As the NBA embarks on a possible evolution (for now, it’s an experiment) of its postseason format, the beginning of the 2021 NBA playoffs in the form of the 1st Play-in Tournament offers us 3 media/player narratives that will be shaped or destroyed in the next few days.
Stephen Curry and the playoffs.
When the 2019-20 was just about to begin, a lot of the talk regarding the suddenly depleted and injured Golden State Warriors revolved around Curry finally being ‘free’ and ‘unleashed’ to be a bit selfish and pad his own stats.
That didn’t happen because of injury as the Warriors spiraled from 5 consecutive NBA finals to bottom feeders. So the talk about the “selfish” version of Curry got postponed. And then Klay Thompson was out for the season again. What would happen to Curry?
He went supernova, winning the NBA scoring title and leading the Warriors to the 8th seed in the West, which means meeting the Los Angeles Lakers in the 7 vs 8 seed game.
And while Curry is probably the most comfortable-in-his-own-skin superstar in the NBA right now, it doesn’t mean outside questions about his place in the game’s history ever stop.
Regardless of how good he was during this regular season (in my book, should be 2nd on the MVP ballot behind Nikola Jokic), without playing at the same level or perhaps even better than what we’ve seen over the last couple of months (37.1 points per game since the beginning of April), it’s not just the Warriors who’ll be out of the playoffs; the choir preaching Curry’s inability to do it on his own will get louder.
LeBron James, per usual.
Last season’s Finals MVP played only 45 games this season, averaging career lows in minutes per game (33.4) and the lowest scoring figure of his career (25 a night) except for his rookie year.
To say the Lakers were worried about their seeding in this postseason, when teams still not having packed arenas to help them out in the playoffs, would be untrue. But no one in the organization wanted the season to reach this point – needing to win in the Play-in Tournament (they do have the maneuvering room of losing the 1st game) to get into the final 8 in the Western Conference Playoffs.
For the Lakers in the James era, as it’s been with him for a very long time, the regular season mostly doesn’t matter. And it’s not just about winning championships, but also about the narrative around him, which James constantly dabbles with.
His latest attempt at beefing up his legendary status is pushing for Curry to win the MVP. Does he actually believe that? Doesn’t matter. It’s all about making his road to a 5th NBA championship all the more difficult, despite being the overwhelming favorite along with the Lakers to repeat as champions when the season began.