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The inaugural NBA Play-In Tournament will commence this week ahead of the 2021 playoffs, and the league couldn’t have asked for a better matchup in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will face off against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors this Wednesday in the 7-8 matchup. The two future Hall of Famers are used to playing each other in the NBA Finals, but this year they’ll be fighting for their playoff lives in a single-game showdown.

James, being the calculating chess player he is off the court, paid Curry a glowing compliment ahead of the matchup by saying he deserves the league MVP award this season.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry headline the NBA Play-In Tournament

LeBron James says Stephen Curry should be the NBA MVP just days before the two will meet in the NBA Play-In Tournament.
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors guards LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA game at Staples Center | Harry How/Getty Images

When the NBA announced the creation of the play-in tournament before the 2021 season, the league was hoping one realistic championship contender could slip into the 7-10 spots in either conference. But Adam Silver probably didn’t expect to strike gold in the Western Conference the way he did.

Due to both teams battling injuries all season long, the Lakers and Warriors fell to the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the West, and they’ll face off in the first round of the newly established tournament this Wednesday.

James vs. Curry. The reigning champs vs. the last NBA dynasty. The winner moves on to play the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. The loser could be out of the postseason completely with one more slip-up.

Get your popcorn ready.

James butters up Curry with a timely compliment

James has always been a cunning figure off the court. From recruiting future free agents during All-Star weekend to speaking his mind about changes the NBA should implement moving forward, James is aware of the power he holds around the league, and he knows how to use it to get exactly what he wants.

That makes his timely comments about Curry this week extremely interesting. Just a few days before the much-anticipated play-in game between the Lakers and Warriors, James vouched for Curry to be named the NBA MVP this season.

“We’re playing versus, in my opinion, the MVP of our league this year in Steph,” James said, via Mark Medina of USA Today. “We got to be prepared for everything they have. They have championship DNA.

“If Steph is not on Golden State’s team, then what are we looking at?” James continued. “We get caught up in the records sometimes and who has the best record as opposed to who had the best season that year. Steph has had, in my opinion, the best season all year.”

Is James buttering up Curry for a smackdown on Wednesday night?

James and Curry bracing for an intense Lakers-Warriors battle

James and Curry have faced off against each other four times in the NBA Finals. They both know how important the other is for their team, and they’re both bracing for a Finals-level competition this Wednesday for the first round of the play-in tournament.

“You expect greatness. That’s the part I’ve enjoyed so much about playing in Finals against [James] and his Cleveland teams and those games that matter,” Curry recently said. “It brings out another level of intensity and excitement and a sense of urgency about it because you know how good you have to play in order to win games like that.”

James mentioned how many people doubted Curry and the Warriors this season, but he knows firsthand how dangerous Curry can be even with the lack of talent he’s surrounded with.

“Everybody counted him out this year,” James said. “Everybody saying, ‘Now that Klay is hurt, can Steph lead a team on his own? What is he going to do? Can he carry a team on his own? Can he carry a team into the postseason? Can he keep the team afloat?’ He’s done that and more.”

But enough with the mutual respect already. Only one player can prevail and advance past the play-in tournament this Wednesday. Who’s it going to be?


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