NBA playoffs: LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry revive postseason rivalry in Lakers-Warriors matchup

No. 6 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

Game 1: Lakers at Warriors, 10 p.m. ET Tuesday (TNT)
Game 2: Lakers at Warriors, 9 p.m. ET Thursday (ESPN)
Game 3: Warriors at Lakers, 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday (ABC)
Game 4: Warriors at Lakers, 10 p.m. ET May 8 (TNT)
*Game 5: Lakers at Warriors, May 10 (TNT)
*Game 6: Warriors at Lakers, May 12 (ESPN)
*Game 7: Lakers at Warriors, May 14
* if necessary

BetMGM series odds: No. 6 Warriors -160, No. 7 Lakers +130

The Western Conference’s sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors and seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers meet in the second round of the 2023 NBA playoffs. The Lakers won the regular season series 3-1.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry will face off in the postseason yet again in a highly anticipated matchup. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry will face off in the postseason yet again in a highly anticipated matchup. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

3 keys to the series

What can and what will the Lakers do with Stephen Curry?

Pray to the almighty or whatever higher power they serve because it might be tough sledding for the Lakers. It’ll be a tougher adjustment coming into this series — honestly for both teams, but maybe the Lakers more than Golden State. Putting D’Angelo Russell on Stephen Curry feels like a recipe for disaster. All those screens and off-ball actions are bound to confuse good perimeter defenders, let alone someone not as inclined as Russell. Russell’s best defense against Curry could be his offense, perhaps making him work on the other end and hoping to drain him a bit.

The strength in the Lakers defense is on the interior with Anthony Davis, and although he didn’t have to play up to the level of ball screens against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, he’s capable of doing so and negotiating the space with Curry.

And he’ll be waiting at the rim on Curry drives. It won’t be the layup drill Curry put on in Game 6 where he was pulling his best Harlem Globetrotters act against a thin Kings interior. Golden State will try to do things to get Davis out of the paint, but it’ll be a cat-and-mouse game from the onset.

But Curry may not require ball screens from bigs to get going. It seems like a certainty Russell will only spend so much time on Curry. He plays about 30 minutes a night, which means Dennis Schröder and Austin Reaves will likely spend a decent amount of time shadowing Curry. During earlier Steph/LeBron tilts, the book on Curry was to use physicality to wear him down through the course of a game, or a series. It worked in 2016 when Curry was hobbled coming into it and they kept him busy for 40 minutes.

Not only is Curry a different player — stronger, more durable and healthy — but these Lakers don’t have the personnel of those Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s no Kyrie Irving to occupy Curry on the other end, most importantly. And Curry seems better equipped for physicality. Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell seemed to give him the most trouble — trouble being relative compared to everyone else on the roster, but Curry felt more comfortable after the first two games.

Despite the 50-ball, Curry didn’t exactly light the world afire from 3 in the first round, shooting 38%. That could mean he’s more due for efficient explosions.

What will the Warriors do with LeBron James?

Will this be a LeBron series, first and foremost? It feels like worlds ago, but James is still working off that tendon injury in his foot that caused so much missed time in the regular season before he returned to a whole new Lakers team and a renewed sense of energy.

As great as he’s been historically — and certainly Game 4’s 20-20 performance against Memphis served as proof — he can still rev it up on occasion. But doing it for 40 minutes? We don’t know if he’s capable, largely because the Grizzlies didn’t force James to go to that space more than once.

Andrew Wiggins will certainly spend plenty of time on him and even though he didn’t shoot well in Game 7, he’s gaining his legs again after missing so much time dealing with a personal issue. James has the strength advantage, but how often will he go in that direction?

Lately, he’s been planting himself outside the 3-point line. Nearly half his shot attempts come from there, and he’s shooting just 19.5% in the first six games of the playoffs. Memphis used Xavier Tillman Sr. on him, a bigger body who conceded the 3-point line but didn’t want to crowd him. Wiggins can get in James’ space, which could force him to drive, but he’s played more off the ball than in any other time, being more opportunistic in taking open lanes for those highlight dunks. The Warriors, despite their lapses in concentration at times, aren’t so wont to take their eyes off James.

Don’t forget, they have Draymond Green who can press James on the perimeter and still has the strength to go with the foot speed if James wants to turn back the clock.

How Wiggins performs on offense can keep James’ attention, if they should feature him. Assuming the Warriors stay with their two-big lineup, James could wind up defending Green, and Green is such a powerful screener they could work James into multiple actions to wear him out. It’s a contrast from the early days of these matchups, where they wouldn’t try to test him too much until they acquired Kevin Durant as the ultimate nuclear weapon.

James’ best days as a defensive player were far behind him, but he would choose spots and spurts to lock down. Those spots may be harder to access as he ages, and one wonders if the Warriors will try to hunt him on that end.

Who are the 4th- through 10th-best players in this series?

It depends on the day, and truthfully, James could fit here, but that’s a bridge too far. But Davis could very well be the barometer for how the Lakers are to perform. He had two monster games in Memphis and just one truly subpar performance — Game 4 at home — where James saved his hide. It’s doubtful he’ll achieve the same luck this time, but he’s an imposing figure who must be given attention to on all fronts. Memphis rarely tried to move Davis from planting himself in the paint, but the Warriors won’t be so silly.

Kevon Looney dominated Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis on the glass with three 20-rebound games, but it would be unfair to expect such production this time around. However, Looney doesn’t beat himself so whatever Davis will get, he’ll have to earn and that physical beating could take a toll. Reaves could wind up being a big problem for the Warriors, much in the way the Kings’ Malik Monk was off the bench. Monk will be made fun of for calling the Warriors old, but he had his way with Jordan Poole when they were matched up. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lakers seek out that matchup when Poole is on the floor, however long it is.

As of now, Reaves will be matched up against Klay Thompson. Thompson didn’t have a banner shooting series against Sacramento, but defensively he was excellent against Kevin Huerter. The Kings ran Thompson through a lot of screens, and while it drained Thompson’s legs on offense, he was pretty focused defensively and effective. Thompson forced his offense at times, especially when things weren’t working, but he’s been known to have a game in virtually every series.

Looney will be just as critical in this series as he was against the Kings, in large part because he’s such a strong screener and lane clogger. So will Green and his versatility, especially if he’s called on to score more than he’s comfortable doing. It’s billed as a pretty series, but it’ll likely be won in the trenches.