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Steph, LeBron to battle again in a clash of NBA titans

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LeBron James and Dennis Schroeder guarding Steph Curry

So here they are again, two titans of sport, each feathered with accolades, chasing yet another champagne shower, this time while trying to keep Father Time locked in a trunk under the smallest postseason stage they’ve ever shared.

Steph Curry and LeBron James, the only active NBA players with multiple MVP awards and multiple championship rings, deserve to compete for nothing less than the Larry O’Brien Trophy signifying the best team in the league.

But only one of them can have a direct path.

It’s the Warriors vs. the Lakers, in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Sometime late that night, either Curry or James will take his team immediately into the NBA playoffs. The losing team will join its first-ballot Hall of Famer for one more detour that could lead to those same playoffs.

A win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday put Curry and the Warriors into the No. 8 seed, with the No. 7 seed still undecided. He did, however, address the possibility facing old frenemy LeBron and the Lakers.

“You expect greatness,” he said Sunday. “That’s the part I’ve enjoyed so much about playing in Finals against him, against those Cleveland teams in those games that matter. It brings out another level of intensity and excitement and a sense of urgency because you know how good you have to play to win games like that.

 

“If it happens on Wednesday, it’s the same kind of scenario with just a different situation with the play-in situation.”

The 16-team playoffs begin next Saturday. There’s a very good chance both Curry and James will be there. Make it so.

While some folks grumble and groan about the play-in tournament, the NBA and its TV partners will take this matchup straight to the bank. They’re so giddy about this that they’re trying to rewrite the play-in rules, for this series only, to make it at least best-of-five -- if not somehow rub the ninth-seeded Grizzlies and 10th-seeded San Antonio Spurs completely out of the picture. 

That’s the appeal of Steph and LeBron, who have spent most of the last six years sharing the top of the league marquee.

They spent four consecutive seasons competing for the championship, Curry with Warriors and James with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“You’re talking about two of the greatest players of all time, both guys still playing at such an elite level,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “And, of course, four meetings in the Finals is going to create a rivalry.

“There’s tremendous mutual respect between the two of them.”

Curry is 3-1 against James in the playoffs and, even now, some argue the defeat should come with an asterisk due to the NBA issuing a surprising one-game suspension -- considering the stakes -- of Draymond Green.

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Know this: LeBron would love, love, love to knock Steph and the Warriors down a slot. James won’t give a whit about Curry’s tender backside.

Know this, too: Steph would love it even more if he and the Warriors were to somehow push the LeBron and the reigning champs into another play-in game. Curry won’t care that James limped off the court yet again with a sore right ankle.

If they play, and both will, that’s all that’s what matters.

Ultimately, the only way the NBA and millions of fans around the world get what they really crave -- both Steph and LeBron in the real sweepstakes -- is if one is a No. 8 seed.

Yes, No. 8 seems beneath either. But it’s where they are. Getting in is what matters, for the party won’t be complete if either is absent.

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