Should LeBron James' Lakers fear Stephen Curry and the Warriors in play-in?
The two hottest teams in the NBA's Western Conference are headed on a collision course Wednesday.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers — winners of five straight games — will duke it out with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors — winners of six straight — for the West's No. 7 seed in the NBA's new play-in tournament.
After missing 26 of Los Angeles' previous 28 games because of an ailing right ankle, James returned for the Lakers' final two regular-season games.
In Saturday's 122-115 win against the Indiana Pacers, "The King" put in 24 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
He followed that performance with a 25/1/6 effort against the New Orleans Pelicans, including scoring seven points in just under five-and-a-half minutes played in the fourth quarter of a 110-98 victory on Sunday in the team's regular-season finale.
There was a moment of panic for Laker Nation when it seemed that LeBron had reinjured his ankle on a drive to the hoop in the fourth quarter.
His night on the floor ended following the incident, but the Lakers were comfortably ahead 100-87 at that point.
The 36-year-old quieted any major alarm bells about the ankle in his postgame news conference, saying "it was a tweak" and that he'll be "fine."
While it's doubtful that concerns about the ankle will go away entirely this postseason, the larger concern for LeBron & Co. will be making sure their stay in the playoffs isn't cut short.
By locking themselves into the No. 7 seed, the Lakers have the red-hot Warriors — led by Curry, this season's scoring champion — to worry about.
All Curry has done during Golden State's current six-game winning streak is average 37.2 points per game, capped by a 33-point second half against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.
Curry has been cooking opponents all season and doing so without the help of his primary running mate, Klay Thompson, who was ruled out for the season before it even began.
Curry's offensive firepower isn't lost on LeBron, who heaped praise when speaking to the media Sunday, casting his vote for Curry as the season's MVP.
"I mean, just look at what he's done this year," James said. " … I don't know [of] anything else if you're looking for an MVP. If Steph is not on Golden State's team, then what are we looking at?"
It certainly seems that LeBron won't be providing Curry any bulletin-board material — for good reason.
As James noted, the two have crossed paths on the court many times — 38, to be exact, per Land of Basketball.
While LeBron holds the edge in individual statistics, Curry has the key figure in his favor: wins. He's 22-16 against James' teams, including a 15-7 record in the NBA Finals.
The stakes are much lower for this contest, and LeBron's Lakers are favored by four points, according to FOX Bet's insights.
"It's Steph Curry. He's the man," Taylor said. "This was the year that Steph Curry was supposed to be exposed, and he's done the complete opposite of that. … I think it's logical to have some kind of fear about this game. Anything can happen."
Nick Wright took a different approach to how much the Lakers should be afraid of the Warriors. He likened the fear of facing the Warriors to that of a roller-coaster ride.
"I look at this Wednesday night game like a great roller coaster," Wright said. "Will there be moments of irrational fear during the ride? Maybe. But you get on it. Why do you do it? You say, ‘Man, this is gonna be fun, and I know where it’s ending.' … I'm not concerned. The Lakers shouldn't be concerned."
Even if the Lakers were to lose to the Warriors, they'd have a playoff lifeline in a win-or-go-home battle for the No. 8 seed against either the Grizzlies or San Antonio Spurs.
Although ESPN's Jay Williams sees the Lakers winning their matchup against the Warriors, he also predicted that both teams will find their way to the larger playoff field.
"I have the Lakers beating Golden State in the first round for a 7-seed, and then I have Golden State beating Memphis, probably, for that 8-seed."
Beyond the play-in, Chris Broussard didn't see too much in the way of trouble for the Lakers in the Western Conference.
He broke down his thoughts on Monday's episode of "Undisputed," on a scale of 1 to 10.
"Now, I'm a 7.0. I clearly have the Lakers favored to win. … The only team in the Western Conference that can beat the Lakers in a seven-game series — if [Anthony Davis] and LeBron play — are the LA Clippers, and even then, I've got the Lakers favored."
Ric Bucher wasn't as bullish on the Lakers, giving them a 4 on the scale of 1 to 10.
A number of factors were at play for Bucher, including the challenge of getting past Curry, his not being sold on Los Angeles' recent performances and looming concerns about health for LeBron and Davis.
If one thing's for certain, it's that the play-in has added a new level of drama to the NBA's playoff proceedings.
What better way to cap the action than with the Lakers hosting the Warriors at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday in Los Angeles?
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