The Clippers and Lakers rosters get upgrades

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The Clippers and Lakers are NBA title co-favorites as we approach mid-November.

According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, both are listed at 5-2 to win the NBA Finals and at 9-5 to win the Western Conference. They split against the defending champion Raptors on Sunday and Monday but remain in the mix with the Nuggets, Rockets and Jazz as the teams that have separated themselves as the best of the best in the league’s top conference.

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Both have provided glimpses of what they’re capable of and have impressed. The LeBron James-Anthony Davis pick-and-roll is lethal. Kawhi Leonard picked up where he left off after leading Toronto a title and remains the league’s top two-way player. Feel free to write off the Clips’ 112-102 win in the lone head-to-head matchup on opening night since Kyle Kuzma was sidelined and the Clippers had the edge through better continuity thanks to Doc Rivers’ presence on the bench and Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell imposing their will.

This week, the final pieces to the puzzle come together. Rajon Rondo debuts as a key piece who will help better facilitate for James and Davis, which is worth watching since the three-time single-season assists leader is joining forces with the guy currently heading up the category.

LeBron has embraced the role of floor general with Rondo working his way back from a calf injury and carried an average of 11 assists per game into Tuesday’s game against the Suns. He’s concentrated on helping Davis and Kuzma get the ball in their preferred spots before calling his own number down the stretch of games.

We’ll see whether Rondo’s return alters that dynamic, but James values the veteran’s IQ most of all and is trusting the Lakers will figure it out.

The Clippers finally get to spring Paul George upon the league after giving him additional time to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. The wing, whose acquisition from OKC secured Leonard’s signature in free agency, will debut in Houston or Oklahoma City this week in a road back-to-back. He’s not going to grind yet and play both, which sparks an interesting question over how Rivers will handle resting his new faces of the franchise going forward.

Although I anticipate that we’ll see George and Leonard alternate maintenance days during back-to-backs to ensure at least one of them is out there playing catalyst, it makes most sense to see them out on the floor together early in their partnership. The Clippers return to Staples Center on Saturday for a date with the Hawks and will spend all of next week in town thanks to a five-game homestand that will help George sink his teeth into playing in front of friends and family in his hometown.

Look for L.A. to be a double-digit favorite against the Hawks and Thunder prior to more challenging games against the visiting Celtics and Rockets next week.

Rivers has been using veteran Patrick Patterson in the lineup alongside Leonard to keep George’s seat warm, but both will undoubtedly start in the frontcourt alongside center Ivica Zubac, who continues to improve. Patrick Beverley and shooter Landry Shamet form the backcourt, but that may change this week too since Shamet had to be helped off the floor after spraining an ankle in the second half of Monday’s win over the Raps. Rodney McGruder would like start although Williams will get the bulk of the minutes.

We’re finally going to get to see who Rivers will choose to close games out with down the stretch, with a Beverley-Williams-George-Leonard-Harrell lineup the most likely option. Bigger opponents could command the presence of a JaMychal Green or Moe Harkless, so there are certainly variables to monitor.

The Clippers have lost both games where Leonard sat due to “load maintenance,” the league-wide term for taking a night off, so they’ve only lost once with him on the floor. Now that George is coming on board, we’re about to see what a team featuring the best combination of two-way players since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen dominated in Chicago can do.

At 100 percent, George is every bit the stifling defender and closer Leonard can be. Both are adept with the ball in their hands late in the shot clock. Both are willing passers. Seeing them operate as a tandem will likely shift the Clippers into the clear favorite’s role, so I suggest hopping on them while the getting is good.

Wizards at Timberwolves (Friday): For this week’s individual game picks, I recommend riding the high side on Friday when the Wizards visit Minnesota. The Timberwolves won in D.C. 131-109 on Nov. 2 and have scored 120 or more in three of four entering Wednesday’s home game against San Antonio. Washington is one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams but shares the ball and can really fill it up when Bradley Beal has it going. Expect the total to reside in the 230s. OVER

Jazz at Grizzlies (Friday): Mike Conley returns to Memphis with the Jazz on Friday night too and should help key a lopsided win the way Kemba Walker managed to in his return to Charlotte. Lay the points with Utah since Conley and Rudy Gobert are forming better chemistry. JAZZ

Hawks at Lakers (Sunday): The Hawks visit the Lakers for the final game on an NFL Sunday and figure to benefit from an inflated spread. That was the case this past week as L.A. was inexplicably a double-digit favorite against Toronto and lost outright. Atlanta won’t win, but will cover, likely getting at least 13-15 points. HAWKS

Last week: 2-1

Season: 4-2

About the Author

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national sportswriter for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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