LeBron James and Chris Paul have been best friends for decades, two NBA savants and All-Stars who for the first time in their long and distinguished careerswill test their intellectual prowess against the other in the postseason.
Of course, it’s about more than James bringing his seventh-seeded Lakers into a first-round playoff series against Paul, who helped carry his second-seeded Phoenix Suns into this Western Conference affair.
The Lakers won a play-in game against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night to advance to the playoffs in order to begin the defense of their NBA championship. The Suns surprisingly produced the second-best record in the league at 51-21 and will have the home-court advantage over the Lakers in this seven-game series that starts Sunday afternoon with Game 1 in Phoenix.
Now, the two friends are foes who stand in the way of the other, and James and Paul will be trying to outwit the other so their team can come out victorious.
“Every time I faced [Rajon] Rondo in the past, I knew I had to be not only on my A-game as far as my game, but also my mind as well,” James said during his media session on Zoom after practice Friday. “And that’s the same with Draymond [Green], every time you go against those Warriors teams. So, I’ve had experiences with those two guys, so that will definitely help me in matching up with CP because I know the competitor and I know the IQ of the basketball player that he is.”
The mutual respect between James and Paul has bonded them, and that’s why the Lakers’ star says he is beyond bragging about his four NBA championships to the Suns’ star, who has not gotten past the second round of the playoffs over his 15 seasons in the NBA.
“Nah, I think you know me by now,” James said. “I think that’s not in my [character] traits. I don’t really talk about my accolades, or what I’ve been able to do. And our friendship is beyond that. So, I’m not one of those guys to talk about what I have. I think that’s very shallow. That’s beneath me, personally. So, I don’t get involved in that.”
James did talk about how devastating the Suns’ All-Star backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker are at the mid-range game.
Paul made a league-best 2.8 mid-range shots per game during the regular season for a league-best total of 197 baskets from that distance.
Booker made 2.5 mid-range shots, seventh in the league.
“Yeah, I mean, they’re not good; they’re great,” James said. “They’re the No. 1 mid-range team in the league because CP and Booker are the No. 1 and 2 mid-range players in our league. So, we understand that. The playoffs is all about chess moves, and it’s gonna be a chess match back and forth and see who makes the best moves.”
At a time when so much of the NBA is about three-point shooting, the Suns have taken advantage of Paul’s and Booker’s ability to weave their way from three-point territory into the mid-range area.
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During the regular season, the Suns made 7.6 mid-range shots, second in the league, and they made 47.4% from that distance, the best in the league.
That’s going to test the Lakers’ defensive philosophy, said Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ other All-Star.
“Yeah, a difference for our team because we like to allow guys to play in the mid-range and we like to take away the paint and the threes knowing that the league has become a three-point shooting league,” Davis said during his videoconference. “So, we try to take that away. But this team thrives on mid-range field goals, so it’s a little different for us but we know we can do it. We can adjust, for sure.
“This team is a great shooting team, not just from the mid-range. They can also spray out and hit a three as well. It puts us in a little bind, but our job is to make them all contested and make them [take] tough shots.”
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