 start to the season. I’m tired just typing that.
Imagine how it must feel for the Los Angeles Lakers, who will likely still smell of champagne upon arrival to training camp.
But they’ll have to get up to speed quick, as they’ll be challenged as favorites in the Pacific Division.
2020 Pacific Division Odds
|Los Angeles Lakers||+100|
|Los Angeles Clippers||+175|
|Golden State Warriors||+750|
*Odds from November 27
Let’s run down the competition and find the best bet.
Lake Show Center Stage
The the Lakers are powered to the top of the Pacific Division odds by the best duo in basketball. LeBron James has always been an offensive ecosystem unto himself, but Anthony Davis supercharged that element, while anchoring their physical and bullying defense.
LA ranked in the top four in both points scored and points allowed in the playoff bubble, part of the reason they rampaged through the West and beat up on the Heat en route to the title.
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) November 23, 2020
They’re brutish and play old-school. LA was second in the league in paint scoring, which contributed to their league-leading 48% shooting from the field, offsetting their 21st-place ranking in shooting from deep.
Defensively, they were a top-8 in both field goal and three-point percentage defense.
It also didn’t hurt that GM Rob Pelinka dominated the offseason, upgrading across the board. He turned Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard into Dennis Schroder, Wes Matthews, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol.
Montrezl Harrell putting in work at the Lakers facility. 😤pic.twitter.com/Er4HwHHfY5
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) November 27, 2020
Add that to Alex Caruso, the newly re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma, and that’s a roster that can eat up a lot of minutes, sparing their superstars until the postseason heavy lifting is needed.
Even if they suffer a slight title hangover, it’s hard to pick against them at this point.
Clean Slate For Clippers?
There are two real albatrosses hanging around the necks of LA’s other team. The first is trying to exorcise the stink of a 3-1 second round series collapse to the Nuggets. They won’t get to reckon with that one until after Game 72.
This much is clear, despite much of the national narrative going the other way:
The #Clippers didn't "let the Nuggets back in" in games 5, 6 and 7.
— Joel Rush (@JoelRushNBA) September 16, 2020
The second: that glass house the Clippers are built on. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have end of season opt-outs on their deals, which could close the window on what was supposed to be the greatest era of Clips hoops in just two years. That’s a ton of pressure to stare down, what more to a team with a damaged psyche?
Ty Lue has the task of rehabbing a team that will still have cohesion issues as Kawhi Leonard’s load management is here to stay. It was already a rumoured sticking point among the vets this past year.
Ma Fuzzy Man is coming to LA.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) November 26, 2020
But there’s a lot to build on. Kawhi and PG are about as good a combo you’d want in the NBA, and they helped lead LA to top-3 in scoring, sixth in three-point shooting and fourth in rebounding. Defensively, they’re top-3 in field goal shooting defense.
Swapping out Harrell for Serge Ibaka will at least loosen those bogged lineups, and Pat Beverley and Marcus Morris are back to help make this the most annoying team in the league. Luke Kennard is under-the-radar good, and this team is too talented to self-combust in the regular season.
Warriors And Suns Slip Into Value Range
The Kings are gonna Kings, so let’s leave them at the bottom of the Pacific – serves you right for passing on Luka Doncic.
It’s Golden State and Phoenix who project as frisky in this division.
The @warriors will be without Klay Thompson next year but added Kelly Oubre Jr. to help offset the loss
What place do you think they will finish in the West? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/FSA74dYnzy
— The Association on FOX (@TheAssociation) November 20, 2020
The Warriors would probably be on tier with the Clippers and challenging the Lakers, but Klay Thompson’s Achilles tear flushed that plan into the Bay. Still, they’ll feature a recharged Steph Curry and Draymond Green to anchor a more talented roster around them. Lineup injections like second overall pick James Wiseman and newly acquired Kelly Oubre may have the Dubs punching above their weight class.
The @NBA Pacific Division is insane. With covid impacted schedule being regionalized @Lakers @warriors @LAClippers @Suns @SacramentoKings have a tough road to rack up W’s night in night out. Which will impact playoff seeding.
— Todd Strain (@TODDSTRAINNBCSD) November 16, 2020
And we’re about to find out how powerful the Chris Paul leadership plan transfers from OKC to the Valley of the Sun. After an all-NBA renaissance last year with the Thunder, Paul joins a team teeming with talent in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton and promising wings in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson.
“[The Suns] could easily elevate into that upper echelon in the West as a contender for the NBA Finals…Chris Paul is that good and Devin Booker is that good.” ☀️☀️ — @KevinOConnorNBA pic.twitter.com/jQgTWZSTB4
— Maybe I'm Crazy with Joy Taylor (@maybeimcrazypod) November 20, 2020
This is a team went 8-0 in the bubble, and was a top-10 unit in scoring and top-8 in field goal percentage. Though Paul averaged only 6.8 assists last year in a three-PG lineup, his combination of mid-range shooting and command should get Phoenix players more good looks, and perhaps bump that 16th-place ranking in three-point shooting.
Who’s The Best Bet?
I’ve gone on record saying there’s no way the Lakers don’t win 50 games this year. Even last season, the Lakers were the only team to hit that figure in the West, with the Clippers at 49 wins.
As much as I like Phoenix’s makeup, they are one prime star away from making real hay, ultimately leaving this a two-team race. Ditto the Dubs. The Clippers will contend, but the Lakers’ overhaul brings hunger — only Gasol has tasted the title among their new pickups. Couple that with LeBron and AD, and this is their division to lose.
The pick: Lakers (+100)
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