Lakers Have Edge Over Warriors In Play-In

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 Injured player Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers is seen playing around with Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors
Injured player Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers is seen playing around with Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors

The NBA couldn’t have asked for a better matchup in its new play-in tournament than the upcoming game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. The winner will advance to the 2021 playoffs as the No. 7 seed, while the loser will head for a do-or-die contest with the No. 8 seed on the line.

Los Angeles will host Golden State on Wednesday night after finishing three games ahead of the Warriors in the regular-season standings. Playing at home with LeBron James and Anthony Davis back from injury, the defending champs are the clear favorites.

Stephen Curry and the Warriors are 4.5-point road underdogs, according to betting odds compiled by OddsShark. The over/under is 219.5 points.

The Lakers were vying for a top seed in the Western Conference until James and Davis suffered serious injuries. James missed 27 games because of a high ankle sprain, and his return was briefly halted before the 36-year-old played the final two games of the season. Davis was sidelined for half the season with various ailments.

Golden State’s record also suffered without its best player. The Warriors went 1-7 in games when Curry was sidelined. With a 38-26 record when Curry was in the lineup, Golden State’s winning percentage was better than that of the No. 5 seed Dallas Mavericks.

Curry scored 46 points in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday to solidify Wednesday’s matchup with the Lakers. The two-time MVP earned the NBA’s scoring title and made a compelling case to be near the top of this year’s MVP ballot with his team still fighting for a playoff spot.

“I mean, just look at what he's done this year,” James told reporters Sunday night, touting his rival’s MVP candidacy. “I don't know anything else if you’re looking for an MVP. If Steph is not on Golden State's team, what are we looking at?”

James knows all too well how unstoppable the Warriors can be when Curry is playing his best. The two superstars met in the NBA Finals four straight years from 2015-2018. James and the Cleveland Cavaliers only got the better of the Warriors in 2016 with a historic comeback.

Curry has what it takes to carry the Warriors past the Lakers. In 28 games since the All-Star break, Curry is averaging 34.9 points per game, shooting 43.1% from three-point range with 6.0 made threes per contest. 

Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green played well down the stretch as the Warriors won eight of their last 10 games. A pair of those wins came against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, who own the West’s top two records.

Wednesday’s winner will go on to face the Suns in the first round of the playoffs. The loser will have a chance Friday to earn the No. 8 seed and a first-round meeting with the Jazz.

Beating the Lakers with a playoff spot on the line will be difficult for the Warriors, especially with L.A. now operating at full capacity.

Davis is finally starting to look like the top-5 player that helped lead the Lakers on a championship run in the bubble. James is still the best basketball player on earth when healthy and was in the thick of the MVP race before getting hurt in mid-March.

Los Angeles finished the regular season with the NBA’s top defense, even with Davis and James missing so much time. The Warriors ranked 19th in offensive efficiency, relying heavily on Curry’s heroics.

Unless Curry has another 40-plus point outburst, Golden State might come up just short.

Prediction: Lakers over Warriors, 110-108

Photo: Getty Images | Thearon W. Henderson

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