NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Play-In Previewby Garrett Brooks May 18, 2021 0 comments
Night two of the NBA Play-In tournament features a pair of Western Conference matchups. Plenty of star power will be on display, especially in the second game of the ESPN doubleheader. That game features the Golden State Warriors taking on the Los Angeles Lakers, with the winner securing the 7th seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
First, we must discuss the first game of the slate, which has some interesting storylines itself. The play-in tournament has received mixed reviews so far, but the quality of the games it created this season could help it in sticking around for the foreseeable future.
Spurs (10) vs. Grizzlies (9)
Wednesday night kicks off with a single-elimination showdown between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies ascension continues as they look to take another step forward with their young core by sending the Spurs packing. It won’t be easy, as they’re facing a much more experienced team led by one of the game’s greatest coaches of all time in Gregg Popovich.
For what it’s worth, the Grizzlies won the season series, 2-1. Things are obviously a lot different now given what is at stake.
Among the most important factors in how this one plays out is the matchup between the teams young lead guards. Both Morant and Murray are the engines that keep their respective teams running, though they do so in different ways. That makes the matchup more interesting to watch in this case.
Morant is a rising star, as many already know. He is still just 21 years old and is already someone you’d want leading your franchise. He finished the regular season, which was his second in the NBA, with averages of 19.1 points, 7.4 assists and 4 rebounds. There isn’t anything Morant doesn’t do on the court, but in the single-game elimination, he will be pestered by Murray up and down the court.
Murray is not only among the best rebounding guards in the league today, but he’s also elite as an on-ball defender. If he is able to limit or slow down Morant in this game the Spurs are significantly increasing their chances to win. Keep an eye on these two throughout the game, it should be quite the battle between the two young point guards. Morant scorched the Spurs in three meetings this season by averaging 25.3 points and 9.3 assists on 62 percent shooting.
DeMar Derozan Key to a Spurs Win
While Murray is key to the Spurs success in this one because of the added importance of his defense, DeMar Derozan remains the key to the Spurs offensive success. The veteran wing led the team in scoring this season at 21.6 points per game. He also led the team in assists by averaging a career high 6.9 per game.
At 31 years old it’s quite impressive to see him evolve his game so significantly. He wasn’t a bad playmaker before but this year he has taken on the role of the teams main distributor. If the Spurs want to keep their season going, Derozan will have to lead the way offensively. It could be his final days wearing a Spurs jersey, as well. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent this off-season.
Warriors (8) vs. Lakers (7)
The main event of the play in games is the Warriors Lakers matchup that will wrap up the first set of games. The storylines write themselves for this one and the star power is oozing. While the Warriors are without guys like Klay Thompson and rookie James Wiseman, they do still have Draymond Green and a man named Stephen Curry.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are the defending champions and have two of the best players in the entire world in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The NBA can’t be upset with these two teams playing against each other in the play-in tournament.
Curry is on Fire and the Lakers are well Aware
The Lakers, like the rest of the basketball world, are fully aware of the level Steph Curry is playing at right now. LeBron made that very clear with his recent comments regarding Curry and his case for the MVP award.
"We’re playing, in my mind, the MVP of this year in Steph.”
LeBron James on Steph Curry pic.twitter.com/xznbJY7J2a
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 17, 2021
If this game was single-elimination, the Lakers would be in very real danger. That is how good Curry is playing right now. You can defend him perfectly and do everything you’re supposed to and it simply might not matter. Luckily, the loser of this game gets another chance to earn a playoff spot. That’s good for both teams as Steph is shooting like, Steph I guess, and LeBron is capable of dominating a game similarly but in a different way.
Curry led the league in scoring at 32 points per game and in the month of May averaged 36.8 points per game in eight regular-season contests. The Warriors won seven of those eight games and come in with a very real chance of taking the seven seed from the Lakers.
Lakers Big Advantage
While Steph presents a big challenge for the Lakers with his recent play, the Lakers have a big advantage of their own, literally. With Andre Drummond now a part of the frontcourt alongside Davis, the Lakers have a massive frontcourt advantage and should be able to bully the Warriors frontcourt inside and on the glass.
Drummond averaged a double-double in the month of May, putting up 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Davis is obviously a dominant force in the frontcourt, giving the Lakers a massive advantage over the Warriors bigs of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney. Expect to see the Lakers dominate the game by slowing it down and getting it inside while the Warriors ride Curry and his shooting on the other end.
The Lakers big man advantage, in addition to obvious things like having James as well, should be the difference maker and be enough for them to handle business in this one. If not, the Lakers might not be as lethal of a playoff team as some think as we near the start of the real playoffs.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images