The Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors are the two hottest teams in basketball, with L.A. having won five games in a row and the Warriors six. They face off on Wednesday night with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference during the NBA’s first full-scale Play-In Tournament.
Because the Lakers finished the regular season in seventh place and the Warriors finished in eighth, the two play in the first round of the Play-In Tournament for the No. 7 seed. The loser of Wednesday’s game will face either the Memphis Grizzlies or the San Antonio Spurs in a win-or-go-home game for the No. 8 seed.
For L.A., this is an unexpected way to begin a championship defense as they go for banner No. 18. If they can get past the Warriors and storm to the Finals for a title, they would be the first No. 7 seed ever to do so. However, getting past the Warriors brings its own unique set of challenges.
Almost all of these challenges are presented in the form of Stephen Curry, who has just finished one of the best regular seasons of his entire career. Multiple Lakers players have even endorsed Curry for the Most Valuable Player award this season after he put up averages of 32.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 42.1% from 3-point range.
It is up to some combination of Dennis Schroder, Alex Caruso and potentially Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to slow Curry down long enough for the Lakers to win. Luckily, the Lakers have what feels like their cleanest injury slate of the entire season.
Only LeBron James and Anthony Davis are listed on the injury report at all, signaling a change from the usual report in which 4-5 players are listed as probable. James was given that distinction due to the ankle sprain that has caused him to miss 26 of the Lakers’ final 30 games of the season. Meanwhile, Davis was listed as questionable with a shoulder sprain, although there’s no doubt he’s playing.
The Warriors are without Kelly Oubre Jr. and Damion Lee but should be completely healthy otherwise. And while Curry is the main attraction, he won’t be the only focus for the Lakers defense.
Andrew Wiggins averaged 18.6 points on a career-best 47.7% from the field. He’s the area of concern for James, Wesley Matthews and other wing players. Meanwhile, the focus of the big men — Davis and Andre Drummond — are centered around Draymond Green and rim protection.
Davis’ job, in particular, is to provide the guards with a second line of defense against Curry so that players like Schroder and Caruso can get to the wings to guard open shooters when Curry tries to drive to the basket.
It’s no secret that James and Curry have a rivalry after squaring off in the NBA Finals four straight times. Now that they are meeting in a one-game scenario, this could be one of the most highly anticipated games of the entire postseason, and a win would be the perfect way to kick things off for L.A.
That would set them up with a first-round series against the Phoenix Suns, which is a much preferable matchup to the top-seeded Utah Jazz.
Lakers (0-0) vs. Warriors (0-0)
7:00 p.m. PT, May 19, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: LeBron James
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Andre Drummond
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Talen Horton-Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, Markieff Morris
Projected Warriors Starting Lineup:
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Kent Bazemore
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Draymond Green
C: Kevon Looney
Key Reserves: Juan Toscano-Anderson, Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Mychal Mulder
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