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5 things to watch in Los Angeles Lakers-Golden State Warriors playoff series

EL SEGUNDO, Calif.  – The matchup will surely make NBA fans, television executives and the players themselves salivate.

After overlapping with various NBA title runs within the past two decades, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors will face off in the playoffs for the first time in 32 years. LeBron James will square off against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green just as he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers in four consecutive NBA Finals matchups (2015-2018). And the series itself could build a budding rivalry between Northern and Southern California.

Once the Lakers and Warriors play Game 1 on Tuesday in San Francisco (10 pm ET, TNT) perhaps more storylines will emerge.

“I don’t take these moments for granted, playing against some of the best basketball players ever to play the game,” James said. “It should be extremely fun.”

It sure should be. Below are five developments to watch that will likely make this matchup very entertaining.

How will Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry top himself?

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By this point, the Warriors never feel surprised with anything he has done. Curry has already won four NBA titles and became the NBA’s all-time leading 3-point scorer. Still, the Warriors became amazed when Curry scored a postseason career-high 50 points in the Warriors’ Game 7 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. That marked the first time any NBA player posted at least 50 points in a Game 7.

“This is one of the greatest players in the history of the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters afterwards.

Even at 35 years old, it doesn’t appear Curry will slow down. In the Warriors’ first-round series against the Kings, Curry averaged 33.7 points while shooting 48.8% from the field and 37.8% from deep along with 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

“He can make any shot, every shot known to mankind,” Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “You can’t get discouraged. You just have to keep giving him multiple efforts and keep competing.”

Therefore, the Lakers won’t evaluate their success with defending Curry on how many points he scores. That seems inevitable. They will evaluate their success in different areas. Did Curry shoot inefficiently? Did he have to max out on his conditioning level just to get open looks? Did Curry complement a well-balanced offense, or did he have to carry the team?

The Lakers don’t have any elite defenders necessarily to defend Curry. But they plan to throw multiple bodies, including Jarred Vanderbilt, Austin Reaves, Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell to wear him out. With the Lakers  ranking second in total defensive rating since the trade deadline (110.8), expect the Lakers to try to funnel Curry to the basket both to keep him off the 3-point line and use Anthony Davis as a rim protector.

“I don’t know if you do stop him. I think you just have to make it as difficult as possible,” Ham said. “Multiple efforts, being aware where he is at all times on the floor. Once he gives the ball up, that’s where he really starts. He’s great in all facets of offense.”

Related: Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry outdoes himself with epic 50-point performance

How much can LeBron James carry the Los Angeles Lakers?

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Throughout the Lakers’ first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, James showed two dueling identities. Sometimes, James delayed Father Time from slowing down his 38-year-old body in his 20th NBA season. Sometimes, Father Time stood in James’ way when he pulled up from deep, attacked the basket or received treatment in the trainer’s room.

After an efficient Game 1 (21 points on 8-for-16 shooting), James had a similar stat line in Game 2 (28 points on 12-for-23) with a significant caveat. After shooting decently from deep (3-for-8) while committing five turnovers in Game 1, James improved his ball handling (one turnover) while struggling from the perimeter (1-of-8).

After grinding through with 22 points and a career-high 20 rebounds through 45 minutes in a Game 4 overtime win, James looked exhausted in Game 5 with 15 points on 5-for-17 shooting and five turnovers.

What version will James show against Golden State? With the Lakers eliminating Memphis on Friday, the Lakers’ star sounded bullish about his energy level.

“Not pounding on the floor and bumping up against guys for 48 minutes or whatever the case may be, that definitely helps a little bit in recovery,” LeBron James said. “I was extremely happy after we won, well, when I found out that Golden State forced a Game 7, that allowed us to stay home for a couple more days, sleep in our own beds, things of that nature. That helps.”

James also argued it will help the Lakers will stay in the same state and same time zone during this playoff series. Nonetheless, the Lakers will play every other day, leaving James with less recovery time. That could influence how much James remains capable of carrying a heavy workload.

Regardless, the Lakers will benefit with James’ presence both with his skills and strong familiarity with Golden State.

“Bron’s obviously played against their core many times in Finals and regular season,” Reaves said. “He’s always locked in and preparing us for what we need to know.”

Related: Los Angeles Lakers have greater ambitions than second-round NBA playoff appearance

What version of Anthony Davis will show up?

