Preview: here comes LeBron with another semi-Super team
Curry and James, come back to a battle that has defined the modern era of basketball
I’m not old enough to remember the heyday of Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird. I really like Patrick Ewing as a kid, but he (like everyone else) got ran over by Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Sure, there were some solid battles, but it was pretty one sided. I wonder if this is how the historic perspective will end up looking at these historic battles we’ve all watched over the past decade or so between Stephen Curry’s Warriors and LeBron James’ assembled teams.
James has moved West and reloaded, stripped the team down, and reloaded again. The Warriors have gone through a tear down and rebuild around the edges, but managed to survive the departure of Kevin Durant and still be good enough to win it all - once they got healthy. Now, the old guard are set back on a collision course. With tons of historical inertia behind the emotions and memories it’s going to be another battle for the ages.
For this iteration, we don’t get a Finals matchup, but it’s going to feel like one. The league is pretty much wide open, and it feels like everyone knows it.
Series tied, 0-0
WHO: Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers
WHEN: Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023 // 7pm PST
Shooters versus paint packers
Curry and James are both so dominant that they have defined how their teams play throughout the years. James is a big, impressive athlete. His highlights are power dunks and huge swatted shots. Mean grimaces and rebounds and two-way play as he turns from defensive back, to quarterback, to linebacker all in the span of just a few seconds. Sure, you can build in a number of ways around a player as amazing as LeBron James, but in general, there’s a hard-nosed aesthetic that LeBron James brings to his teams.
Curry, on the other hand, lives on the perimeter. Even against the relatively wide open teeth of the Sacramento Kings defense, the Warriors opted to hoist historic amounts of threes rather than take it to the hole. Golden State took only 42% of their shots in the paint, the lowest rate in the first round. Philosophically, Curry is known for smiling and playing with what Daniel Hardee first called Weaponized Joy.
“Nothing shows a man's character more than what he laughs at.”
That’s from this German dude that was famous for launching a late 18th-century literary movement (Sturm und Drang) filled with rousing action and high emotionalism, and often dealt with an individual rebelling against the injustices of society. Coincidence?
There’s something about this Warriors team, nay, this dynasty. A feeling of auspiciousness. They’ve gone to meet their destiny, and it’s hard to tell when we look back on it what else could have really happened.
“This stuff is incredibly hard, no matter how strong your organization is. It’s just rare to get a group like this together. There’s some luck involved. In my mind, you’ve gotta ride that as long as you can ’cause inevitably it’s going to be really difficult to get back to the top.”
-Steve Kerr, after the game 7 win over the Kings
Philosophy aside, this is going to be a battle of matchups as much as ideals. Though we can expect Curry and James to hunt for buckets in their own ways, as much as we know the the two coaches will do their best to exploit whatever opportunities they can find, in the end, these games are going to come down to the best players carrying the day.
For the Lakers, the main question is going to be whether or not they can slow Stephen Curry down without breaking the rest of their defense. The Los Angeles guards probably aren’t up to the task on their own. D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Dennis Schröder, aren’t exactly known for their defense so getting Curry in foul trouble on the other end is likely their best best. Which means a team-wide focus on Curry. Something he is well accustomed to - but also something that he keeps seeing because of the overly weighted impact of his game. Teams are willing to sacrifice a lot to slow Curry down.
During the regular season, the Warriors ranked first in 3-pointers made as well as first in attempts. They were second in percentage. It’s no secret what makes these Warriors so dangerous, it’s no secret what’s headed towards the Lakers. And that’s part of the equation, the Warriors are so well known that they’ve already identified the natural adjustments to the other team’s strategy. As long as they can manage to pull it off.
And likewise, LA is a known commodity - but a bit less so because of the late season trades. Los Angeles went in big to re-tool around the edges at the trade deadline, bringing in some new players. But does it matter enough? Can the Lakers pack the paint enough? Or can some random guy like D’Angelo Russell get hot at the right time? Or will the combination of James and Anthony Davis prove to be too much for Golden State’s lean frontcourt rotation?
There’s only one way to find out.
It might come down to health rather than output. Sure, there will be those questionable calls, and early two for Kevon Looney or Draymond Green could be enough to sway any single game - in the end I think whichever team can stay healthy will win. But that’s boring to argue about.
The Lakers’ calling card is their defense. It’s going to be strength against strength.
These series often comes down to who is the most unstoppable force on the basketball court. Throughout there time in the shared spotlight, that has been Curry and the Warriors, not LeBron. Let’s run it back one more time.
Warriors in 6.