The NBA play-in tournament matchup nobody expected -- but everyone realized they wanted -- is a reality.
The eighth-seeded Warriors will play the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday at Staples Center at 7 p.m. PT, with one of the Western Conference's last two spots in the NBA playoffs up for grabs. The Portland Trail Blazers clinched the sixth seed by beating the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, rendering the Lakers' result against the New Orleans Pelicans irrelevant due to tiebreakers.
The Warriors-Lakers winner will advance to play the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The loser must beat the winner of the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs in a Friday home game. That game's winner will play the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the first round.
Golden State (2019) and Los Angeles (2020) are the last two Western Conference champions, and the Lakers won an NBA championship just over seven months ago in the league's bubble just outside of Orlando, Fla. LA won the regular-season series, beating Golden State two out of three times and averaging a 28.5-point margin of victory.
While the Warriors and Lakers haven't played in an NBA postseason since the 1991 Western conference semifinals, Golden State has playoff familiarity with LA's two biggest stars.
The Warriors went a combined 8-1 in first-round playoff series against Anthony Davis' Pelicans in 2015 and '18. During that timeframe, Golden State squared off with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in four consecutive NBA Finals. The Warriors beat the Cavs in three out of four, infamously losing in 2016 after blowing a three-games-to-one lead.
Curry and James played together in the NBA All-Star Game for the first time this year, placing their playoff rivalry well behind them. For at least one night, they will renew pleasantries as postseason competitors, with Curry's Warriors once again standing in James' way.
Klay Thompson's recovering from a torn Achilles and Kevin Durant's now a Brooklyn Net, so these Warriors look much different than the last time Golden State played James in the postseason. Curry just won another NBA scoring title and Draymond Green is in the middle of another NBA All-Defense campaign, but the Warriors aren't playoff-tested outside of their two biggest stars.
The Lakers, banged up as they are after James appeared to aggravate his injured right ankle Sunday, have much more playoff experience. Most of LA's roster is unchanged from a season ago, save for a few key additions who have proven playoff performers. Andre Drummond (eight NBA playoff games) is an exception, but Marc Gasol (94), Montrezl Harrell (26) and Dennis Schroeder (46) have plenty of postseason mileage on their odometers.
It's unclear how much that gap in experience will matter. Neither the Warriors nor the Lakers wanted to begin a playoff run in the play-in tournament, and the loser will have the most difficult road possible if they make the NBA playoffs.
Both teams and their fan bases would be unhappy in defeat, but the same can't be said for neutral observers.