Lakers vs. Warriors. Southern California vs. North California. LeBron James vs. Steph Curry. Is there a playoff series right now that can top this? Probably not. What’s for sure though is that these two organizations waited 32 years for this moment to happen again. Arguably the two most popular franchises in basketball — representing the 6th and 7th seed of the Western Conference — will go at it to determine who advances to the Conference Finals.
The irony about this matchup is that at the beginning of the season, it was fair to say that a second-round best-of-seven series between these two teams was unexpected. The Lakers, who began their season with an atrocious record of 2-10, weren’t expected to be here (#WeBelieve), while nobody predicted that the defending champions would settle for the 6th seed in the Western Conference.
But here we are.
It’s going to be a series that will showcase generational talents, tough defense, a tactical chess match between two coaches (one who’s proven and one who’s not), and a clash of playing styles.
We saw that in the regular season when the Lakers defeated the Warriors three out of four times. However, in all those four matches, there were key factors (injuries to superstars and the Lakers’ pre-trade deadline roster) that won’t matter now. This is an entirely new series of games between two teams fighting for pride and their legacies.
For the Lakers to win, they need to replicate the path they took against the Memphis Grizzlies in round one — steal home-court advantage and win all games at home. That starts by drawing first blood in Game 1 at Chase Center — where they will be hosted by a Warriors team, who are coming off a day of rest, after just wrapping up a seven-game series against the Sacramento Kings.
While Game 1’s are normally considered as feel-out games, the Lakers should still find a way to pounce on the Warriors early and make the most out of their advantages. That said, here are three burning questions to look out for as the Lakers and Warriors commence one the most anticipated second-round series in NBA Playoffs history:
Can the Lakers' defense shine in this series?
After defeating the Grizzlies in six games, the Lakers have recorded the best defensive rating (102.8) in the Western Conference thus far. That’s not a surprise knowing that this team had the league’s third-best defense in the regular season after the trade deadline. A lot of the Lakers’ defensive success is due to Anthony Davis’ brilliance and Jared Vanderbilt, who both have anchored the team on this side of the floor.
Now the question is, will the Lakers be able to keep this up against a generational and pristine Warriors offense that no team in the last decade has really figured out? Unlike the Grizzlies’ mediocre half-court offense, the Lakers’ defense will be tested this time with a lot of screen coverages, handoffs, cuts to the basket and of course shooters all over the perimeter. It’s going to be fascinating to see how Darvin Ham mixes up his defensive coverages.
Can the Lakers win the transition and rebounding battle?
The Lakers’ biggest advantage against the Warriors in this series will be their ability to get out in transition. The Warriors turned the ball over the most in the regular season (21.4) and that could fuel the Lakers’ fast break points, which ranked second-best in the league.
Another factor to look out for is which team wins the rebounding battle. Warriors’ big man Kevon Looney has built a reputation as a dominant rebounder over the past couple of seasons alongside Draymond Green who will be taking charge of their frontcourt. Meanwhile, the Lakers have been the best rebounding team in the Playoffs and have done a really good job capitalizing on that. Another advantage the Lakers have is their ability to draw and commit fewer fouls compared to the Warriors.
Can LeBron James and Anthony Davis keep up with Steph Curry?
There is no player that’s scarier to go up against in a playoff series right now than Steph Curry. He’s practically unguardable. The most the Lakers can do is attempt to contain him and wear him out, which they can do a better job at than the Kings did. It will interesting to see how the team decides to cover Curry in Game 1. Will they stick Vanderbilt on Curry? Will they play aggressive high-drop coverage? Will they switch screens?
Better yet, one solution the Lakers can do is match Curry’s production with their own, and that will depend on James and Davis. The duo didn't have to dominate offensively in every game against the Grizzlies as the Lakers’ depth stood out. But in this series, James and Davis will have to be at the top of their game along with their role player if they want to advance to the next round. Ironically, the key for the Lakers to win is through strength in numbers.
We’ll see if LeBron, AD and co. can draw first blood in Golden State and start off the series on an impressive note on Tuesday.
Notes and updates
- For the Lakers injury report, the team listed Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury), LeBron James (right foot soreness) and Dennis Schroder (right Achilles soreness) as probable. Meanwhile, Mo Bamba (left ankle soreness) is questionable.
- As for the Warriors, only Patrick Baldwin Jr. (toe soreness) is listed questionable.
- For news around the league, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported on Monday that Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid underwent platelet-rich plasma treatment on his injured knee. His status against the Boston Celtics remains doubtful.
The Lakers and Warriors will tip off at 7 p.m. PT. on Tuesday The game will be televised nationally on TNT.
You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.