Lakers draw Warriors in second round of playoffs

Lakers face Golden State in the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in the second round of the postseason. Quite frankly, after the topsy-turvy season the Lakers had, most didn’t predict they’d get to the West semis. But as they got closer to the postseason, it didn’t seem as ridiculous.

The Lakers defeated the Grizzlies in 6 games in what looks like an upset in the surface. But Memphis came into the postseason banged up with no Steven Adams and no Brandon Clarke to help out in rebounding and size. Still, those were the cards that they were dealt with and it was too much to overcome against the Lakers, who seem to peaking at the right moment.

A wise man once said that “to be the man, you have to beat the man.” The Lakers’ quest for an 18th banner (which is growing in legitimacy) will have to go through the defending champions.

We’re all familiar with the Golden State Warriors. They just went through a 7-game series against the upstart Sacramento Kings, which ended with Stephen Curry having to drop 50 in California’s capital. We can say the champions are as vulnerable as any team left in the postseason but they’re always in it as long as the greatest NBA sniper of all-time is running around the court.

The Lakers and Warriors played each other four times in the regular season. In fact, they were part of the opening day line-up. Their October 18th match-up feels like five years ago. The Lakers fielded a much different squad to open the season. Warriors took advantage of 22 Laker turnovers to tally up their only win in the season series.

Yes. Only. The Lakers played the Warriors three more times and they all happened to be after the trade deadline. In February 11th, the Lakers had their new acquisitions in tow for the first time this season. While Lakers fans salivated over Jarred Vanderbilt’s defense, it was Anthony Davis that made the clutch defensive plays as the Lakers took their first win against G. State. Neither LeBron James nor Stephen Curry played then.

On February 23rd, the Lakers had a dominant second half on their way to their second win against the Dubs. Anthony Davis and LeBron James played their least amount of minutes of the season (where no injuries were involved). Warriors didn’t have Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and Gary Payton II for that contest.

Then on March 5th, L.A. survived a fiery fourth quarter from Curry (19 of his 27 points were in the fourth) and got their third straight victory over the Warriors.

I don’t think we expected 6th and 7th seeds to be in the second round of the postseason. That’s what we have here with the Lakers (7th) and Warriors (6th). Golden State has to be relieved that they have home court advantage against the Lakers. But as we’ve seen with the Lakers in the first round, that might not matter. And that could be bad news for the Warriors, who struggled on the road all season (11-30 away from San Francisco).

However, the Warriors did take two games in Sacramento in the first round. Perhaps staying in the same state and not being too far from home works better for them Dubs (that’s not true; they only won once in the regular season in California). It could also be that both teams are peaking at the right time. After all, who are we to even think about underestimating LeBron James and Stephen Curry, right?

Their Finals battles are well-documented. And while the Lakers and Warriors have technically never faced each other in the playoffs since 1991 (yes, the Run TMC days!), they did play a play-in game in 2021. L.A. came away with the win to advance to the playoffs.

This time around, though, it’s a best-of-7. And it’s going to be a hell of a series. The Lakers took advantage of a beat-up Memphis Grizzlies team. No such thing with these Dubs; they are healthy and everybody is ready to go.

We know what Steph will do. Klay Thompson didn’t shoot his best against the Kings but he averaged 20.6 points in that series. Andrew Wiggins made his return recently and played some hellish defense to go along with 18.1 points per. Draymond Green will put his best foot forward on defense and, unlike a certain Memphis Grizzly, he won’t shrink after talking trash. Kevon Looney will grab all the boards; he snared 15.1 rebounds per game (which leads the postseason) against the Kings and had three 20-rebound games in the series. Gary Payton II, Donte DiVincenzo, and Moses Moody provided some good minutes off the pine.

Jordan Poole is the wild card here. He didn’t play well in the series (12.0 points while shooting .338 from the field and .257 from three) but he did have a big Game 4 (22 points). Poole started Games 3-6 after Green was suspended but he’s having a pretty wild playoffs thus far. If he gets going, the Warriors will look more dangerous.

I do wonder if Darvin Ham will stick to a shorter rotation with this Lakers team. In their series-clinching win against Memphis, he played 8 guys and Ham stuck to that deep into the fourth quarter even when the game was already at hand. He played the starters and had Rui Hachimura, Wenyen Gabriel, and Dennis Schröder from the bench.

Anthony Davis has been everywhere at defense. He leads the postseason with 4.3 blocks and no one comes even close to that (Joel Embiid and Al Horford are next with 2.3 BPG). Davis is also third in boards (13.7). He’s not scoring as much (20.8 points per) but maybe he doesn’t have to with many weapons around him. That felt really strange to type.

Of course, we know about LeBron. His 11.2 rebounds is 6th in the playoffs and he leads the team with 22.2 points. His three-point shooting is below the Mendoza line (.195) so hopefully, he can shoot better than that.

D’Angelo Russell has been very up and down so far in the playoffs but he has come through when the Lakers badly needed points. His 31 points in Game 6 was a playoff career-best. Austin Reaves has been steady for the team; he keeps the Lakers afloat. And Rui Hachimura has proven to be excellent on both sides of the ball. His 29-point Game 1 against the Grizz set the tone for the rest of the Memphis series.

Both teams are in full strength and seem to be at the height of their powers for this season. Will the Lakers continue on their quest for Banner #18? Or will the Warriors continue their defense of their championship? Either way, this should be an epic series (though I wish Run DMC is still here to introduce the starters) that we should not take for granted, especially since LeBron and Curry are in the twilight of their careers.

Winner of this series advances to the Western Conference Finals. And it’s going to be weird that a lower seed in the West will achieve this.