Let’s get this out of the way right now: It’s not Steph vs. LeBron; it’s Kevon vs. AD.
Why? Because you can’t score without the ball.
Of course LeBron can rebound, and so can Draymond Green, but those two will have other concerns. But for the Warriors to deal with the Lakers, Kevon Looney has to not only defend Anthony Davis, but continue to dominate on the boards. And Davis, though fragile, is not soft – healthy and engaged, he is an elite talent.
Which brings us to point number two: Every NBA playoff series is different because the teams are so different. The young Sacramento Kings wanted to run and shoot and be athletic and basically outscore whoever they were playing. They had no rim protection and no physical presence but plenty of speed, skill and shooting.
The Lakers? D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt are the closest things to speed L.A. has to offer, and if three-pointers decide the series, the Lakers will lose. What they do have, though, is power. James is a force of nature, Davis can take over the paint on both ends, and role players like Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura and Dennis Schroder aren’t going to finesse anyone.
Luckily, the Warriors are used to shifting gears in postseason and while remaining true to their basic identity, can alter their rotation and their system to do what needs to be done. For example, Jonathan Kuminga averaged six minutes a game against the Kings while Moses Moody played 11 – but don’t be surprised if those numbers are reversed in round two. Kuminga is a much better matchup to Hachimura or Troy Brown, Jr., than Moody, as is JaMychal Green or Anthony Lamb.
And speaking of guys named Green, Draymond needs to balance passion and precision if the Warriors are to advance to the Western Conference finals. He will be the main defender on LeBron, and he must match LeBron’s strength without fouling, while at the same time keeping a check on his emotions (and his desire to use his feet to express his frustration).
James, of course, knows all too well how to push Green’s buttons, and if the Lakers can get Draymond in foul trouble, or trigger his tendency for stupid technical fouls, it’s a win for L.A.
Oh yes, that winning thing. Beating the Lakers requires a different mindset than beating the Kings. The games will be slower, more physical, more old school. L.A. doesn’t really have anyone who can make life difficult for Curry – not that anyone really can – so the plan will be to limit his chances to go off by making every possession on both ends of the floor a 24-second grind.
So unlike the Sacramento series, which required the Warriors to be conscious of the fact that the Kings were at their best on the run, the L.A. series requires the Warriors to run, run, and run some more because that’s where the Lakers’ weakness lies.
That said, the extra two days’ rest for L.A. could be a factor in game one, as the Curry, Klay Thompson and Wiggins all averaged more than 35 minutes in seven very difficult games. Green and Looney each averaged more than 30, and given where they play on the floor, those 30 minutes might be more wearing than the 35 the perimeter group played.
Which brings us back once more Kevon Looney. The Warriors don’t have a backup center. They don’t have a way to guard LeBron and AD without Looney on the floor. They don’t have a second presence on the glass. They don’t have another player who hunts offensive rebounds.
And you know, as great as Curry is, he has to have the ball to score – and if Kevon Looney can’t get the ball for Steph often enough, the Lakers will win the series.