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LeBron vs. Steph: What to watch for in Game 2 of Lakers-Warriors

Game 1 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors revealed a roadmap to a series victory for both teams.

It’s a contrast in styles in their Western Conference semifinals matchup.

The Warriors want to punish the Lakers with their 3-point shooting (they took 53 3-pointers in the Lakers’ Game 1 victory), play fast and wear down the Lakers with their ball and player movement.

The Lakers want to grind down the Warriors offensively in the half-court, use fast breaks wisely, let Anthony Davis and LeBron James operate offensively and use their size and strength to beat up the Warriors on offense and defense.

It’s the Warriors’ small ball vs. the Lakers’ size and length.

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Whoever can stay on the road long enough without veering into the ditch too many times will win this series.

Let’s take a look at things to watch in Game 2 on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Lakers fatigue vs. Warriors stamina

Davis played 44 minutes and the 38-year-old James played 40, and while the Warriors lost, they’re playing the long game − to stretch the series and leave the Lakers with little in the tank the deeper the series goes.

Golden State’s Steph Curry runs all over the court, logging 2.73 miles in Game 1. Klay Thompson put in 2.86 miles and Jordan Poole covered 2.17 miles in 30 minutes, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data. It’s not easy defending the Warriors. James compared the Warriors to the Road Runner and said they drive you crazy. Dennis Schroder joked he might need an IV to replace all the fluid he lost chasing Curry and the Warriors guards.

The Lakers let a 112-98 lead in the fourth quarter evaporate, missing 10 consecutive shots as the Warriors tied the score at 112-112 with 1:38 remaining.

Against Memphis and in Game 1 against Golden State, the Lakers managed their legs well enough to get wins. Their chances of winning the series depends on their ability to keep up with the Warriors.

3-pointers galore

The Warriors’ 53 3-point attempts were five shy of tying the playoff record Houston set in 2020. Golden State made 40% of those 3s against the Lakers and outscored them 63-18 from 3-point range. But the Lakers outscored the Warriors 74-44 inside the arc and made 20 more free throws.

Curry, Thompson, Poole and Draymond Green were a combined 11-for-33 inside the 3-point arc. The Lakers will take that and the 54-28 scoring edge in points in the paint. They can’t afford to be bludgeoned on 3s and 2s. One or the other but not both.

Golden State will try to find easier two-point attempts in Game 2, especially for Curry who destroyed Sacramento with his nifty paint shots in Game 7.

Lakers’ guards

D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Schroder have difficult assignments. Help contain Curry, Thompson and Poole, with assistance, and provide offense. They did that in Game 1. Russell and Schroder each had 19 points, and Reaves had 10 while making sure the 73 points from Curry, Thompson and Poole didn’t overwhelm the Lakers.

How they respond in Game 2 is worth watching.

Anthony Davis’ two-way performance

Davis may not have efforts of 30 points, 23 rebounds, five assists and four blocks every game like he did in Game 1, but the Lakers require his offense and defensive production every game. If he’s in the 24-point, 12-rebound, three-block range, Los Angeles is in solid shape. If he has one of those 4-for-14 offensive duds like he did twice against Memphis, that plays in the Warriors’ favor.

The Lakers have a decided advantage with Davis, and they used him in the low post and high post in Game 1. Kevon Looney is good and fits nicely with what Golden State does, but guarding Davis is more difficult than guarding Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis.

LeBron James’ production

Since tearing a tendon in his right foot and missing games after the All-Star break, James’ scoring, field goal percentage and assists decreased compared to pre-All-Star statistics. And that’s carried over into the postseason. He’s averaging 22.1 points and 5.0 assists and is shooting 46.6% from the field and 18.4% on 3-pointers.

He had 22 points (9-for-24 from the field, 1-for-8 on 3s), 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in Game 1. But there’s a tradeoff that works in the Lakers’ favor.

James is locked in defensively. He gets steals and blocks, and the Lakers have the No. 1 defense in the playoffs, allowing just 103.9 points per 100 possessions. Los Angeles relies on James to contribute offensively, and so far, that’s been enough. There may come a time when more offense is necessary.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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