The Los Angeles Lakers looked like a good bet to repeat as NBA Champions for much of the early season. That still may be the case, but the ongoing injury concerns for All-Star forward Anthony Davis may throw a real wrench into those plans. The beneficiaries, according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith? The Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets have been an absolute offensive juggernaut in the weeks since the trade for James Harden, who is rounding into form as the team's point guard, answering questions about his ability to play alongside the similarly ball-dominant Kyrie Irving that came with the trade from the Houston Rockets.
Harden has been a triple-double machine since joining Brooklyn, willingly setting up teammates and playing much less of the hero ball style that he was infamous for with Houston. Irving seems happy with the arrangement since his return from his absence in January, while Kevin Durant looks like an MVP-level player once again, though a combination of injuries and contact tracing have held him out for long stretches in recent weeks. Assuming all three of those stars are healthy come playoff time, if Anthony Davis isn't 100-percent, even with LeBron James looking as good as ever, Stephen A. Smith thinks the title is heading to Brooklyn.
"My first reaction after hearing about Anthony Davis aggravating his right Achilles, is that the Brooklyn Nets are going to win the NBA championship," Stephen A. said on Monday's First Take. "The Lakers, as far as I’m concerned, are the only team standing in the way of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden winning the 'chip."
"The bottom line is I'm looking at James Harden right now," Stephen A. Smith continued. "The brother's averaging 23 (points), 11 (assists), and eight (rebounds), on 48-percent shooting, 38-percent from three-point shooting. They're the No. 1 offense in the NBA, they're absolutely positively unstoppable, and it's going to take an elite team on both ends of the floor to knock them off. "We've got elite defensive teams in the NBA, we've got elite offensive teams in the NBA. What we don't have, outside of the Lakers... is a team that has both. That's how we view them... LeBron will be just fine, he'll be there when it counts, but he needs AD. And without AD, the Lakers have no chance of winning the championship. And if the Lakers have no chance, who is going to beat Brooklyn?" Smith thinks that Davis should rest up for the next month, with all eyes on the playoffs. If he's hobbled, there's a very good chance that the Nets will have improved enough on the defensive end to be a title team, though that is still an open question. This team is routinely giving up 120+ points to average competition. They've shown some ability to focus on that end, notably in their impressive rout of the Golden State Warriors over the weekend, but they're far from a finished product at this point. We'll get a potential NBA Finals preview this week, as the Brooklyn Nets face the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on Thursday night. [
— First Take (@FirstTake) February 15, 2021