Game, set, match.

We have officially made it to the NBA 2021 playoffs, and what a ride it’s been leading up to it. The first games were played for the Eastern Conference last night with wins from the Pacers and the Celtics. Meanwhile, the Western Conference play-in kicks off tonight, with the Los Angeles Lakers looking to secure the seventh-seed spot with a win against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors at 10 p.m. ET.  Will the defending champs keep fighting for a repeat or will Golden State shut them down early?

Setting the scene

According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Matchup Predictor reads 59% in favor of a Los Angeles Lakers win. Both teams have had their fair share of struggles this season. LeBron James’ high ankle sprain caused him to miss 26 of the last 30 games of the Lakers’ season. The Warriors have been lacking depth since the loss of James Wiseman, due to his injury in April, and Klay Thompson, who has not played an NBA game since June of 2019.

Despite the Lakers’ many hiccups leading up to this matchup, they are coming in hot off of a five-game win streak and are dominating on defense. Andre Drummond has lead the team in rebounds the last four games, having 10+ rebounds each game. James’ return to the court has also contributed to the Lakers’ surge in momentum, most notably when he scored 25 points and gave 6 assists during Sunday’s 110-98 win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

“LeBron James [at] 80% [health] is still better than 90% of the league,” Jay Williams, ESPN Basketball Analyst said on Get Up on Tuesday. “Steph needs to be prolific for [the Warriors] to beat the Lakers.”

Golden State needs to have their supporting cast play a huge role in taking some of the pressure off Curry. The Lakers defense will not go easy on the leading offensive player in the NBA. Curry is dangerous from the three-point line, averaging 5.3 three-pointers per game, and is the leading scorer in the league with 32 points per game, per ESPN stats. The Lakers are ranked 25th in 3’s made per game and 21st in team 3-point percentage, per ESPN. This gives the Warriors an advantage in shooting.

The Warriors are not to be ruled out, as they are also coming off a hot streak. They have won their last six games with players like Kevon Looney and Draymond Green stepping up to the plate. Green is tied for third in the league for assists, alongside Chris Paul, with 8.9 assists per game, per ESPN stats. Looney has carried the team in rebounds in four of the last six games, averaging 5.3 rebounds per game this season, per ESPN.

Stars align

The last time James and Curry met in a winner-take-all scenario was Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. That game drew in 30.8 million viewers, per ESPN. Back then, James played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and would fall short to Golden State four games to three in that series. Now on the Lakers, James, Davis, and the rest of the team are out for blood with hopes to make up for all the inconsistencies this past year.

This matchup is arguably the most anticipated game in round one of the playoffs. Tune in tonight and join the millions of others to watch the battle between LeBron and Steph. Are you #TeamLakers or #TeamWarriors? Comment below!

NBA PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT: WASHINGTON WIZARDS ARE THE TEAM TO BEAT IN THE EAST