After five consecutive years of the Warriors on top of the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers took full advantage of an injury-riddled season in Golden State and won the West, eventually defeating the Miami Heat in six games to bring LeBron James his fourth NBA title.
Klay Thompson missed the entire 2019-20 season after tearing his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, and Steph Curry saw just 139 minutes of game action as he dealt with a broken hand and other ailments. But after the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic and the NBA bubble completed the campaign in Orlando on Oct. 11, the Warriors have had almost eight months without playing an organized game against an actual opponent.
With Thompson and Curry expected to be 100 percent for the reported Dec. 22 start to the 2020-21 season, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith is confident their return to action makes them the Lakers’ biggest threat in the race for the Western Conference title.
“For a simple reason, it doesn’t need to be complicated, like some people might try to make it, they have the greatest shooting backcourt known to man,” Smith said on “First Take.” “There has never been anybody, a backcourt in NBA history, that can shoot like these brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson."
Smith went on to explain that while the Denver Nuggets were in the Western Conference Finals this past season against the Lakers, and were one game away from the 2019 West Finals, Los Angeles matches up much better with Denver than they do with the Warriors. Anthony Davis can defend the rim and match up with great big men like Nikola Jokic or Jusuf Nurkic in Portland, but Golden State presents a totally different threat.
“Anthony Davis don’t have no answer for Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, he can’t be out there guarding those brothers,” Smith continued. “Somebody else has to do that, somebody else has to follow them around when they’re moving without the ball, to make sure they’re not open when a fast break takes place, all of a sudden you gotta find them on the wings, 30 feet away from the basket because they fire away.
“To me, to knock off LeBron and AD, that’s what it’s going to take, and that’s the only thing it’s going to take.”
Alex Caruso and Danny Green were the Lakers’ two starters at the guard positions during the final game of the 2020 NBA Finals, both of whom have a solid defensive reputation. Green had a rocky postseason, which included some horrific death threats from Lakers fans, and has been rumored as a potential trade candidate.
LeBron and the Lakers know they’ll need all the perimeter defense help they can get to slow down Curry and Thompson, and it’s hard to imagine that won’t be a priority in free agency for LA.
If these two teams do end up facing off in the Western Conference Finals next season, the entire NBA universe will be in for a treat of a series.