My friends who write on this site are Chicago fans are not happy today. They are unabashed supporters of Dubs Nation, for reasons they have previously articulated. The particular appeal of the talents and class of Steph Curry, not to mention the pedigree of Warriors coach Steve Kerr as a teammate of who they both will defend to the death as basketball’s GOAT, Mr. 23/45, drives their allegiances, not to mention their unbrided despise of someone who some outside Chicago would contend should have that title, Mr. 23/6.
So I probably don’t need to regurgitate what ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin wrote late last night as Curry’s Warriors made their exit from the 2022-23 playoffs. But in the interest of fair and balanced sports journalism, I’m ducking my head:
The Lakers started the season eight games under .500. Now they are four wins away from the NBA Finals.
Los Angeles took down the defending champion Golden State Warriors 122-101 in Game 6 on Friday to advance to the Western Conference finals. The No. 7-seeded Lakers will go on the road to play the West’s top seed, the Denver Nuggets, in Game 1 on Tuesday.
James did indeed rise to the occasion last night with yet another chance to put away a team in an elimination game. As McMenamin reminds, he merely had yet another game for the ages:
James had 30 points on 10-for-14 shooting, 9 rebounds and 9 assists as he snapped a personal streak of 18 straight playoff games scoring under 30 points.
With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the man James passed as the league’s all-time leading scorer in February — sitting in the second row at Crypto.com Arena, James joined Abdul-Jabbar as the only other player age 38 or older to put up at least 30 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in a playoff game.
The win secured James his 41st postseason series win of his 20-year career, breaking a tie with Derek Fisher for the most all time.
But make no mistake. This was a team effort, with James only one of a host of standout performers. Anthony Davis, on the upside of his roller-coaster like and highly fragile post-season, came through with a 20 rebound effort. And once the supporting cast was overhauled just before the trade deadline, it keyed a resurgence seldom seen in NBA history that has paid off handsomely. Again, per McMenamin:
The Lakers started the season 2-10 under first-year coach Darvin Ham and completely overhauled the roster midway through the year thanks to a flurry of trades by vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka. They became just the fourth team in NBA history to be that many games below .500 and reach the conference finals since conferences were instated in the 1970-71 season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Lakers are the second No. 7 seed to reach the conference finals since seeding began in 1984, joining the 1987 Seattle SuperSonics.
In contrast, the defending champs’ season began to unravel in training camp, when Draymond Green and Jordan Poole exchanged punches. Many Dub Nation observers point to this incident as the beginning of many that revealed both physical and psychological flaws. As McMenamin’s colleague Bobby Marks wrote this morning, the eventual result that was finalized last night has now opened up even more questions about the immediate future of Dub Nation:
With four championship rings in the Stephen Curry era, Golden State may be facing the dawn of a new era this season with an aging core and a bloated payroll. Veteran fan favorites like Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are approaching the ends of their current deals, and the Warriors will have difficult decisions to make on how far they will go to preserve their core.
Draymond Green has a $27.6 million player option and could become a free agent. Thompson is entering the last year of his contract and is eligible for a long-term extension. The architect of the roster, general manager Bob Myers, has an expiring contract.
And, finally, the new collective bargaining agreement that starts July 1 places significant restrictions on how Golden State can improve the roster. If Green and Thompson are extended, the Warriors will continue to pay a significant luxury tax penalty in addition to the increased challenges in roster building (no midlevel exception, harder to make trades, etc.). There is also the question as to how much trust the coaching staff has in Jordan Poole. Signed to a four-year $123 million extension last October, Poole had an inconsistent regular season and struggled in the postseason.
My Chicago partners in crime also observed that Kerr’s body langauge down the stretch of this potential elimination game was telling unto itself. While Curry often performed at his typical lofty level, his teammates, particularly Green and Poole, looked lost and laggard as the Lakers proceeded to build their lead to over 20 points during the third quarter and never looked back. The celebrity-studded crowd, including the once-omni-present Jack Nicholson looking every minute of his 86 years and in seemingly frail health, rose to the occasion with deserved cheers. The Lakers had not only eliminated the world champions, they had eliminated their arch-rivals, in style, on their home court.
Their immediate worry is a Denver Nuggets team that was far superior to them in the regular season and is featuring its own superstar, Nikola Jokic, and his own wingman successfully coming back from injury, Jamal Murray, among others. The Nuggets should be favored, but bear in mind a healthy James and Davis, admittedly in the Orlando bubble, beat Jokic and Denver in five games in fall 2020. Whether the Denver crowd can be a factor or not for a Laker team with momentum may prove to be crucial.
I kind of know which way my Chicago brethren will be leaning. We’ll definitely be scrutinizing Denver, as they are a story definitely worth lauding and a team well worth watching. Arguably, a worthy potential successor to Dub Nation.
But I hope it’s possible for them, as well as other despisers of who they call The Fakers to give credit where credit is due. Salute Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV. Salute Darvin Ham and yes, even Rob Pelinka. And at least allow that for that group to oust Curry and company, they had to have least found a way to put six good games together when it counted most.
There will be time enough to worry about the Dubs. For at least today, replace the F with an L?