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Despite James’ importance with his experience, leadership and versatility, the Lakers have often said that their success mostly hinge on how healthy and effective Davis plays.

That could make the Lakers feel equally comfortable and concerned entering their playoff series against the Warriors.

Consider the difference that Davis showed in his play against the Warriors on Feb. 26, 2023 (12 points on 3-for-5 shooting, 12 rebounds) and March 5, 2023 (39 points on 14-for-25 shooting, eight rebounds). Those two regular-season matchups are most relevant to this series for two reasons. The Lakers played those games with their current roster following the trade deadline. It also captures Davis’ inconsistency.  

“Anthony is always at his best,” Ham said, “when he’s assertive and aggressive continuously.”

Meanwhile, the Warriors have plenty of personnel to reduce his assertiveness and aggressiveness. When he’s not guarding James, Green will surely size up Davis and try to play physically with him. So will Warriors center Kevon Looney, whom Kerr has called “one of the best centers in the league.”

It doesn’t matter necessarily how many points Davis scores or shots he attempts. The Lakers mostly value Davis for his defensive presence, which has played a large factor in the Lakers’ excelling defensively since the trade deadline. But Davis’ aggressiveness level has affected both his offensive game as well as open looks for other teammates. Lately, the Lakers observed that Davis has handled adversity much better than earlier in the season.

“The best teacher in life is experience and AD is his toughest critic,” James said. “For me, being there just to be his support system, both on the floor, but more than that, off the floor as well.”

What about the Golden State Warriors’ supporting cast?

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Beyond relying on their superior talent, the Warriors won four NBA titles partly because of their “Strength in Numbers” identity filled with role players equipped to fulfill positional needs and make timely shots despite erratic playing time. This season, the Warriors haven’t exactly shown that depth consistently.

Stay up-to-date with the latest Golden State Warriors playoff news – click here for all the updates!

Klay Thompson has peaked up and down with his shooting accuracy. Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins has fought rust following a 22-game absence to attend a personal issue. Warriors fourth-year guard Jordan Poole has played erratically on both ends of the floor. Warriors trusted veteran Andre Iguodala has mostly stayed hurt all season. Warriors second-year forward Jonathan Kuminga has intrigued the team with his athleticism and positional versatility. He has also frustrated the team with his decision making.

That has left most of the offensive burden on Curry and the defensive responsibility on Draymond Green. Kevon Looney has become the lone exception with offering consistent rebounding and defense. But on a game-to-game basis, the Warriors don’t exactly know what they’ll get from Thompson, Wiggins, Poole, Kuminga, among others, on a nightly basis. To beat the Lakers, the Warriors will need Thompson and Wiggins to play to their All-Star capabilities or patch work enough together from all of their role players.

Will the Los Angeles Lakers have enough depth against the Warriors?

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Ham conceded that the Lakers aren’t talented enough to have a definitive No. 3 guy behind James and Davis. But with the Lakers offering a by-committee approach with various role players, he argued it’s “a great problem to have.”

“We obviously know it’s our two captains Bron and AD, and they’re going to do what we need to do. We fly as high as they allow us to, but the extra fuel that allows us to maintain a certain altitude are our rotation players and other guys,” Ham said. “They’ve all been great. I wouldn’t signal anyone out. They all have their moments.”

Those moments have been good and bad.

In their Game 1 win over Memphis, the Lakers featured Rui Hachimura (29 points on 11-for-14 shooting), Reaves (23 points on 8-for-13) and Russell (19 points on 7-for-17) all shooting efficiently.

In a Game 2 loss, Reaves (5-for-12) and Russell (2-for-11) regressed. In a Game 3 win, Hachimura (6-for-10) and Reaves shot well (5-for-10), but Russell did not (5-for-14). Reaves (7-for-16) and Russell (7-for-15) rebounded in a Game 4, but Hachimura went only 2-for-9.

In a Game 5 loss, Russell (4-for-11) and Reaves (4-for-13) struggled again. Russell (12-for-17) bounced back in a Game 6 win, while Reaves still labored (5-for-12).

“It’s all about playing good basketball,” Reaves said. If we go out and play a good brand of basketball, make the extra pass, get good looks, especially in the first half, then later in the game, third, fourth quarter, they’ll do what they do. But it’s all about how we attack the game and trust one another.”

Stay up-to-date with the latest Los Angeles Lakers playoff news – click here for all the updates!

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