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Four takeaways from Tuesday’s Lakers-Warriors game


A potential Western Conference play-in tournament preview unfolded Tuesday night as the Golden State Warriors traveled to Arena to take on the Los Angeles Lakers in their final home game of the season.

This was the fourth time these two teams have faced off this season, with the Warriors claiming the final regular-season matchup 134-120. The Warriors are now a half-game behind the Lakers with three games left.

But these two Western Conference foes are no strangers to high-stakes games, and with the regular season wrapping up Sunday and the play-in tournament on the horizon, all eyes will be turned toward this epic prospective postseason battle.

From matchup X-factors to playoff ceilings, NBA insiders Kevin Pelton, Ramona Shelburne and Bobby Marks answer the biggest questions off tonight’s game as Stephen Curry and LeBron James try to lead their teams to the 2023-24 NBA playoffs.

1. What’s the biggest lesson to take from Tuesday’s game?

Ramona Shelburne: The Lakers can’t stop anyone without Anthony Davis in the middle of their defense. The Warriors put up 70 points in the first half, 104 through three quarters and finished with 134, getting to the rim seemingly at will without the threat of Davis on the back line. The same thing happened Sunday against Minnesota when Davis went out with an eye injury. He’s been remarkably durable this season, but it has really hurt the Lakers to not have him these past two games as they fight to stay out of next week’s 9/10 play-in game.

Bobby Marks: No Davis and no chance. As Ramona mentioned, the Lakers’ defense was a revolving door without Davis on the court. After winning eight of their nine games heading into Sunday, the Lakers have now dropped two in a row and any chances of getting out of the play-in are slim. The other takeaway is not to discount Golden State in a playoff-type environment. The Warriors would still have to beat the Lakers and either the Suns or Kings if the season ended today just to reach the first round. But the Warriors played with a sense of urgency, evidenced by their veterans (Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green) scoring a combined 82 points.

Kevin Pelton: Golden State is very much alive to avoid the 10th seed in the West play-in tournament and needs to win two games on the road just to make the playoffs. Thanks to a 3-1 series win over the Lakers, the Warriors now hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and are even in the loss column, meaning they’ll likely finish ninth and host a rematch next week if both teams win out — pending more complex multiteam ties.

Both the Warriors and the Lakers have just one game remaining against an opponent with something to play for — the New Orleans Pelicans — who visit the Warriors on Friday before hosting the Lakers on Sunday. That puts New Orleans in an interesting position to help dictate where the Lakers finish, relevant because the Pelicans hold the Lakers’ first-round draft pick unless they opt to defer it until 2025. (Of course, New Orleans has its own playoff seeding to manage, and the Pelicans surely want to stay in sixth to avoid dealing with the play-in themselves.)

A Lakers win would have all but doomed Golden State to 10th in the West. The Warriors’ win makes the final five days of the regular season that much more interesting.

2. Who is more dangerous in a one-game scenario: LeBron or Steph?

Shelburne: This is a pretty high-class problem for any team that has either player and just one game to win. Just imagine if they were on the same team, like what was discussed between Lakers and Warriors ownership before the trade deadline. In this case, James gets the slight nod because he’s on the ball so much and can control the game himself. Curry needs someone to run the Warriors’ offense with and can be roughed up by bigger, physical teams. But he’s still the most electric offensive player out there when he’s in the midst of one of his flurries.

Marks: James and Curry have each played in two play-in games since the tournament started in 2021. James is 2-0 while Curry’s Golden State team lost twice in 2021. We saw the magic in Curry last year in a winner-take-all Game 7 at Sacramento. But that was last year, and I trust James and, most importantly, his Lakers teammates, in a winner-take-all this year. In games decided in the clutch this season, the Lakers are 23-9, tied with Dallas for the best winning percentage. Meanwhile, Golden State has played a league-high 45 such games and is one game below .500 in them.

