For just the second time in league history, the NBA postseason will begin with a series of play-in games to determine the No. 7 and 8 seeds in each conference. And wouldn't you know it, the 7-8 matchup in the West is as juicy as it gets: the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.
Technically, it's not a playoff game. The winner will get the No. 7 seed; the loser will play the winner of Memphis-San Antonio for the No. 8 seed. But it feels like a playoff game. You win, you're in, destined for a first-round matchup with the No. 2 Suns. You lose, and your season is on the brink.
After four straight Finals matchups from 2015 through 2018, this will mark the fifth time in seven seasons that LeBron James and Stephen Curry have met in the postseason. It is the Magic-Bird rivalry of this era. Before they square off again, James had some high praise for his all-time counterpart.
LeBron James: "We're playing, in my mind, the MVP of this year in Steph."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) May 17, 2021
LeBron was asked to follow up on his assertion that Curry -- who scored 46 points on Sunday to seal his second scoring title and lead the Warriors into the No 8 seed -- should be the MVP this season, and what it means to him to have his career cross paths with Curry yet again.
"For our paths to continue to cross in our careers is pretty unique and pretty cool," LeBron said. "Our paths have been crossed again. It's always been a level of respect that's even beyond the game of basketball, the way I feel for Steph. Just look what he's done this year. Everybody counted him out this year. Everybody saying now that Klay is hurt, can Steph lead a team on his own, can he carry a team into the postseason, can he keep a team afloat, he's done that and more. If you're looking for MVP, if Steph is not on Golden State's team, what are we looking at? We get caught up in the record sometimes instead of just saying, 'who had the best season that year?' And Steph has had, in my opinion, the best season all year. Obviously I don't think Steph is going to get [the MVP]. ... That's another conversation. But in my eyes, he's played the best basketball all year round."
Here's the video if you want to listen to LeBron's full remarks.
LeBron is right about one thing: Curry isn't going to win MVP this year. That honor is almost certainly going to go to Nikola Jokic, who has been absolutely fantastic, historic even, in his own right. Whether Curry should win MVP is at least an honest conversation.
To LeBron's point, if you took Curry off the Warriors, they would be one of the worst teams in the league. But take Jokic off the Nuggets and you don't have a whole lot more. For that matter, take Damian Lillard off the Blazers. Take Luka Doncic off the Mavericks. Take Joel Embiid off the Sixers. Take Chris Paul off the Suns. Take Giannis Antetokounmpo off the Bucks. Take LeBron off the Lakers, and even with Anthony Davis, you're looking at a potential lottery team.
All of these guys are enormously valuable through the lens of what their teams would look like without them. As LeBron said, it's really easiest to just reward the guy who had the best season. A lot of people believe that was Jokic. Personally, I would agree with LeBron. I think Curry had the best season. I think he played like the best player in the world for more time this season than any other player, including LeBron.
But I don't have a vote. It doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't even matter what LeBron thinks, though you have to wonder if his remarks will potentially influence a voter or two who might've been on the fence. It likely won't be enough to make a major difference. Jokic is going to win. And it'll be deserved.
LeBron might even be playing a little head game here in trying to pump up his opponent to make it seem like that much harder of a task, or at least steering clear of any bulletin-board material. But his sentiments are well taken. Curry has a legit case for what would be his third MVP, even if he won't win it.