Warriors Vs. Lakers: This is What the Play-In Tournament is All About

Jan 18, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) defends Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the second quarter at Staples Center.

It’s been two vastly different seasons for the Lakers and Warriors. The Lakers started strong and had the�4th best record in the league at the All-Star break. Injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis derailed their season, and now they sit, quite uncomfortably, in the 7th seed. On the other hand, the Warriors have had a significantly better second half of the season. They’ve learned how to play around Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and are one of the best defensive teams in the league. Now, these two teams will meet for the fourth time this season, with much more on the line than their previous matchups.

Looking Back

May 16, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates with forward Draymond Green (23) against the Memphis Grizzlies during the fourth quarter at Chase Center.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Their three regular-season matchups are quite a mixed bag. In the first game, the Warriors came back from down 14 in the fourth win in a game that went down to the wire. The other two games were blowouts for the Lakers, both without Anthony Davis. The Warriors weren’t missing players in either of those games, which doesn’t bode particularly well for them. It’s hard to judge the teams based on these games, though, because at least one didn’t play up to their standards in each game.

Secondly, both teams look quite different than they have throughout the season. The Lakers have their stars back, but LeBron and AD are still playing back into form. Meanwhile, the Warriors have made strides in figuring out who they are as a team and are now playing their best basketball as a result.

For these reasons, we can’t look at their regular-season matchups to predict how this game will go. In fact, we really can’t predict this game at all, and that’s what the play-in tournament is all about.

The Matchup

May 15, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Andre Drummond (2), forward LeBron James (23) and forward Anthony Davis (3) all talk during a timeout in the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Lakers-Warriors is the best matchup of the play-In tournament by a mile. The Lakers have the potential to win the title but haven’t looked like a real contender in a while. The Warriors aren’t a contender, but they’re one of the most exciting teams in the league, with the most electrifying player.

This game will be the latest chapter in the story of LeBron and Curry. We’ve seen these two suit up for multiple NBA finals against each other. Now we’ll see them face off for something quite different. For the first time, Curry will meet LeBron as an underdog. For years LeBron had to face the stacked Warriors in the finals, but this time it’s the opposite. Curry will try to carry the Warriors to a win over this superpowered Lakers team.

This game won’t send the loser home, but it will send them to a single-elimination game. Neither team will leave anything on the court for this one, so it should have a very similar feel to a game 7. Seeing the Lakers and Warriors facing off in a game with these implications is exactly what the play-in tournament is about.


May 16, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the basketball against Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) and forward Brandon Clarke (15) during the first quarter at Chase Center.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When Adam Silver and the NBA instituted the play-in tournament this year, I doubt they imagined that the Lakers and Warriors would be two of the teams involved. At the time, the two looked like the cream of the crop in the western conference. Then an injury to Klay Thompson dampened expectations for the Warriors, and successive injuries to LeBron and Davis during the season hurt the Lakers.

With that said, nobody in the league office should be very upset with this outcome. It’s two of the best players in the league going head to head. You can’t ask for much more than this. It’s not certain it will be a great game; the Lakers are good enough to blow out the Warriors. But the Warriors are still good enough to beat the Lakers. There are no guarantees, but this game has enough promise that people will tune in.

The NBA has been struggling with ratings for a couple of years now, and it’s reached a front this season. That likely played a role in the decision to add the play-in tournament. This Lakers-Warriors matchup is exactly what the play-in tournament is about. It should draw massive viewership, which is much needed for the league. LeBron may not like it, but this game proves the play-in is valuable to the NBA.

Fans will tune in to see which of these teams will make the playoffs. Everybody wants to know who will have to play for their lives in a second play-in game. The play-in tournament undoubtedly improved the quality of play near the end of the regular season, but that wasn’t even the best part. A game like this one is the best part.

Previewing the Game

May 16, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) dunks the ball against New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at the Smoothie King Center.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

OK, so the game is important and cool and all that stuff, but what should we expect from the 48 minutes in which the game will occur?

High-stakes games almost always see defenses ratchet up and a much slower pace. Both teams are�top 5 in defensive rating this season,�so they’re suited well for this scenario. These teams are both ready for a defensive battle, as they’re both very used to winning games off their defense.

Another interesting part of this matchup is the experience on both sides. Steph and Draymond have been through it all when it comes to postseason basketball, so they won’t back down in this game. On the other side are LeBron, the�all-time leader in playoff games, and Anthony Davis, who is fresh off a title run last year. Unlike other play-in teams who are young and inexperienced for the most part, this one features two teams who are more than up to the task.

If both teams play their best basketball, the Lakers are the clear favorites here. It’s no knock on the Warriors; the Lakers have a much better team. This is no normal 7-seed; if the Lakers play up to their capabilities, they may very well be the best team in the postseason this year.

Fortunately for the Warriors, it’s been a long time since the Lakers have fired on all cylinders. Neither LeBron nor AD has shown consistency since returning from their injuries, and without those two performing well, the Lakers are nothing more than a question mark. We don’t know what we’re gonna get from them right now, which opens the door for the Warriors.

Steph has a chance to lead his team past the Lakers in this matchup, and that’s what makes it so interesting. Everybody wants to see the Lakers in the postseason. But seeing Steph go off and carry the Warriors past them? That would be pretty interesting too.

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