When the 2020-21 NBA season got underway in December, no one predicted that the Golden State Warriors (winners of three titles in the last six years) and Los Angeles Lakers (the defending champs) would line up against each other in the play-in tournament.
But here we are.
The Dubs and Lakers are facing off tonight at 7:00 p.m. PT on ESPN. The winner will book a spot in the playoffs, while the loser will face the winner of the San Antonio Spurs vs. the Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the postseason.
To get you ready for a matchup with last year’s champs, I brought in Christian Rivas — my buddy and coworker, a diehard Lakers fan, and the voice behind much of the Lakers exceptionalism at Silver Screen and Roll, our sister site.
Where is your confidence level going into Wednesday’s game?
Christian: Pretty high. As much as I respect and like the Warriors, the Lakers present such a bad matchup for them. I think that would be true even if James Wiseman and Kelly Oubre Jr. were available.
Would you feel more or less confident in a seven-game series?
Christian: More. By a lot.
Where can the game be won for your team?
Christian: The defensive end. Don’t get me wrong: the Warriors are a good defensive team. In fact, since Kevon Looney replaced James Wiseman, the Warriors have posted a defensive rating (106.7) that rivals the Lakers’ league-best defensive rating of 106.8.
All that being said, I think the Lakers have too much length for the Warriors at positions that Golden State doesn’t have pure shot-makers at. Like, Draymond Green isn’t going to beat Anthony Davis off of the dribble; that’s just not his game.
Oh, and LeBron James plays for the Lakers. That seems notable.
Where can it be lost?
Christian: The, uh, Steph Curry end. By and large, the Lakers have done a decent job of defending Curry this season, but the player on the Lakers that has done arguably the best job of making life hard on Curry, Dennis Schröder, is having issues with his conditioning.
The Lakers probably have enough bodies to throw at Curry if Schröder struggles with the assignment on Wednesday, but even the slightest advantage for the greatest shooter of all time could be a costly one for Los Angeles.
There’s also something to be said about the matchup between Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond and Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. In theory, the Lakers’ big men should feast against the Warriors’ smaller front court, but in practice, Green and Looney could present a lot of problems for Davis and Drummond.
Who’s the biggest X-Factor for your team?
Christian: Montrezl Harrell. Harrell had a good amount of success against the Warriors in the regular season, but most of his reps came against James Wiseman. If Harrell can replicate that success against Draymond Green and Kevon Looney, it might be curtains.
I’d also look out for Talen Horton-Tucker. Tucker does a great job of attacking poor one-on-one defenders in second units and a few of the Warriors’ reserve guards fit that description.
What do you think the outcome of the game will be?
Christian: The Warriors will punch the Lakers in the mouth in the first quarter but they’ll still lose, probably by double digits.