It’s The King vs. the Splash Brothers in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
The Western Conference semifinals kick off on Tuesday in a highly anticipated matchup of familiar faces, but not necessarily familiar foes.
The Los Angeles Lakers will meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven series to determine who will go home, and whose championship dreams will live on. It’s the first time the two historic franchises have met in the playoffs since 1991, when Magic Johnson and James Worthy defeated the “Run TMC” Warriors of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin.
The new-look teams are just as star-studded and even more decorated than their predecessors. The Warriors, led by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, have won four NBA championships together.
The Lakers, led by LeBron James, arguably the greatest player of all-time, also has four championships with three different teams, including one over the very same Warriors.
James, then with the Cavaliers, played the Warriors in the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons from 2015-2018. Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit and defeated Golden State to win their first ever title in 2016.
“It is special to know the first series we played him in Cleveland in the ’14-15 to now, we’re blessed to be playing at this level,” Curry said. “Excited about a new chapter, two teams trying to keep their season alive and chase a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Lakers and Warriors have won two of the last three championships overall, with Los Angeles winning in “the bubble” in 2020, and Golden State taking home the title last summer in 2022.
“Just two of the most competitive players that have ever played this game,” James said about he and Curry on Monday. “We want to etch our name in the history books as much as we can, and we’re playing our own way. I’ve got nothing but the greatest admiration and respect for Steph.”
This second-round matchup is a little unorthodox. The Warriors will have home-court advantage in the series as the sixth seed in the Western Conference, over the seven-seed Lakers. It is only the second time in NBA Playoff history a six-seed has hosted a seven-seed in the second round. The first time happened in 1987 when the sixth-seeded Houston Rockets hosted the No. 7 Seattle SuperSonics. The SuperSonics won that series and became the first seven-seed in history to advance to the Western Conference Finals. They would eventually go on to lose to the Lakers.
For the Lakers to join the SuperSonics in the history books, they will need to contain Steph Curry. Curry is coming off of a record-breaking performance in the Warriors Game 7 victory over the Sacramento Kings in which he scored 50 points.
Curry is having another MVP-caliber season, averaging 25.7 points per game, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. He is also shooting over 42 percent from three-point range.
His fellow splash brother, Klay Thompson, is also having a tremendous season after two serious injuries have kept him off the court the last few years. Thompson is averaging 20.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, while also shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Thompson grew up a Lakers’ fan, as his father Mychal played for Los Angeles from 1986-91. The older Thompson is currently the Lakers color commentator on ESPN Radio. Klay says he’s been waiting for this matchup in the playoffs for over 12 years.
“It’s special, we’ve played LeBron in the finals four times, one of the greatest to ever play,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but we’re all excited to play the Lakers. It’s a legendary franchise. Warriors-Lakers, it’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other in the playoffs. I know I’m personally excited to play in front of my father and my mother and some of my best friends and go down to SoCal after our homestand. It’s just a dream come true. I’ve waited for this for 12 years.”
In addition to the Splash Brothers, the Lakers will also have to put a lot of offensive pressure on former Defensive Player of the Year Award winner Draymond Green. Green is the heart and soul of the Warriors, an agitator, and a shutdown defender.
“No. 1 you’re talking about some of the ultimate competitors, LeBron is one of the ultimate competitors, Steph, Klay, myself, (Kevon Looney), ultimate competitors,” Green said. “To have these opportunities we don’t take for granted. Who you are as a professional will show during these times. Here we are eight years later from the first time we met in a playoff series and still playing at that level. That’s special. It says a lot about who you are as a pro.”
But the Warriors don’t just have Curry, Thompson, and Green like they did in those four straight Finals runs. They have a new supporting cast that includes Kevin Looney, a rebounding machine, Jordan Poole, a lights out shooter, and Andrew Wiggins, a long defender and three-point assassin.
The Warriors are a well-balanced, shooting machine. They are the opposite of the Lakers first-round opponent the Memphis Grizzlies in the sense they won’t be scoring as much in the paint. The Warriors are a jump-shooting team that lives and dies by the three. They also have championship pedigree, and are great defensively. They open the series with -165 odds to defeat the Lakers and advance to the WCF.
“It’s completely the opposite (from Memphis),” said Lakers’ forward Austin Reaves. “They shoot 3s everywhere, honestly. So it’s a mindset shift, but we’ll lock in and figure it out.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers look a lot different since their Opening Night loss to the Warriors last October. They are still led by the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but their supporting cast is vastly different than it was seven months ago.
Gone are veterans like Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverly, and Kendrick Nunn. Heck, even former Warriors’ guard Juan Toscano-Anderson is no longer on the team.
In their place is another former Warriors’ guard in D’Angelo Russell, a lengthy rebounder and wing defender in Jarred Vanderbilt, athletic forward Rui Hachimura, and three-point shooter Malik Beasley. The Lakers also have a lot more depth, size, athleticism, and shooting around James and Davis, that they didn’t have earlier in the year.
Austin Reaves has been more of a focal point in the Lakers offense and is coming off of a great series in round one. The Lakers also have speedster Dennis Schröder off the bench, and added backup center Mo Bamba at the trade deadline.
The Lakers may be the underdogs, like they were against the Grizzlies, but since the All-Star Break they’ve been the best defensive team in the NBA, and they showed why against Memphis. If they can lock down Curry and Thompson, the Warriors will be in for a long series.
For the Lakers to win, they will need Anthony Davis to dominate once again. When healthy, Davis is a top-5 player in the NBA, and blocked a whopping 26 shots in the first-round against the Grizzlies. If he can repeat that performance on both ends of the floor again this round, Los Angeles can upset the champs.
Game 1 will tipoff at the Chase Center in San Francisco at 7PM PST.
Source: NBC Los Angeles
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