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Lakers, Warriors square off with playoff spot on line

/ 03:40 PM May 19, 2021
: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers is guarded by Stephen Curry

FILE — LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers is guarded by Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Staples Center on January 18, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Harry How/Getty Images/AFP 

The Golden State Warriors and host Los Angeles Lakers will add a new chapter to their 72-year rivalry when they square off in an NBA play-in game Wednesday night at Staples Center.

The Warriors won a tie-breaker on the court Sunday over the Memphis Grizzlies to place eighth in the Western Conference, while the Lakers lost a season-series tie-breaker to Portland to land seventh, creating the all-California pairing in the West’s first-ever 7-8 play-in matchup.

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The winner will advance into the Western Conference playoffs main draw as the No. 7 seed and face the Phoenix Suns in the first round.

The loser also will have a chance to make the playoffs, but would have to win at home on Friday against the winner of Wednesday’s 9-10 duel between the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs in order to move on and meet the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

The Lakers took two of three from the Warriors in the regular season, exacting two measures of big-time revenge after suffering a shocking 115-113 home loss in January in a game Los Angeles led rather comfortably most of the way.

The Lakers pounded their rival by 26 and 31 points in the next two meetings — one at home and the last one in San Francisco — leaving no doubt by bolting out to a cumulative 138-94 halftime advantage.

The Lakers shot a season-best 62.8 percent from the field and got a 22-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double from LeBron James in the most recent meeting on March 15 in San Francisco.

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James sprained his right ankle five days later against Atlanta and sat out 26 of the final 30 games of the regular season as the Lakers slid down the standings.

James gave Lakers fans a scare when he tweaked the injury in Sunday’s regular-season finale at New Orleans, but promised afterward it would not affect his status for Wednesday’s game.

In fact, James has spent more time in the past three days concerned about the pending Most Valuable Player vote than his own health, pumping up Warriors guard Stephen Curry as his personal choice.

“If Steph is not on Golden State’s team, then what are we looking at?” James wondered aloud this week. “We get caught up in the records sometimes and who has the best record as opposed to who had the best season that year. Steph has had, in my opinion, the best season all year.”

Curry wrapped up his second career scoring title Sunday with 46 points in the Warriors’ 113-101 home win over Memphis. It was the 21st game of 30 or more points in his last 24 outings, a stretch during which he has averaged 36.9 points.

Curry didn’t have any of those 30-point games against the Lakers this season. He put up 26 points in the win at Los Angeles in January, but then averaged just 21.5 in the two subsequent head-to-head losses.

The Warriors have won six straight, the Lakers five in a row. Golden State coach Steve Kerr likes the way his team is playing.

“I kept telling you over the last six weeks that we were going to go on a run,” Kerr gushed this week, aware that his team has recorded the best record in the West (15-5) since April 10.

“We could feel our team improving and coming together a couple months back. We knew that the schedule would start to shift and favor us. We just felt like if we could hang in there that these last 20 games would be a chance for us to make a real push.”

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