NBC Sports

Steph vs. Luka promises to be spectacle worth watching

NBC Sports
Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic

The Stephen Curry Show, earning lavish praise from every pocket of civilization, welcomes a special guest Tuesday night. It might be wise to record this episode because the potential for spectacle is off the charts.

Luka Doncic is coming for Curry, and the battle will take place in a late-season game that truly matters to both the Warriors and the Dallas Mavericks.

“They're playing at a really high level, but so are we,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “A really big game for us and should be a lot of fun.”

Fun is Curry. Fun is Doncic. They are circus performers, or magicians, that happen to use a basketball court and a hoop instead of three rings and a cage beneath a trapeze. So, excuse the folks in the NBA’s New York office if they stay late, sipping champagne with and their feet atop $6,000 desks. It’s Steph vs. Luka, on national TV, destined to boost online apparel sales. This, for league accountants, is fantasy come to life.

No player is more mesmerizing than Curry at his best, and never has he been better than this month. He’s doing unprecedented things, and in ways too brazen for others to conceive, much less consider. He’s rewriting record books with an act that is art in motion.

In a league rife with superstars and, there are few players that compete with Curry on the pure entertainment scale. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic have their moments. Ja Morant is coming. And then there is Doncic, the cherubic wunderkind from Slovenia with a game that, like Curry’s, often requires a closer inspection to confirm authenticity.

 

Did he really try that shot? Did he actually make that shot? Wait, where did that pass come from? Pause. Rewind.

Though both are in the MVP conversation, Curry’s absurd stretch of play this month has pushed him ahead of Doncic. Curry leads all NBA scorers, averaging 31.3 points per game. Doncic is fourth, at 28.4. Curry’s 42.7 percent shooting from distance is the best among the top-10 scorers, whileDoncic’s 8.8 assists per game are the most among the top-10 scorers.

Those are statistics, though, and numbers don’t properly convey the viewing experience these two players provide.

“He’s an alien,” Bucks star Jrue Holiday, a guest on JJ Redick’s podcast, said of Curry, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs about 190 pounds.

“When you watch him play basketball, he is one of the few players in the NBA that you watch him play where it’s very clear that nobody else in the NBA can do what he’s doing,” Heat guard Duncan Robinson, on The Long Shot podcast, said of Curry.

Though Luka, at age 22, doesn’t approach Curry’s deep-shooting accuracy, he might be the best bet to match Steph’s court magnetism.

"I’m a fan of his. Very fun to watch him play,” Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler says of the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Doncic.

“He’s a different animal, man,” Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker says of Doncic. “At that size, with that handle and those skills ... at that age. It doesn’t seem fair.”

Both comments about Doncic were made to reporters more than a year ago, in his second season, after he stomped the sophomore slump/jinx by averaged a triple-double in November 2019 -- three months before turning 21.

Doncic finished fourth in MVP voting last season, when injuries limited Curry to five games. Luka was named first-team All-NBA, basically replacing Steph, who earned that distinction in 2018-19. It’s conceivable that both guards will be named to the 2021 first-team.

With Curry and the Warriors beating lead MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets twice this month and also dispatching Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers last week, this is his last regular-season game against an opponent often mentioned in MVP conversations.

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This is a chance for Luka to make a statement.

“We’ll watch and know what type of team is coming in,” Curry said in advance of Dallas’ 113-106 loss Monday night at Sacramento. “But there’s a big opportunity to beat a really good team that happens to be ahead of us.”

Well, yes, there is that. In the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference standings, the Mavericks are in position to avoid the play-in tournament. The Warriors at No. 10, four games up on the 11th-place New Orleans Pelicans -- but only two-and-a-half games behind Dallas.

 

With the Warriors and Mavericks splitting their first two games, over a three-day stay in Dallas, this game represents the head-to-head tie-breaker.

So, when the ball is tipped off around 6:30, much will be at stake. And there’s a basketball game, too.

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