Pelton: Can I answer ‘yes’? As Bobby notes, Curry is less than a year removed from one of the great one-game performances in NBA history. Meanwhile, James has made a second career of parsing out his energy to peak in the biggest moments, as we saw during last year’s run from the play-in to the conference finals. Ultimately, I’d pick James because of his ability to control a game at both ends when he dials up his defensive intensity.

3. Which player on these two teams, other than LeBron and Steph, is the biggest X-factor heading into the play-in and potentially the playoffs?

Pelton: Klay Thompson. When Thompson is making shots, the Warriors still look like contenders. Despite losing his best game of the season by game score, per, Golden State is 8-1 when Thompson posts a game score of 20 or better — including Tuesday night. During the 12 games in which Thompson has posted a game score worse than five, the Warriors are 2-10. That might have been bad news in a matchup against the Lakers given the way Thompson has struggled against them historically, including 34% shooting in last year’s playoff loss, but he has totaled 53 points on 19-of-31 shooting in his past two matchups in L.A.

Shelburne: I’m going with Draymond Green because the Warriors simply aren’t the Warriors when he isn’t at his best on both ends of the court. He is the anchor of their defense and the engine of their offense. He has also shot the ball well enough from behind the 3-point arc (39.5%) that teams have to respect him — thereby creating space for Curry and others. Tuesday night his five 3-pointers in the first half set the tone for the Warriors. He’s doing all this now with a balky lower back that’s kept him out of several games recently.

Marks: The obvious answer is Anthony Davis, considering he is the best player on either roster not named James or Curry. But D’Angelo Russell is the X-factor for the Lakers on how far they advance. Russell is the engine of a starting lineup (Austin Reaves, James, Rui Hachimura and Davis) that is 16-6 and a plus-6.3 in points per 100 possessions. The Lakers are 15-3 in games Russell scores 25-plus points and 9-2 when he attempts 11 3-pointers or more. But in 27 career playoff games, Russell is shooting 38.9% from the field, 32.9% on 3s and averaging 14.1 points.

BONUS! What is each team’s playoff ceiling if they get in?

Shelburne: I picked the Warriors to win it all at the beginning of the season and still think they can, with the right draw. In other words — if they make the playoffs and avoid Denver for as long as possible. That goes for the Lakers as well. Both teams have the talent and playoff experience to beat anyone. Of course, avoiding Denver isn’t really a strategy, and I don’t see how either team takes down the defending champions in a seven-game series.

Marks: It depends on the first-round opponent. A Denver first-round series, and the Lakers or Warriors will start vacation in late April. Minnesota will certainly present a challenge, especially if Karl-Anthony Towns returns from his left knee injury. The Lakers were 1-2 against the Timberwolves, but one of those losses was by two points. Golden State was winless in the three matchups.

The starting five in Oklahoma City has never played in a playoff series together, and inexperience could be a factor if the Thunder draw either team. Entering the playoffs, Oklahoma is the second-youngest team (only behind Orlando) in players averaging 20-plus minutes. Starters Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort and reserves Gordon Hayward, Bismack Biyombo and Mike Muscala are the only players with playoff experience. The Lakers were 3-1 against Oklahoma City and Golden State was 1-3. Since the play-in tournament started in 2021, no team finishing ninth or 10th (Memphis reached the first round in 2021) has advanced past the first round.

Pelton: The ceiling is determined by when they run into the Nuggets. I’d love to see another Denver-Golden State series after their 2022 matchup, during which the Nuggets were without both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. But the defending champs swept all seven matchups against these two teams and would be enormous favorites.

Because of their playoff experience and star power, the Lakers and Warriors would have a realistic chance in any other potential first-round matchup — and possibly in the second round if Denver is on the other side of the bracket. Let’s be clear that this is different from last season, when the Lakers reached the conference finals without beating any team that won more than 51 games. This year’s path might require beating two teams with better records than the 2022-23 Grizzlies (51-31).


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