Leonard chose to team up with Paul George and take on LeBron and AD creating a power struggle in Los Angeles between the Clippers and Lakers. Up until this season, the purple and gold have always been the dominant force in LA but after an opening night win for the Clips, NBA fans around the world began to anticipate a power shift in LA for the foreseeable future. Los Angeles has not been home to an NBA championship-winning team since 2010 when the Lakers led by Kobe Bryant defeated the Boston Celtics in seven games. So, the fact that many are tipping one of the LA teams to reach the NBA finals this year, which superstar is the most likely to make it?
Basketball is a team game but there’s no doubt both players can put an entire franchise on their back and win an NBA championship as both have proven throughout their careers, but which will come out on top this year?
Social Media Frenzy
The rivalry began when Kawhi moved to the Clippers, but it seems off the court ‘The Klaw’ has been making waves whilst remaining deadly silent.
The New Balance commercial that broadcast for the first time during the Lakers and Clippers game features several subtle hints that he is the new king in LA. The advertisement received praise from around the globe for the imagery and what it represented in a wider social context of Kawhi and New balance vs LeBron and Nike.
When this is coupled with LeBron’s seemingly sluggish start on opening night which saw him outplayed by a youthful, more athletic Kawhi Leonard, social media went crazy with the #washedking taking centre stage. King James has since used this hashtag several times on tweets and Instagram posts ironically calling himself #washedking.
The King affirming his throne
Since the loss to Kawhi’s Clippers, LeBron and co have been unstoppable rocketing to the top of the Western Conference with a record of 10-2. Bron has been a permanent fixture in the Lakers line up this season averaging 35.3 minutes per game (MPG) this is almost identical to his minutes last season where he ended the season with an average of 35.2 MPG. As LeBron enters year 17 in the league it can be expected that his minutes may start to drop during the regular season to preserve himself for the playoffs, where we can expect ‘zero dark thirty’ to be activated.
Whilst he has been on the court though Bron has almost averaged a triple-double for the season with 24 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds per night.
It seems that the opening night loss and the social media frenzy that followed it tapped into the greatness that he possesses. Even in year 17 ‘The King’ still wants people to see him as the greatest basketball player in the world and remain in the debate of who is the greatest of all time.
Kawhi’s claim to the throne
Kawhi got the better of LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the Staples without his second superstar, Paul George. This sent a huge statement to the league that the Clippers have arrived and are ready to compete for this NBA championship even without PG. Since opening night, the Clippers have gone 7-5 with losses to the Bucks, Jazz, Pelicans, Rockets and Suns, leaving them sat 7th in the Western Conference. Kawhi has only featured in two of those losses so far this season where they were beaten on the road by a Phoenix Suns side lead by Devin Booker and a Rockets team where James Harden dropped 47 points.
Kawhi has come under criticism this season due to load management. The Klaw has missed two games so far this season and played an average of 31.4 MPG, which appears to be around the average he plays every season with no real fluctuations apart from his final season in San Antonio where he ‘gave up on the Spurs’.
The load management of Kawhi has seen the Clips receive a $50,000 fine for conflicting information. The league placed Leonard on the injury list from the information they were given by the LA Clippers but after a 129-124 defeat to the Bucks head coach, Doc Rivers, told the national media that Kawhi Leonard “feels great”. It appears that Kawhi will not be taking part in back to back games for the second consecutive season something he has not done since playing for the Spurs back in the 2016-2017 season.
Who wins the battle of LA?
In sports, it is widely known: “The best ability you have is availability.” This is something Kawhi can only offer to his team for three-quarters of the season, and in a loaded Western Conference missing that amount of games can give you a very difficult seeding for the playoffs, proving detrimental to the Clippers pursuit of their first chip.
Ultimately, this could prove to be the deciding factor in the power shift in LA. LeBron is still playing at an elite level at the age of 34 and could maintain this level for another couple of years, leaving Kawhi with the task of trying to topple King James.