These N.B.A. Contenders Just Got Better

Credit…Darren Abate/Associated Press

Why They’ll Win the Finals: The Clippers confronted questions after their meltdown within the bubble. (You’ll recall that they blew a 3-1 sequence lead over the Nuggets within the convention semifinals.) Paul George absorbed a lot of the criticism for his poor play. He has had his ups and downs this season — who hasn’t? — however seems to be in higher kind. The Clippers are contenders due to Kawhi Leonard, however George’s postseason play will decide if they’re truly able to profitable all of it.

Why They Won’t: The Clippers hope that Rajon Rondo, whom they acquired on the commerce deadline, can present the form of management they had been lacking final season. But they nonetheless lack depth on the level, and the workforce has been horrible in clutch conditions, courting to final season’s bubble implosion. Championship groups are adept at closing out video games. The Clippers are usually not.

Why They’ll Win the Finals: LeBron James and Anthony Davis confirmed the injury they might do collectively final season once they rolled via the playoffs in main the Lakers to their first championship since 2010. It was a resurgent season for James, specifically, and it proved (if anybody wanted proof) {that a} workforce with two of the highest gamers on the planet is a reasonably secure wager to make a championship run, regardless of the complementary items. James and Davis, after all, are again this season — and if they’re wholesome for the playoffs, look out.

Why They Won’t: James (ankle) and Davis (calf) are usually not wholesome, and that is a gigantic downside — for now, if not eternally. Davis has not performed since Feb. 14, and Coach Frank Vogel stated just lately that Davis was “still a ways away.” The Lakers had been already struggling with out him when James sprained his ankle on March 20. He may very well be sidelined for at the least one other month. At the identical time, a number of lesser Lakers have labored with their capturing strokes: Markieff Morris, Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol. Take your choose. Is it windy?

Why They’ll Win the Finals: In hindsight, the Suns’ nifty footwork in buying Chris Paul within the low season was top-of-the-line strikes an up-and-coming workforce might have made. He introduced expertise, toughness and protection to a workforce that was making large leaps — the Suns closed out the 2019-20 common season by going undefeated within the bubble — and he has allowed Devin Booker to play off the ball. The window is closing for Paul, an 11-time All-Star who, at 35, has by no means performed in an N.B.A. finals. In this topsy-turvy, anything-goes season, maybe that is the second when he lastly makes it occur.

Why They Won’t: Inexperience. Booker, the workforce’s greatest participant, has but to get a style of the postseason. The actuality is that it’s asking lots of a younger group of gamers to make a really deep push in its first run via the playoffs, even when Paul is guiding the group.

Why They’ll Win the Finals: Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray proceed to evolve and enhance, and the time is now for the workforce to capitalize. The Nuggets’ entrance workplace signaled as a lot on the commerce deadline when it acquired Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee, veterans who ought to assist enhance the workforce’s middling protection. Gordon additionally offers the Nuggets one other scoring possibility.

Why They Won’t: The Nuggets have been wildly inconsistent this season, and it didn’t assist that they misplaced Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee — two beneficial function gamers — in free company. Michael Porter Jr., who has surfaced because the workforce’s third scorer, has enormous potential however has missed lots of time and continues to be creating.

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