Back in the old, pre-play-in days, we had to wait until the NBA Finals to see LeBron James and Stephen Curry duke it out with their seasons on the line. Now? We don't even have to wait until the playoffs begin. On Wednesday, James will lead the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers against Curry and the three-time champion Golden State Warriors. The names and places might have changed, but the core intrigue of the matchup remains the same.
In one corner stands this generation's greatest player. In the other stands its greatest shooter. James has more championships overall with four. Curry has more championships directly against James thanks to his 3-1 head-to-head record against him in the Finals. Both have owned the NBA as undisputed title favorites. Now, they're playing for a No. 7 seed.
Still, despite the game's relatively low stakes compared to their usual matchups, the entire NBA is watching this game with great interest. No matter their teammates, their seed or their age, no team in basketball wants to face James or Curry in a seven-game series. Tonight, we'll find out which one advances into the playoffs, and which one will play an all-or-nothing game on Friday against the Grizzlies or Spurs. Here's who our experts are taking in the most anticipated play-in game of the postseason.
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Date: Wednesday, May 18 | Time: 10 p.m. ET | TV and live stream: ESPN
Reiter's take: Steph Curry is again the game's most potent scorer, the Warriors have reclaimed their defensive mojo (they boast a Top 5 defensive rating for the first time since 2016-17), and a more talented Lakers team still lacks the continuity needed for a one-game, high-pressure showdown. There's a hedge here on LeBron James' and Anthony Davis' health -- a fully good-to-go duo might be insurmountable -- but all signs point to the upset. Pick: Warriors
Ward-Henninger's take: Golden State had the league's best net rating and defense over their last 20 games of the regular season, and won a playoff-level matchup with Memphis in the finale. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers certainly aren't the Grizzlies, but Steph Curry and Draymond Green are playing at a high enough level to frustrate even an elite Lakers defense. Pick: Warriors
Herbert's take: While the Lakers are favored for obvious reasons, everybody's predictions are meaningless without knowing how they're going to manage their center rotation. I'm picking Golden State because, when in doubt, I pick chaos. Pick: Warriors
Botkin's take: LeBron James and company will cut off a decent amount of Steph Curry's off-ball action, and listen, we're talking about LeBron James and Anthony Davis here. Let's not forget that. The Lakers should not lose to the Warriors in any kind of postseason setting, but I will say, Steph Curry in a one-game setting is about as terrifying a player as exists on the planet. Pick: Lakers
Kaskey-Blomain's take: This is a game that would scare me if I were the Lakers given Curry's ability to completely go off at any given night. But what that said, the Lakers are the defending champions for a reason, and when they're healthy, they're a better team than the Warriors. In short, the combined greatness of James and Davis should outweigh the singular greatness of Curry in this one. Pick: Lakers
Maloney's take: Steph Curry has been so good this season, and him putting on a virtuoso performance to lead the Warriors to an upset would be such an awesome story that you can almost start talking yourself into it. But the Lakers are the Western Conference favorites for a reason, and with a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis they'll be too much. Pick: Lakers
Quinn's take: The Warriors are going to win the first quarter of this game. They're going to pick-and-roll the Laker centers to death and Stephen Curry is going to start out hot. And then the Lakers are going to put Anthony Davis at center at some point in the middle of the second quarter and order will be restored. The defending champs take care of business from there. Pick: Lakers
Wimbish's take: [Insert the "Paul Rudd look at us, who would've thought" gif here] Pick: Lakers
Thanks for checking us out, and good luck with your picks!