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Sports seriously: The NBA tournament is fast approaching. Mackenzie Salmon and Analis Bailey explain how the tournament will develop.

USA TODAY

In most cases, during his 18-year NBA career, LeBron James did not want to see Stephen Curry to succeed. That’s because James and Curry played against each other in four straight NBA finals.

Even if the same logic applies, when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center on Wednesday, James says Curry needs to bring at least some hardware home this season.

“We are playing, in my opinion, the MVP of our league this year in Steph,” said James. “We have to be prepared for everything they have. They have champion DNA. “

In the end, Curry, striker Draymond Green and coach Steve Kerr faced James with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals from 2015 to 2018. After the Warriors’ victory in 2015, James helped the Cavies become the first team in the NBA next year. History of the finals to overcome the deficit of 3-1 series. This partly led the Warriors to acquire Kevin Durant, who then helped the Warriors win consecutive titles while winning two MVP awards in the final.

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This season, however, the Warriors look drastically different. They were removed in one year from two key departures (Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala). Star guard Clay Thompson has also been removed for consecutive seasons because he tore an ACL in his left knee in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against Toronto before tearing his right Achilles tendon in a pickup truck on NBA Draft Day 2020.

“Everyone counted it this year,” James told Curry. “Everyone who says, ‘Now that Clay is injured, can Steph lead a team on his own?’ What will he do? Can he carry a team on his own? Can he wear a team in the season? Can he keep the team afloat? He did this and much more. “

Curry finished the 2020-21 season with a scoring league title for the second time in his career. After averaging 31.8 points per game at 33, Curry became the oldest points champion since 34-year-old Michael Jordan led the NBA in the 1997-98 season (28.7 points per game). Curry also outperformed his MVP seasons in 2014-15 (23.8 points) and 2015-16 (30.1), while leading the league in 3 points (328).

Other NBA players may receive more attention for the regular season because of the excellent records of their respective teams, including Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embid and Phoenix Suns keeper Chris Paul. The Suns (51-21) and the Nuggets (47-25) ranked second and third, respectively, in the Western Conference. The Sixers (49-23) have the best results in the Eastern Conference. And the Warriors (39-33) are ranked eighth in the Western Conference behind the Lakers (42-30).

“If Steph isn’t on the Golden State team, then what are we looking at?” James said. “Sometimes we catch the records and who has the best results compared to the one who had the best season this year. I think Steph had the best season of the year. “

James found parallels with that when Russell Westbrook won the MVP in the 2017 NBA regular season, although the Oklahoma City Thunder finished No. 6 in the West (47-35). But Westbrook won the trophy because he broke Oscar Robertson’s triple double in one season (81-79). As for Curry? He surpassed Jordan and Kobe Bryant last month for most games by 40 points in a month at 33 or more (five), and James Harden for the NBA record for a maximum of three points in a month (96). Yet only Michael Jordan (1995-96) and Karim Abdul-Jabar (1979-80) won the MVP award in the regular season of the NBA at the age of 33.

“Obviously I don’t think Steph will understand, because it’s another conversation in my eyes,” James said. “He played the best basketball of the year.”

Curry may respectfully disagree with how James considers him an MVP in the regular season of the NBA. Think about what Curry said to his teammates after finishing 46 points in Sunday’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

“No matter what anyone says, I appreciate everything they’ve brought this season,” Curry said. “It was not beautiful. It was not a steady climb at all, even to get to this place. But I appreciate everyone who is committed to how we play. It really unlocks what I do best and I try to help myself and try to help everyone else. “

However, Curry can appreciate the compliment. In the end, Kerr called Curry and James “two of the greatest players of all time.”

“You expect greatness. That’s the part that I really enjoyed playing in the finals against him and his teams in Cleveland and those games that matter, “said Curry. “It reveals another level of intensity and excitement and a sense of urgency because you know how well you have to play to win such games.”

The Lakers expect the same thing in their game against Golden State largely because of Curry.

“He’s going to be the snake’s head,” Lakers striker Anthony Davis told Curry. “If we can limit his attempts to 3 points and attempts for free throws, then we have a great chance to win. Their role players, their boys play great. These guys are rolling around and playing team basketball. We will not enter this game thinking it will be easy. “

James never thought of such a thing when he encountered Curry. He called it “quite unique and quite cool” that they faced four NBA finals in what significantly shaped James’ career in the NBA. James may have likened his entire 18-year career in the NBA to the Godfather trilogy, given his history with other star players. He had memorable regular season games against former Lakers star Kobe Bryant. He faced former Boston Celtics striker Kevin Garnett twice in the NBA playoffs (Eastern Conference semifinals 2008 and 2010). He competed against the San Antonio Spurs three times in the NBA Finals (2007, 2013-2014).

But James’ story with Curry goes beyond the NBA Finals. James has publicly backed Curry after he became known for Warriors’ refusal to visit the White House to celebrate his 2018 NBA title because of the divisive rhetoric of former President Donald Trump. James also chose Curry for this season’s All-Star game, which began with Curry mimicking James’ chalk toss.

James said, “It’s always been a level of respect that’s out of the game of basketball, the way I feel about Steph.”

Follow US TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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