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There are just nine days left in the NBA season and plenty of things still need to work themselves out. To break down some of the biggest questions in the NBA this week, I tapped in some of the best minds from The Step Back and FanSided’s NBA network.
1. What if … just hear me out … LeBron James … has already played the last playoff game of his career?
Dalton Sell, Behind The Bucks Pass: I still think LeBron and the Lakers will find a way to sneak into that final play-in spot this year, but that is certainly far from guaranteed. However, if you told me that he had already played his final playoff game, I would be shocked. While there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Lakers’ roster and who might be on it next season, LeBron has still shown this season that he can hang with the best of the best. There are questions about Anthony Davis’ health, but I assume he will be there next year, and when he is healthy, Davis is among the top 10 players in this league. That duo should be in the running for the postseason no matter who is around them, but, as evidenced by this season, anything can happen. Simply put, I would be shocked.
Tyler Watts, The Smoking Cuban: This may seem crazy to fans, especially when considering he’s averaging over 30 points per game this season and is one of the greatest players of all-time, but James is 37 years old. Father Time is undefeated, and LeBron has played the second-most minutes in NBA history. He has averaged just 55.5 games played over the last four seasons, and the Lakers’ avenues to improving their roster this summer are complicated.
Reports suggest James wants to stay in LA, but the Lakers have been so bad this season. Yes, they will move Russell Westbrook this summer, but finding a trade partner will not be easy. The Lakers have just three players under guaranteed contract for next season if Westbrook comes off the books, but the other three are making a combined $92.7 million. Los Angeles needs to add talent and improve their depth.
Never count out LeBron. He has been to 10 NBA Finals and has four rings, but do not bet on the Lakers making the playoff in 2023. If they miss again, will James go ring-chasing? His days as the best player of a playoff team are likely over, but do not be surprised to see him back in the postseason wearing a different uniform.
Michael Saenz, Sir Charles in Charge: It may seem silly to think at first, but there’s at least a small chance that can be true. The Lakers are a mess and it’s difficult to see how they will dramatically improve their roster in one offseason. LeBron will be 38 by the time he’s a free agent again. If he’s serious about closing his career with his son, there’s a chance he ends his career in Orlando or Oklahoma City. What an anticlimactic end to his playoff run it would be.
2. Let’s put the top eight MVP candidates in a single-elimination tournament — 1-on-1, games to 11 by 1s and 2s, call your own fouls. Who wins?
Dalton Sell, Behind The Bucks Pass: Imagine Giannis Antetokounmpo in a 1-on-1 tournament where there is only one player defending him instead of two or three people clogging the paint every time he touches the basketball. There are few players in this league that could challenge him 1-on-1, so this would be a dream scenario for Giannis. He would face some stiff competition, but Giannis would ultimately win it.
Tyler Watts, The Smoking Cuban: Okay let’s lay out the bracket. Using ESPN’s latest MVP straw poll, Nikola Jokic is the MVP favorite and top seed facing Stephen Curry in a spicy first-round matchup where the Warriors guard’s ability to shoot from distance is ultimately too much. Jayson Tatum takes out Ja Morant in the other quarterfinal by using his size and strength.
The bottom of the bracket gives us Giannis Antetokounmpo against Luka Doncic in another difficult-to-predict quarterfinal. Ultimately, the Greek Freak’s superior defense allows him to get just enough stops to advance. Joel Embiid punishes Devin Booker with his size to advance in the last quarterfinal.
That puts Curry against Tatum in the opening semifinal in a matchup where the two-time MVP shoots his way past another opponent. Giannis and Embiid is another impossible to predict matchup, but I have to give the edge to Antetokounmpo based on his perimeter defensive abilities.
That puts Giannis against Curry in the finals in a matchup where the Greek Freak’s defense is once again key. He guards Curry well enough on the perimeter to pick up the W and hypothetical championship.
Michael Saenz, Sir Charles in Charge: Ultimately, this comes down to Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic. Are we sure NBA players would call fouls on each other? I’ve never played pickup with an NBA player, but I do know as bad as a player I’m always hesitant to call anything. NBA players, with their ego, it’s almost a given that nothing gets called. The bigs are going to beat up on every other player without anything getting called. I’m giving the edge to Jokic, mostly because I’m sure his brothers will be sitting courtside.
3. If the Utah Jazz roster was a pizza what toppings would Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell be?
Dalton Sell, Behind The Bucks Pass: If these two great players were pizza toppings, they would be pineapple and anchovy, respectively, simply because they do not work well together. That narrative has been alive for many years now, and while the Jazz do have a chance to rewrite it in the playoffs this season, the fit with these two will once again come into question if they come up short. Many have advocated for a breakup, and that could very well be the case unless Utah finally breaks through that playoff wall.
Tyler Watts, The Smoking Cuban: The Jazz are playing like a pizza that has been left in the oven way too long as they have lost five straight to slip from fourth to sixth in the Western Conference. They are likely to avoid the play-in tournament, but Utah is likely to make a first round exit in the playoffs.
Rudy Gobert would be sausage because he is strong and sturdy. Sausage is the perfect topping if you are looking to fill up a bit more on every slice, and Gobert is one of the best defenders in the NBA. He makes up for the Jazz lacking perimeter defense this season, and he makes them a difficult matchup for any opponent.
Donovan Mitchell is the mushrooms. He is an elite scorer and strong playmaker, but a liability on the defensive end of the floor. Mitchell is good on almost any pizza, but he needs other toppings to push his pizza to elite level experience.
Michael Saenz, Sir Charles in Charge: Not counting the sauce and cheese, I’d say Donovan Mitchell is pepperoni. It’s consistently good and a staple of what makes a pizza a pizza. In most cases, a pepperoni pizza is safe and something that would be universally welcomed. That’s Mitchell. Good-to-great and is a player that every franchise would love to have. Rudy Gobert, on the other hand, is more like sausage. It adds spice to the pizza and adds a good contrast to the cheese and pepperoni. However, it’s not for everyone and not a topping I get for every occasion.
For example, sausage is not a topping I would generally get for a fourth-quarter pizza. I kid, I kid.
Other NBA stories:
The newest Hall-of-Fame class has been announced. Congratulations to Manu Ginobili and Tim Hardaway.
The Pistons have a very good chance at landing the top pick in the NBA Draft. But could they trade down and leverage that top spot into a lot more depth?
Jayson Tatum has been better than LeBron James this season and hopefully, the All-NBA voting reflects that.
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