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Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers for Game One of the Western Conference semifinals Tuesday night.
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The Warriors vs. Lakers series is headlined by the individual matchup between two all-time greats, LeBron and Curry. They have already met in the NBA Finals four times (Curry holds a 3-1 advantage) and a run-in in the play-in tournament in 2021, which the Lakers won by three points.
LA native Klay Thompson also shared how much the upcoming showdown meant to him following the Warriors’ win over the Sacramento Kings in Game Seven, saying that he had been waiting to face the Lakers in the playoffs for his entire career.
The Lakers went 3-0 against the Warriors in the back half of the regular season and ever since they acquired D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, and others and lost Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley via trade. LA also has the best record in the NBA since the All-Star break and the second-best net rating in the playoffs.
The Warriors were more of a sleeping giant. Despite winning the Finals last season, they only went 2-20 on the road against teams .500 or better and were stuck at .500 for the majority of the regular season. That’s part of what made their round-one win, which included two road victories, all the more impressive.
Golden State wants to push the ball and deal a majority of its damage from the perimeter. The Lakers don’t mind getting out to run either but will also slow it down to play in the half-court and use their overwhelming defense to submit their opponents.
Curry leads the Warriors in postseason scoring by more than 13 points (33.7 per game)—Thompson is the next-closest at 20.6 per game. Kevon Looney has also shockingly stepped up as the second-most influential player on Golden State’s playoff roster with a Dennis Rodman-esque stat line of 6.9 points, 15.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game.
As impressive as the Warriors were in moments, it was mostly on the back of Curry’s individual brilliance. Players such as Jordan Poole, who is playing fewer minutes per game than he did last year despite a $130 million contract extension, and Donte DiVincenzo are proving totally ineffective and finding their way down the pecking order.
Golden State is not a young team but is going to have to run around to tire out the old legs of the Lakers stars, namely LeBron and Anthony Davis, and also keep them off balance. LA’s one defensive weakness is on the perimeter, which is where this team shines.
In one of the more baffling revelations of the first round, LeBron did not lead the Lakers in scoring in any of their four wins in a six-game series against the Memphis Grizzlies. He still led them in scoring but was only at 22.2 points per night, way below his season and career averages, and shot a dreadful 19.5% from three-point territory.
LeBron’s ineffective offense was not enough to slow down the Lakers, however, who closed the Grizzlies out with a dominant 125-85 win on their home court. They also held Memphis to just nine points in the first quarter of Game Four and have shown that they can win an entire series on the strength of their defense alone. Lots of that credit goes to Davis, who averaged 20.8 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 4.3 blocks against Memphis.
The Lakers will struggle on days when the Warriors have their three-point shot, which is most nights. They shot just 31% from beyond the arc against Memphis and do not have the offensive ceiling Golden State does, which limits their win condition.
The Lakers have the upper hand in Game One for several reasons, one of the most glaring being that they had two days extra rest and also did not have to spend the emotional energy the Warriors did in a road-Game Seven. Golden State is also only going to get so many 50-point explosions from Curry.
LA also performed well against Golden State in the regular season, winning the three games with its new roster by an average of nine points, and has second-level metrics like net rating on its side. Cautious bettors can opt for the Lakers’ spread, but the strongest play with the best value is the Lakers’ moneyline.
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