Kobe vs LeBron was pretty much the biggest basketball debate in the 2000’s. Both are top 10 players of all time, yet their style of play and personalities were so different. LeBron stated that one of his biggest regrets was not playing Kobe in the 2009 Finals, and while he did pretty much everything he could (averaging 38 a game), Orlando got the best of him.
Here, we play out the potential scenario if the 2016 Cavs played the 2010 Lakers (Both stars at age 31)
Starting Lineup: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, JR Smith, Tristian Thompson
Record: 57-25 (1st in East)
Offensive/Defensive Rating: 110.9/104.5
What To Do To Beat The Lakers
1) 3 Point Shooting
The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers thrived off an era where spacing and perimeter shooting was almost necessary to contend for a title. Nearly everyone in the starting lineup, except Tristan Thompson, was a threat to shoot it outside. This is a huge threat against the 2010 Lakers, a team that wasn’t exceptional in guarding consistently moving shooters. Ball movement and drive and kicks will be Cleveland’s biggest offensive weapon.
2) Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love
Kyrie has to go off and Kevin Love needs to shoot lights out. It’s as simple as that. Ron Artest and LA’s bigs will cause LeBron a bit of trouble and might lower his efficiency, but LeBron will still be close to averaging a triple-double. The rest of the Cav’s offense looks unfavorable in matchups besides Kyrie Irving, who will probably need to be on 24/7 attack mode when LeBron is not in the game. Kyrie will also need to find a way to get his teammates involved when LeBron is not on the floor and rely less on isolation plays. Kevin Love on the other hand, needs to prove that the Cavs are a Big 3 and not a dynamic duo. He needs to step it up both offensively and defensively. More importantly, he needs to shoot better than 41.9% from the field, which for a power forward, is borderline embarrassing. He won’t exactly be killing it down low, but he needs to play very aggressive/physical and have his jumper on to open up lanes for LeBron and Kyrie.
Los Angeles Lakers
Starting Lineup: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Derek Fischer, Andrew Bynum
Record: 57-25 (1st in NBA Pacific Division)
Offensive/Defensive Rating: 108.8/103.7
What To Do To Beat The Cavs
Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom would give Cleveland major issues. Cleveland doesn’t really have anyone to guard Kobe Bryant, where we would possibly see LeBron picking him up on defense, but Cleveland for sure does not have anyone to guard this frontcourt. Kevin Love has always been sleeping on defenses, and Tristian Thompson isn’t mobile enough to guard cutters and Bynum/Gasol.
The 2010 Lakers had the 4th best defensive rating in the NBA. With tough, aggressive defenders like Derek Fischer, Kobe Bryant, and Ron Artest guarding Cleveland’s key perimeter players, Cleveland might find issues in their offense early on. Additionally, LA’s rim protection would force LeBron to settle for more jump shots and force Kevin Love to actually be a threat on offense in the Finals. Furthermore, we might see Kobe picking up Kyrie Irving on the defensive end, which was one of Cleveland’s keys to winning.
3) Kobe Bryant
Kobe will definitely put up his numbers, but this is where we might finally see a mature, well-rounded Kobe Bryant. Unlike against the Celtics in 2008 and 2010, Lakers have a fairly good matchup against Cleveland. The Celtics had Tony Allen to guard Kobe, Ray Allen running around tiring him out, and Kevin Garnett/Kendrick Perkins to anchor the paint. Cleveland’s real defensive options are J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and LeBron James. While this does prove favorable for Kobe, this does not mean Kobe should just put up 50 a game. The real advantage is down low for LA, and it will be up to Kobe to pick his spots and trust his teammates in taking advantage of their mismatch.
While the 2016 Cavs did beat the best regular season in NBA history, the Lakers just have more favorable matchups against the Cavaliers to better defend LeBron and Kyrie. With that said, Lakers would win in 6.