The day has finally arrived. For the first time since the 2018 NBA Finals, Steph Curry and LeBron James — the two biggest NBA stars of this era — are facing off on the biggest stage, as the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers meet for a pivotal seven-game series in the Western Conference Semifinals.
We’ve had our series preview and our Game 1 preview, and the coverage will keep coming from the perspective of the team you adore and follow. But before Game 1 tips off, it seemed like a good idea to get some perspective from the other side.
So I put the call out to Harrison Faigen, who has run our sister site, Silver Screen and Roll, since the Lakers were in Minneapolis. Harrison is my colleague, friend, boss, and someone who I commonly refer to as “the Spike Lee of the Lakers.” Minneapolis jokes aside, he’s also been writing about the Lakers for a very, very, very long time, so he knows them as well as anybody.
He asked me a few questions about the Warriors, which you can read here. Now it’s his turn to answer some Q’s.
Steph Curry has obviously been in the news for becoming the first player in NBA history to score 50 points in a Game 7. The Lakers are a good defensive team, but lack high-end defensive guards. What do you think is the key for the Lakers to limit Curry’s offensive impact?
Harrison: So “limit” is actually a perfect word — you must have a good editor — because the Lakers absolutely do not have a shot to “stop” Stephen Curry, as much as we use the “(superstar x) stopper” moniker to describe whoever will be guarding an opposing player in a playoff series.
I think the Lakers will try a variety of things. My guess is that they stick with their current starting lineup of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves, in part because rookie head coach Darvin Ham has been reticent to make changes coming off of victories and they just won a series. So I think Jarred Vanderbilt may get the first crack at Steph, or possibly Austin Reaves (sorry Warriors fans, he’s gonna have to hunt DLo on a switch, not get him outright).
Vando is a talented defender capable of guarding 1-4, but even with his length, lateral activity and hustle I don’t think he’s going to be the right answer there. Austin Reaves would be good at chasing Curry through the avalanche of screens he’ll surely weave through — while drawing a few whistles for illegal screens along the way — but I’m also unsure if that’s an ideal series-long solution. I think that because of the Warriors’ relative lack of size, eventually Dennis Schröder gets the nod in the starting unit over Vanderbilt to use his speed and status as a Grade-A irritant to chase Steph around and try to annoy him as much as possible.
That’s a decent amount of different looks to at least try and make Steph a bit uncomfortable, but in case you’re wondering, no, none of those ideas make me less queasy about having to root against the other kid from Akron this series.
The Warriors beat the Lakers on Opening Night. The Lakers then won the next three games, all fairly late in the season. What do you take away from those games as to how the Lakers can find success in this series?
Harrison: The Lakers no longer employ Russell Westbrook.
Ok, fine, maybe it’s not that simple. I think for one, the Lakers simply have better defensive options and are a more cohesive, well-fitting, actual NBA team now that they essentially broke up $50ish million in salary into multiple useful NBA players. Malik Beasley has fallen out of the rotation, but Jarred Vanderbilt has been able to take tougher wing/guard assignments so LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell don’t have to, while Russell has provided the smooth scoring explosions Warriors fans probably remember from the games that make you talk yourself into DLo. They also have the benefit of all of those players and the rest of the rosters getting to funnel drivers towards one of the greatest rim protectors the game has ever seen in Anthony Davis, who has been an absolute monster so far and (in this blogger’s opinion) the no-doubt best player for the Lakers so far.
Plus they still have that LeBron guy that Warriors fans surely remember. Mix it all together with a few doses of Rui Hachimura mid-range magic, Austin Reaves’ combination of playmaking and ethical foul-grifting, and the Lakers have enough offensive and defensive lineups to throw multiple looks at opponents on both ends and win in more than one way. They are not a perfect team, but with LeBron, AD, and a supporting cast that now features multiple NBA players, they are dangerous.
Anthony Davis just had a phenomenal series against Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. Kevon Looney just dominated All-Star Domantas Sabonis. Obviously Davis is a better player than Looney, but how do you see that matchup going?
Harrison: I think Looney is a good body to throw at AD and an impressive force on the offensive glass who the Lakers will have to make sure to box out, but I’d actually be a lot more concerned about him vs. the team’s miniature bench units than I am against Davis, who is, shall we say, a better rebounder than Sabonis. Between Draymond and Looney, the Warriors have better options to throw at Davis than the Grizzlies did, but if he continues playing with the force he’s been using, he’s still going to be a problem for either undersized big man.
Where is James Wiseman when you need him? (kidding)
But in the lineups where Davis is out, that’s where I’d be worried about Moses Ma-Loon. The Lakers don’t have a real backup center, and got absolutely destroyed at the rim by the Grizzlies on offensive rebounds or just straight-up line drives when Davis sat. If Looney gets minutes against Wenyen Gabriel, he’ll probably get a few easy putbacks or create extra chances. If Ham decides to go back to the LeBron/Rui frontcourt he used for the first five games against Memphis, Looney will feast.
If there’s one thing the Lakers have to do to win this series, what is it? Other than, you know, outscore the Warriors in four games.
Harrison: Damn, you stole my answer.
In actuality, I think the biggest barometer for this series is going to be Davis. Draymond typically does a decent job frustrating him and making his life hard, and memories of him doing so in the play-in game the Lakers won in 2021 still stick with me. But I really think the version of Davis we’ve seen so far in these playoffs is a different beast. Tough, physical in creating second chance opportunities and a horrifying free safety on the back line of the defense. The Warriors are obviously less reliant on flinging themselves at the rim without a plan than the Grizzlies are, but they are going to have a hard time getting buckets in the paint on offense when Davis is on the floor, and while I fully expect Draymond to win a few battles, I think Davis is more than capable of winning the series-long war.
How many minutes after the Warriors win the series will LeBron James and Rich Paul wait to call Draymond Green recruiting him to the Lakers?
Harrison: You think they still need to make that call? Draymond has already seen Danny Green and Patrick Beverley use the Lakers platform to launch successful podcasts, and Dennis Schröder and JaVale McGee rake in views on their vlogs. He can take the minimum and make up the difference in podcast downloads when LeBron agrees to co-host with him to seal the deal. We know there is no chance Draymond passes up the chance to make every single episode of his podcast about LeBron.
Okay, you made me give my prediction, and I said Warriors in seven. What’s your prediction?
Harrison: Pre-series predictions are a funny thing, and I’ve always found the prediction (especially at fan sites like ours) tells more about the person’s confidence level than their prognostication ability.
What I’m saying is that your Warriors in seven prediction makes you a coward, afraid of LeBron and AD but still wanting to pick your guys. I can recognize that, because I am also absolutely terrified of a Steph supernova, but am still going to listen to my heart and go Lakers in seven.
I think this series is going to be a back-and-forth, fascinating, tactical chess match, but betting against LeBron and AD when healthy has yet to steer me wrong. The Warriors barely beat a Kings team who I would have picked the Lakers in five or six against — Sabonis being set to make All-NBA over AD is a travesty, but I digress — so I certainly don’t see them as unbeatable. So with decent defensive options like Wiggins, Draymond, Looney and a dose of South Bay Lakers legend Gary Payton II, I expect a hard-fought, back-and-forth series that will set Bay Area/Los Angeles relations back decades. I just think the Lakers will come out on top in the end.
Make sure to check out all the coverage from the Lakers’ perspective at Silver Screen and Roll, and follow Harrison on Twitter (@hmfaigen). And if you head over to SSR, please represent GSOM well in the comment section.