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    Alexander: Lakers-Warriors should be a classic series
    • May 2, 2023

    Who could possibly have seen this coming, even as late as a couple of months ago?

    The best, most interesting and maybe most competitive series in the second round of the NBA playoffs tips off Tuesday night and it involves the 6 and 7 seeds in the Western Conference – not just any 6 and 7 seeds, of course, but the Lakers and Golden State Warriors, winners of five of the NBA’s last nine championships, including the most recent.

    It is absolutely not surprising that ABC wanted Game 3 of this series for its Saturday evening (5:30 PDT) showcase. Say what you want about the other conference semifinal matchups – and Knicks-Heat and Celtics-76ers each have plenty of juice, while Denver-Phoenix features the best regular-season team still standing in the Nuggets and two of the game’s brightest stars in two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Suns’ Kevin Durant.

    But this series has Bron and Steph. In a league where superstars move the needle to a degree not seen in any other sport, and often are recognizable on a first-name basis, LeBron James and Steph Curry are quite the starting point.

    There are loads of storylines. For example, how will the potential of seven games in 13 days affect clubs that rely on veterans, even with one-hour flights between LAX and SFO?

    On another front, can we consider this another chapter of the L.A.-San Francisco civic rivalry? It’s not on par with Dodgers-Giants or Rams-49ers because (a) the Lakers and Warriors haven’t met in the playoffs since the remnants of “Showtime” knocked off Run-TMC in a quick five-game second round in 1991, and (b) the Warriors have been inhabitants of San Francisco and Chase Center only since 2019.

    But right now it’s the best we’ve got, and it could turn out to be pretty special.

    Fact is, the defending champs’ season hasn’t been that dissimilar from that of the Lakers. They started out 3-7, were under .500 (29-30) as late as Feb. 23 and needed to win five of their last six regular-season games to finish 44-38 and avoid the play-in round. And their road record was an abysmal 11-30, although they won Games 5 and 7 in Sacramento to decide their last series.

    Injuries were an issue. Curry missed 26 games, including 11 each with injuries to his shoulder (December to early January) and his leg (early February to early March). Klay Thompson sat out 13 games, some with minor nicks and some for rest purposes. Anthony Wiggins played just 37 games because of foot, shoulder and adductor muscle injuries (and a family matter).

    Golden State reacquired Gary Payton II from Portland in a four-team trade at the deadline that sent former No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman to Detroit, but that deal almost didn’t go through because of Payton’s existing injuries. That lone move wasn’t as dramatic as the Lakers’ major makeover at the deadline, but Payton was valuable off the bench in the Sacramento series.

    And the guy who made that deal, Warriors general manager and former UCLA player Bob Myers, is a few weeks away from the executive equivalent of free agency, another juicy storyline.

    So, what should we expect?

    Curry, with the sweetest jump shot in all of basketball – maybe of all time – will create plenty of defensive headaches; Jarred Vanderbilt, fresh off of a series harassing Memphis’ Ja Morant, now gets to chase the Warriors’ two-time MVP around the court. Meanwhile, Thompson will splash lots of 3-pointers as well and will confound the emotions of his proud dad, Mychal, working on the Lakers’ radio broadcast with John Ireland.

    Draymond Green will stir things up, as always. The Lakers, who shrugged off the antics of the Grizzlies in the last round – and particularly the verbiage of Dillon Brooks, the Pocket Draymond – will try to ignore Green, as is generally the wisest course.

    Still, one of the prop bets in this series, as offered by, is whether the first image shown in TNT’s Game 1 telecast Tuesday night will be that of Green and James squaring off in Game 4 of the 2016 Finals or LeBron’s chase-down block on Andre Igoudala in Game 7 of that series, en route to Cleveland’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win the series. Yes, there’s history here, but it’s more about James than it is about the Lakers.

    As was the case against Memphis, much of the Lakers’ success likely hinges on Anthony Davis, who averaged 22.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots per game against the Warriors in the regular season. Expect a big-time battle between Davis and former UCLA big man Kevon Looney, who averaged 9.3 rebounds for the Warriors in the regular season but 15.1 in the Sacramento series with three 20-rebound games, including 21 in Game 7.

    James probably won’t have anyone on the other side calling him old in this series, maybe because the “takes one to know one” comeback applies here. But they know him and he knows them, and there will be no secrets.

    For what it’s worth, the Lakers won three of the four regular-season meetings. When they lost by 14 at San Francisco on opening night back in October, the starting lineup was James, Davis, Russell Westbrook, Lonnie Walker IV and Patrick Beverley. In the aftermath, LeBron publicly criticized the makeup of the roster. and clearly Rob Pelinka was paying attention.

    The victories over the Warriors all occurred after the trade deadline: A six-point win at Chase Center on Feb. 11 with most of the new guys making their Lakers debuts, a 13-point win on Feb. 23 at home and an eight-point victory in downtown L.A. on March 5 featuring a 39-point afternoon by Davis in Curry’s return to the Warriors’ lineup.

    If Davis is the key for the Lakers, the 6-foot-7 Wiggins might be the Warriors’ X-factor. He was inactive for the final 25 regular-season games but played all seven against Sacramento, starting six, and averaged 18.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

    This series between two of the league’s legacy franchises is old school in another way, one peculiarly L.A. As spring continues, following first-round flameouts by the Clippers and the hockey Kings, it’s again up to the Lakers to carry the banner for Southern California, just like in the old days.

    It says here they’ll find a way to keep it going for at least another series. And before you scoff at Lakers in seven, remember who picked the Lakers in six over Memphis.

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    ​ Orange County Register