Lakers-Warriors series: Plenty of story lines, but LeBron vs. Steph is No. 1
Pick one of the story lines. Alone, any could carry the Lakers-Warriors playoff series.
The top geographical rivalry on the West Coast, the battle between the Bay and L.A.
The generation’s two best players, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, meeting once again in the playoffs.
The admiration between James and Draymond Green.
The Hall of Fame coach from the Pacific Palisades, Steve Kerr, getting to test his legacy against the team for which he used to cheer from high up in the Forum.
The sharpshooting guard from Orange County, Klay Thompson, getting a chance to play huge games in the same building where he used to chat with Kobe Bryant after coming to work with his radio analyst father, Mychal Thompson.
It's all there, the Lakers and Golden State set to meet in a playoff series that has all of the required ingredients for a special two weeks of competition.
The rivalry between James and Curry has to be the headliner, the two players meeting in four straight NBA Finals leading up to this moment — Game 1 between the Lakers and the Warriors on Tuesday night in San Francisco.
“That’s the rivalry of the generation,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “… It’s going to be another fun battle.”
Monday after the Lakers practiced, James reiterated his respect for Curry and the Warriors.
“He puts in the work. And when you put in the work, nine times out of 10 you’re going to see the results. And he’s done that throughout his wholeentire career,” James said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for Steph and everything he’s been able to accomplish, not only on the floor but also off the floor, too. It’s just great to have people like that in this league to set an example for the generation to come.”
James said the mental test against Golden State is unlike almost anything else he’s faced.
“You’ve gotta be super-duper locked in,” James said. “You can’t make a mistake. You just can't. You can’t make a mistake or they’ll make you pay. It’s literally that simple. Some teams that I’ve played in my career that’s had that notion on you and they’re one of them. They’re right there at the top along with some of those great San Antonio Spurs teams where you just — if you make a mistake, they make you pay.
“It’s that simple.”
The Lakers will need a big series from Anthony Davis, they’ll need to adjust from Memphis’ interior attack to Golden State’s perimeter attack. And they’ll face a team with championship experience, the Warriors having won their fourth title in eight seasons last year.
Austin Reaves said James’ depth of knowledge on the Warriors is a weapon for the Lakers.
“He’s definitely been vocal. I mean, honestly, anytime he talks, whatever team, you lock in, you listen,” Reaves said. “Because obviously he’s been around for a long time and seen everything. But especially with this team, they’ve had wars together. So he knows the ins and outs of what it takes to be successful against them. So anytime he talks, everybody is locked in listening.”
The Lakers beat the Warriors three times this season, though key players were missing in each meeting. The lone loss came in the season-opener, when the Lakers were a wildly different team. Of the nine leaders in minutes in the opener, only four are still on the team, and one, Lonnie Walker IV, is out of the playoff rotation.
Reaves, now a starter, played fewer minutes than Kendrick Nunn and Matt Ryan on opening night.
“I think every team is better than they were opening night. And that includes us and the Warriors," James said. "We both feel like we’re a better team. A playoff series, to be able to see what you’re capable of, helps that. You see ways that you can bounce back from a little adversity here, a little adversity there.
“But obviously we’re a better team than we were on opening night. That goes without saying.”
It also goes without saying that James is where he wants to be, in the spotlight with a team that has a real opportunity for a run in the postseason on the eve of a massive test against an old rival.
James’ all-business demeanor finally broke, picking up the ball and flipping up a hook shot from beyond half court. The ball ripped through the net, Davis shocked at what he just saw.
As far as omens go, this was a pretty good sign.
“Not bad,” James said. “Not bad.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.