As of Sunday, the Western Conference semifinals are finally set: The Los Angeles Lakers will head to the Bay Area to face the Golden State Warriors in a series that NBA commissioner Adam Silver has to be salivating to see the ratings on. LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry in the postseason one more time. The defending champs vs. the team with as many championships as any team in league history. A real, meaningful playoff series between the two most relevant franchises of the last two decades.
We’ll continue to write plenty to preview this series here at Silver Screen and Roll, as well as (obviously) analyzing it a ton as it moves along. But while just about everyone reading this is probably fairly familiar with the dynastic trio of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson — given that they’ve won four of the last eight NBA championships — to get to know this weird iteration of the roster that seemed incapable of winning road games until pulling off a pivotal Game 7 victory in Sacramento over the weekend, I wanted to get the opposing perspective from my colleague Brady Klopfer of Golden State of Mind.
Brady has been running GSoM since 2020, and was a writer there for years before that, and it’s safe to say he knows this organization as well as anyone. So I decided to hit him up with five questions to give Lakers fans some insight on their opponents from the opposing side of the series.
Normally this is where I’d ask who the Lakers should be most afraid of in this series, but I think it’s pretty clearly Steph. So unless you disagree, other than him, who should Laker fans probably fear most as a swing player in this matchup?
Brady: One of the greatest strengths of the Warriors is that they have a deep cast of players who can be a star on any given day or in any given series. They’ve surrounded Curry with future Hall of Famers in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, yet Kevon Looney was their second-best player in the first round against the Sacramento Kings. And Andrew Wiggins was their second-best player in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics last season.
Truthfully, any of those players — or even Jordan Poole or Gary Payton II — could end up being the swing player in this series. But I strongly lean towards Green. He’s a self-professed player who only turns it on when it matters, which can be frustrating and often sounds like an excuse. But his play in the first round made it clear he’s being honest. Green is playing the best basketball of his season on both ends of the court, by far. His playmaking is often what unlocks the hot streaks for Curry and Thompson, but it’s his defense that could be the X-factor in this series. I would argue that Green is one of the three best players in the league at defending Anthony Davis and at defending LeBron James. If Looney is struggling with AD, Green will take over. If Wiggins is struggling with LeBron, then Green will take over. And if those two are handling their assignments, then Green will probably stick with what I assume will be his opening assignment, and play a rover role while being matched up with Jarred Vanderbilt.
What do you think is the Warriors’ biggest advantage in this matchup that people may not realize?
Brady: One thing that has gone a little under-appreciated since Steve Kerr took over is how much the Warriors have been trendsetters when it comes to encouraging opponents to take bad shots. Lakers fans are obviously all too familiar with how most of the NBA defends Russell Westbrook, but that wasn’t always the norm … or at least not at the extreme that we sometimes see it these days. But if you go back to the Warriors’ first playoff run in 2015, you’ll see much of its origins. After dispatching AD’s New Orleans Pelicans in a first-round sweep (sorry, cheap shot), the Warriors faced the Memphis Grizzlies and notoriously chose not to defend Tony Allen at all. It worked.
That defensive philosophy has been en vogue since, but the Warriors still do it better than anyone. They’ll light candles and lay roses around the three-point line for Anthony Davis. They might even encourage LeBron James and Dennis Schröder to take some threes. And they’ll for sure make it enticing for D’Angelo Russell to take low-percentage shots. And even if the Lakers are disciplined and don’t oblige, the Warriors’ defense will be in a better position by not guarding the spots of the floor that don’t need to be defended.
Honorary mention: the Warriors employed Russell for more than half a season, and were not super impressed. He’s improved as a player since then, but Golden State knows his weaknesses rather intimately.
As a Warriors fan who knows this team’s weaknesses, which Laker scares you most? Like if L.A. wins this round, what do you think leads to that?
Brady: I’ve written novels for the first two answers, so I’ll keep this one short. The answer is LeBron James. I am not one of the Warriors fans who dismisses LeBron’s greatness or even acknowledges it begrudgingly. I think he’s clearly a top-two all-time player with as good a case for No. 1 as for No. 2. I think he’s a tremendous ambassador for the game. I adore watching him and feel lucky that I get to do so.
I’m also a firm believer that when it comes to the playoffs, the single biggest advantage a team can have — by far — is having the best player. If I had to rank all the players in this series, I’m putting Curry at No. 1 without thinking twice. But does that mean that Curry will be the best player for the next four-to-seven games? Not necessarily. LeBron has so much greatness in him and, even with his odometer being where it is, he has so much greatness ahead of him. It is well within the realm of possibilities that LeBron is not just the best player during this series, but the best by a comfortable margin. And that would be bad news for the Warriors.
Does the fact that the Warriors are up 3-1 all-time in playoff series vs. LeBron concern you at all?
Brady: You know what? Screw you, Harrison, I quit.
Honestly, yes, it does concern me.
Which Lakers player do you think Draymond is most likely to attempt to punch in the dick?
Brady: Dennis Schröder. 100% Dennis Schröder. I can’t even explain why, but it is absolutely Dennis Schröder, albeit only because Patrick Beverley isn’t on the team anymore.
But don’t be surprised if he gets into it with D’Angelo Russell.
Now I gotta put you on the spot: What is your prediction for this series?
Brady: I like this matchup for the Warriors. The Lakers have two superstars to the Warriors’ one, but I think it’s still a favorable matchup, in part because the Warriors have some of the best defenders in the league against the Lakers’ superstars, whereas the Lakers really have no one who can defend Curry.
But LeBron is LeBron, and that’s scary. And AD is… look, he’s no Domantas Sabonis, and I mean that as a compliment. Plus, Los Angeles is substantially more rested than Golden State. So while I think the Warriors should win semi-comfortably, I’m going to say it’s anything but comfortable. I predict a few historic performances from players on both sides, and some of the best games we’ll see all playoffs.
Warriors in seven.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen, and Brady over at @BradyKlopferNBA. And to check out this series from the opposing perspective, make sure you check in at Golden State of Mind (if you head to the comments section, please represent Silver Screen and Roll well and be respectful).