The primetime Christmas game takes place in the Bay, as Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers take on the defending champion Golden State Warriors. This game includes 3 of the NBA’s biggest stars battling to show who is truly the best player in the world. Now, one of these teams has 2 of those guys, which may be seen as just a slight advantage, along with the 2 other all-stars with them. That is how these guys treat this game though, so it will be great television to watch them square off in a game that should feature a playoff atmosphere.
Expect a High-Scoring Affair
The over/under on this game is the highest on the Christmas slate by almost 10, which makes sense for two of the teams that WANT to play the fastest. The Warriors are 10th in pace while the Lakers are 5th, but I think both teams actually would like to be even higher on that list than they are currently. However, both teams are above average in defensive efficiency, which does just naturally decrease your team’s pace because the less wide open shots you give up, the longer the other team will hold the ball. Playing at such a high pace and also defending in an efficient manner also show that both of these teams have elite athletes on the court at all times.
Defensive efficiency is measured in possessions, not games, so it is theoretically “to scale.” However, the faster you play, the more likely it is that defensive breakdowns will happen, which is not even considered. This makes it harder to be a fast and defensively efficient, which both of these teams do so well. I think that this will be the biggest key to the game. Who dictates the pace? The Lakers should run all game long, while the Warriors would be the much better team if this were a slow game. I believe that the pace of this game will be extremely fast because the Warriors think that playing fast is their style and that they are the best in the world at it. While I agree with that, I just think that the Lakers are elite in fast situations while they are not going to be a good half court team for a while. The Warriors can succeed in either situation.
Other Things To Watch Out For
The second thing to look out for in this game is very much similar to the pace matchup: who will go small first and how early will it happen. The Warriors have run a lot of Draymond Green at the center because of two reasons: they can run better with a 6’7 center that is a good ball-handler and passer, and Andre Iguodala is better than any center they would have in the game. This season, we have seen a little bit of Jonas Jerebko at the 5 to close games because he can shoot 3s better than Iguodala, but that is usually when they are trailing and vs. a team that they would not use Iggy to guard a specific wing player.
The other part of this equation is the Lakers’ center depth. JaVale McGee is likely out, and Tyson Chandler is questionable. Zubac, a third-year center, has come on in the last 2 games and been outstanding. Zubac has really always been efficient on the offensive end and he is a presence down low, but he has been rather discouraged and lacked motivation a lot. This chance seems to have really sparked him to play the best basketball of his career. Will Zubac see 30+ minutes against the Warriors? I doubt it, but can he? Maybe. The Warriors notoriously isolate centers on screens. Zubac will likely not be good on the perimeter vs. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, just a hunch. How much will the Warriors try to do this and how quickly will they sub out their post presence to play Kuzma and LeBron at the 5? That will play a big role in how this game plays out.
Lakers vs. Warriors Prediction
This is the biggest game in the regular season discounting games with playoff implications. LeBron James with his third team trying to overtake the team that has gotten the best of him during what seems to be the prime of his career. I think that James and the Lakers get up and keep this one close. Last season, the Warriors beat the Lakers every game by 11, 7, 4 (OT), and 2 (OT). This Lakers team is much improved, and I think they match-up great stylistically. I think this game is down to the last minute, so give me the Lakers (+9).