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Lakers vs. Warriors: What scouts expect in playoff series

You can be forgiven if your mind goes to a specific place when you first start thinking about the Lakers’ upcoming playoff series with the Golden State Warriors.

Yeah, it’s regional, L.A. versus the Bay Area, but in this league, it’s another round of the NBA’s two biggest stars meeting in the playoffs again, this time the Western Conference semifinals, which open Tuesday night in San Francisco.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry have shared the court for four different NBA Finals, James and his Cavaliers winning once, and now they’ll do it again for the first time in the same conference.

The series will hinge on more than its two most famous contributors.

The Times spoke with three NBA insiders — one Western Conference executive, one Western Conference scout and one Eastern Conference scout — to get their initial reactions on the matchup and which team has the edge. They spoke on condition of anonymity since they are not authorized to speak publicly on such matters.

“I think it’s going to be really entertaining. Two really, really good teams playing,” the West scout said. “I think I favor the Warriors, but it’s which style of play works. I don’t think [Kevon] Looney has the same kind of impact against Anthony Davis as he did against [Domantas] Sabonis. … The Lakers will want to play a little slower, walk it up more. They don’t shoot nearly as many threes. It’ll be whose style wins out.”

The West executive said he favors the Warriors in a tight series.

“I was watching Golden State-Sacramento, and I was thinking if Sacramento wins, the Lakers beat them, I think for sure, because of the experience. You saw that in Game 7,” the executive said. “But if the Warriors won, I felt like they’d beat the Lakers for the same reasons. Their experience. Bron is Bron. I get it. But they’re [Warriors] a well-oiled machine.”

The biggest challenge for the Lakers will be slowing Curry, who delivered a historic 50-point game to close out the Kings in Game 7 on Sunday. The West scout expects the Lakers to try Jarred Vanderbilt on Curry as the team used him on Ja Morant in the first round.

“I think Vando is a big part of it,” the West scout said. “I thought he was a big part of the first-round series. … He’s so good, long and disruptive — his length and his ability to move. It’s just another body you can throw at him.

“… But nobody really guards Steph.”

The East scout agreed.

“I think you’ve got to mix it up a bit, you have to impact the ball,” he said. “The bigs have to be up and committed and also challenging shots. Vanderbilt can guard guards on the perimeter as good as any big in the league.”

Lakers forward LeBron James tries to trap Warriors guard Stephen Curry in the corner along the baseline during a game in March.

(Ashley Landis/AP)

The Warriors led the NBA in three-point attempts in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, a new set of challenges for Davis and the Lakers defense. Against the Grizzlies, a team that loved getting into the paint, Davis was a force at the rim, blocking 26 shots and was single-handedly capable of forcing the Grizzlies to short-circuit.

The assignment is different here.

“Lakers did a ton of helping off Dillon Brooks,” the West Scout said. “They really took away the paint against Memphis. And this is kind of the inverse of that. … Can you invert your defense a little bit and play the perimeter?”

Obviously, the Lakers will be challenged by Klay Thompson’s shooting, Andrew Wiggins’ athleticism, Draymond Green’s playmaking and Looney’s rebounding.

“For a team that hasn’t been together for very long, being on the same page defensively and talking and switching … it just comes at you so fast from them,” the West scout said.

Everyone agreed that Davis is the Lakers’ biggest weapon, his ability to dominate against Golden State’s lack of size and depth is a pathway for the team to advance.

“The way he played the last game is the way he’s capable,” the East scout said of the closeout win against the Grizzlies. “I think he’s the biggest advantage.”

The best arguments for the Lakers include some version of Davis dominating and the team’s role players hitting shots and competing on defense, not unlike the moments Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves had in the first round.

Having James is a big help, too.

“I do think the mentality of the team … Bron’s on a thing,” the West executive said. “He’s always looking at legacy. If he can take this seven seed and win a championship, that’ll rise him up above the rest. … You’ll get a motivated Bron. A motivated AD. And if Russell and those guys make some shots, that’s an advantage.

“But he’s the X-factor. Bron’s got to be Bron, but he’s got to do it for the seven games.”

While some around the league have wondered about Darvin Ham’s ability to make the right adjustments in big moments as a rookie head coach, the East scout said he was impressed with how the Lakers handled the Grizzlies.

“I think Darvin Ham proved himself, winning on the road [in Game 1], getting those guys to bounce back after losing Game 5,” he said. “You have to give him credit for navigating a tough regular season and then getting a new group at the trade deadline, figuring it out and then winning a series as an underdog.”

Ultimately, though, the Warriors’ championship pedigree is why the West scout favors the Warriors in the series — even if James knows the Warriors as well as anyone.

“It is certainly always an advantage to have LeBron James in a playoff series,” the West scout said with a laugh. “And he’s the guy who has faced the Warriors more than anybody, and he’ll be able to call out what they’re trying to do.

“But it’s one thing to hear it and talk through it and another to feel the landslide like the Kings did on Sunday.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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