THE FINISHING KICK – SEPTEMBER 8
By Paul Wales

Is a Lakers vs Nets Finals Inevitable

For the last two years, NBA fans and media have been drooling over the idea of LeBron and the Lakers facing off against Kevin Durant and the Nets in the NBA Finals. When the Lakers unloaded a quarter of their roster to acquire Anthony Davis, and then won a championship as KD and Kyrie recovered from injuries, a Lakers vs Nets finals seemed destined to be in 2021. The picture perfect matchup seemed even more meant to be after the Nets made the blockbuster trade for KD’s old teammate and former MVP, James Harden. This past season, injuries plagued the NBA, especially L.A. and Brooklyn, giving the healthiest teams towards the end of the season a huge advantage. With key injuries to LeBron, Harden, and Davis late in the season and during the playoffs, along with playing the teams who represented their respective conferences in the NBA Finals early in the playoffs, both of their seasons ended much earlier than expected. So, will 2022 be the year we get LeBron’s Lakers vs KD’s Nets?

Both teams were clearly not satisfied with their already loaded super teams and were active in acquiring big name NBA veterans to bolster their rosters during the offseason. The Nets not only re-signed Blake Griffin, but they also signed LaMarcus Aldridge (who was originally on the Nets before retiring due to medical reasons) and Paul Millsap. The Lakers re-signed Rajan Rondo and Dwight Howard, who were a part of the Lakers’ 2020 championship team and spent the 2020-2021 season on other teams, signed Carmelo Anthony, and traded for Russell Westbrook. The Lakers roster has a combined 59 All-Star Game appearances between 7 former All-Stars while the Nets roster has a combined 44 All-Star Game appearances between 6 players. It’s safe to say LeBron and KD have taken the idea of building a “super team” to a new level, but I wouldn’t necessarily say this makes a Nets vs Lakers finals a lock.

The Lakers’ main issues last year were staying healthy, making three-pointers, and not having another playmaker on the floor besides LeBron. Anthony Davis has been prone to injuries throughout his career, and this past season he missed almost half of the regular season due to lower leg injuries then a groin injury took him out of the end of the first round series against the Suns. Age seems to be catching up to LeBron, as groin and ankle injuries have caused “King James” to miss a large amount of the 2019 and 2021 regular seasons. Age is a significant reason why players get hurt, and the Lakers roster didn’t get any younger acquiring 32 year-old Westbrook, 35 year-olds Rondo and Dwight, and 37 year-old Melo to play alongside the aging King who turns 37 in December. The Lakers mildly addressed their shooting issues by acquiring Melo and Kendrick Nunn, but by acquiring another ball-dominant playmaker in Russell Westbrook, who is notorious for being a poor three-point shooter, the Lakers still need some improvement in order for their outside shooting to be deemed not an issue.

The Nets had the same issue as the Lakers when it comes to injuries but add to that the fact that Brooklyn was one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season. KD, Harden, and Kyrie only played a handful of games together before the playoffs began due to injuries. When the playoffs commenced, Harden and Kyrie were both missing in action due to injuries.  That played a huge role in the Nets losing to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Nets’ offseason acquisitions, like the Lakers, did not make their team any younger with Aldridge and Millsap with both being 36 years-old. Although Millsap is an upgrade at defense, the Nets’ roster still lacks quality defensive players with Aldridge not being an exception.

I certainly think one of these teams will represent their conference in the finals, I just believe both of them staying healthy is too much to ask for. Not only do both teams need to be healthy, but both teams are not going to just walk through their respective conferences on their way to the Finals. In the Western Conference, the Suns are returning almost the same roster they had last year when Phoenix beat the Lakers in the first round on their way to the NBA Finals. The Clippers also made a deep playoff run last season despite losing Kawhi Leonard due to injuries. The East is as good as its been in some time with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks looking to repeat last year’s success.  Trae Young and the Hawks took the playoffs by storm last season, the Sixers looking to make a deep playoff run, and the Celtics are looking to have a bounce back year.

Brooklyn and L.A. are entering this season with championship aspirations, anything less for either team will be a disappointment in their eyes. Both teams have the star-power, the experience, and the talent to face off against each other in June. If this was the year 2018 and the Nets and Lakers had these rosters, then I’d be all-in on a Nets vs Lakers finals and I would say it’s inevitable. But, unfortunately, injuries exist and it will be the year 2022 when the playoffs begin, and I’m not sure if both teams will be able to stay healthy enough to have that finishing kick to provide us with one of the most highly anticipated NBA Finals in history.