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Magic Johnson believes the Clippers are deeper than the Lakers, though he expects his old team to prevail

Magic Johnson believes the Clippers are deeper than the Lakers, though he expects his old team to prevail
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CHICAGO—Almost a year since he abruptly resigned as the head of the Lakers’ front office, Magic Johnson has returned to a familiar role: opining about his former team.

Johnson predicted the Lakers and Clippers will meet in the Western Conference final before the winner takes on the Bucks in the NBA Finals. But which L.A. team does he think will be playing for the Larry O’Brien Trophy?

“If you look at man for man, (the Clippers are) probably better than (the Lakers) in terms of the bench,” Johnson said at a panel discussion in Chicago last week.

“But to Anthony Davis and LeBron James, to me they are going to be the key and they are going to have to dominate in that series. Then we’re going to need that third scorer.”

While the Clippers have mostly relied on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, they have definitive third options in either Lou Williams — the former Raptor who has been the NBA’s sixth man of the year the last two seasons — or Montrezl Harrell. Johnson conceded uncertainty on whether Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, Avery Bradley or anyone else could assume such a role for the Lakers.

In the Lakers’ two regular-season losses to the Clippers,

The Clippers have outplayed the Lakers in the final period of two regular-season wins. The Clippers opened the fourth quarter of their season opener with a 19-7 run. Then on Christmas Day, they overcame a seven-point deficit in the final six minutes.

Still, Johnson contended the Lakers “are playing the best out of anybody.”

The Lakers have played more consistently than the Clippers this season partly because of fewer injuries and lineup changes. The Lakers also believe most of their role players have become the best version of themselves, a credit to Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who earned instant respect with his work ethic and preparation.

Johnson predicted that “LeBron and Anthony will figure it out in the playoffs.” Davis has averaged 26.6 points on 51.9 per cent shooting, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, while James has averaged 25 points on 48.9 per cent shooting, a league-leading 10.8 assists and 7.8 rebounds.

A season after James missed 27 games, mostly due to a groin injury, Johnson argued he is “having an MVP-type season” — partly by emulating the former Lakers guard with more increased point guard duties. That became possible because of Davis, whom the Lakers acquired last summer from New Orleans for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and three first-round picks.

“We have similar ways in terms of coming down and making our teammates together. We’ve won championships the same way,” said Johnson, who won five rings with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. “Our games are much alike, especially now that the ball is in his hands most of the time now as a real, true point guard. I’m just happy for him.”
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