LeBron James and Steph Curry are two of the biggest superstars in the NBA still to this day. Both have enjoyed plentiful success at the professional level and both have clashed several times on the sport’s biggest stage, the NBA Finals. With LeBron now in the Western Conference, a Finals rematch is not in the cards, but that does not mean this rivalry is anywhere near finished.
With the NBA playoff play-in upon us, NBA fans across the world get the pleasure to watch this rivalry be renewed. This time in a winner-take-all-style matchup to earn the right to play the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. But first, let’s find out how two of the biggest stars found themselves battling for the final spots in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Lakers’ health is a major concern
The NBA’s defending champions were off to a great start before injury after an injury derailed their momentum. LeBron and Anthony Davis headlined the Lakers’ injury woes. Newly acquired PG Dennis Schroder has also missed significant time along with many other Lakers. The LeBron and AD injuries have been the most costly, however, as most of us expected.
AD has a history of lingering injuries, and this season was no different. The Lakers All-Star big-man missed half of the teams’ games this year, appearing in only 36 contests. The Lakers did, however, finish above .500 in games AD missed finishing at 19-17.
The Lakers’ fortune was not the same in games LeBron missed this season. LeBron missed significant time for the second time in his short tenure since becoming a Laker. This season LeBron missed 27 games, and his missing presence was glaringly obvious. The Lakers did their best minus their leader to keep the boat afloat, but waters were choppy and they stumbled to a 12-15 record without James.
The biggest void to fill was LeBron’s impeccable facilitating ability when it comes to making their offense tick. The Lakers regressed heavily offensively during LeBron’s absence and left critics with ammunition. Without James on the floor, the Lakers are far from title contenders, specifically because of the team’s offensive woes.
With AD and LeBron back and seemingly injury-free, the Lakers are the greatest #7 seed in NBA history. It almost makes you feel bad for the Phoenix Suns and what they were able to accomplish this season solidifying the #2 seed out West. What a reward to potentially be playing the defending champs in the first round of the playoffs, am I right? The Lakers are fully healthy right at the right time and look poised to make another strong title run this season.
One-man show in the Bay
Steph Curry has had to shoulder quite the load this season for the Golden State Warriors. Without Steph’s MVP caliber season the Warriors do not even sniff the playoffs this year. Curry is a superstar, however, and that is what true superstars do. They shoulder the load and lead their teams to victory even when everyone else counts them out. With Curry’s Splash Brother, Klay Thompson sidelined for the second consecutive season, many began to question Curry.
Many were ready to write Curry off as the greatest “Robin” ever, saying he cannot be the “guy” to single handily lead a team to a title run. A lot of this speculation stems from the Warrior dynasty days after Golden State paired Steph with Kevin Durant.
Steph, over the second half of this year’s regular season, has put those arguments to rest. Without his running mate Klay Thompson, Steph has been absolutely electric all season, surpassing feats on a nightly basis, all but Klay’s elusive 3-pt record for a single game (14). GSW Head Coach Steve Kerr assured media members recently that he foresees Steph breaking that record here very shortly.
With the way Steph is shooting, it is possible any night. Curry secured his second scoring title this year, finishing the year averaging 32 points per contest. Steph also led the NBA at 3PM by a landslide. Curry connected on 337 3’s this season, the next closest being Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (282), and he played in 8 more games than Curry.
Steph did this all at an efficient rate as well. Averaging an absurd 12.7 3PA per game the All-NBA point guard shot 42.1% from deep. I expect to see Steph at his best again on Wednesday.
Lakers secure the #7 seed in what will be an instant classic play-in game
Wednesday night, have your popcorn ready. James and Curry will tip off what will be their fifth playoff meeting in the last seven years; the first playoff meeting that is not in the NBA Finals. One game, winner take all. The atmosphere will be electric. Both teams desperately fighting to avoid the second and final play-in game.
I expect this game to be nothing short of a nail-biter for the first 40-44 minutes. James and Curry will both have their offenses firing on all cylinders and expect a slugfest out the gates. The defensive side of the ball and AD will be the ultimate difference makers. Defensively the Lakers are much better as a unit and will look to smoother Curry with pesky Alex Caruso and Dennis Schroder. Expect these two guards to be splitting the defensive duties of attempting to slow Curry down.
Ultimately, Anthony Davis is the X-factor. Defensively, the Warriors have no one that can consistently slow down the offensive firepower of the Lakers big man. I expect the Lakers to look to get AD going early offensively and return to him on that end of the floor often. James and Davis have quite the playoff resume individually, and in their only season together, they did in fact win it all.
I expect to see James and Davis remind the NBA they are the best duo when fully healthy, and the Lakers secure the #7 seed with their victory over the Warriors.