The Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors will face off in the postseason for the 36th time in NBA history on Wednesday. However, unlike any of their previous playoff matchups, Wednesday’s game will be for the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, not for a spot in the next round.
In preparation for Wednesday’s game, I gave Brady Klopfer of Golden State of Mind — SB Nation’s Warriors website — a few questions to answer about the team he covers and how they matchup with the Lakers. Enjoy!
Where is your confidence level going into Wednesday’s game?
Brady: About as confident as possible, given that the Warriors are playing the defending champions. I think it’s safe to say this is not the play-in game anyone predicted when the season started.
But setting aside their opponent, the Warriors are entering the postseason at the best possible time. For the first time all season they’ve started to gel, and finally look like a team that can make playoff noise. They enter the play-in game with a season-best six-game winning streak, with eight wins in their last nine games, and 15 wins in their last 20.
Per Cleaning The Glass, they have the best net record in the league in May, and the ninth-best since the start of April. This is the best they’ve played all year, and about the best they’re capable of playing given their roster limitations.
So yeah. Confident in the Warriors, in a vacuum. Less confident in the Warriors given the whole ... you know ... Lakers thing.
Would you feel more or less confident in a seven-game series?
Brady: Definitely less. I’m avoiding the boring answer, which would be to say “more” because of the chance that the Lakers would get injured.
The Warriors are clicking but there’s no need to get cute with things. The Lakers, assuming health — admittedly a big assumption — are not the seventh-best team in the West, or anything approximating that. They’re a team with legitimate title aspirations, while the Warriors are a team gunning to make the playoffs and win a few games once they get there. All else being equal, that would show itself over seven games.
Where can the game be won for your team?
Brady: You can claim that LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma were just buttering Steph Curry up when they said that the Warriors star is the MVP of the season. But I think it points to something more meaningful: they view him as the most dangerous player in the league to face.
There are few players in the NBA right now — or in NBA history — who have a decent chance of outplaying James on any given night. Curry is one of the few. The single biggest thing that would help the Warriors is if Curry is the best of the three MVP-caliber players who will be on the court.
Is that the obvious answer? Yeah. And the Warriors have proven they can can win democratically, such as when they beat the Phoenix Suns recently on a night where Curry shot just 1-for-11 from deep. But Curry hit the 40-point mark 11 times this season, and Golden State won nine of those games.
Where can it be lost?
Brady: The Warriors don’t have anyone as big as Anthony Davis, let alone Andre Drummond. They finished the season 30th in offensive rebounding percentage, and 22nd in defensive rebound, per Cleaning The Glass.
While Steph Curry might be the biggest reason the Warriors can win, their ability to go small, push the ball, and hunt mismatches is a close second. If they allow the Lakers’ size to dictate the tempo, and keep them from playing their game, it could be a long and ugly night.
Who’s the biggest X-Factor for your team?
Brady: Draymond Green. At his best, Green is the best defender in the game. Most importantly, he’s one of the only defenders in the league who is equally comfortable guarding LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
On top of that, he’s the Warriors best facilitator, and averaged 8.9 assists per game. He’ll try and push the ball in transition and speed up the tempo of the game, while trying to contain two of the best players in the league.
What do you think the outcome of the game will be?
Brady: At the time of writing this, LeBron James is listed as probable and Anthony Davis as questionable. If one of those two is out, I’m picking the Warriors. But assuming they both play, I think the Lakers win a fairly close game.
Don’t get me wrong — the Warriors can absolutely win this game. I would not be shocked in the slightest if they emerged with the W. But when both teams are at their best, it’s advantage LA, and the Lakers are at home. And the Warriors may have three rings at James’ expense, but it’s still going to take a lot for me to bet against him in the playoffs.