LOS ANGELES -- The last team to dominate the NBA over a handful of years will face a budding dynasty when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Golden State Warriors on Monday at Staples Center at 7 p.m. local time on TNT.
Led by the Splash Brothers in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors went to the NBA finals five straight years, winning three of those. But last season the Warriors took a step back due to injuries to both players.
Thompson missed the entire 2019-2020 season because of a torn ACL in his left knee suffered during the NBA Finals. Curry missed most of last year with a broken left hand injured four games into last season and Kevin Durant bolted to the Brooklyn Nets in free agency.
As a result, the Warriors finished with the worst record in the NBA and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
This season, the Warriors are once again without Thompson, who suffered a right torn Achilles tendon during a pickup game in Southern California just before the season started, forcing him to miss his second straight NBA season.
However, the Warriors are 6-6 on the year and still in the hunt for a postseason spot. They face the defending NBA champs playing at a high level with a league-leading 11-3 record, looking to recreate a dynasty the Warriors established a few years ago by repeating as champions.
“Whoever the defending champions are kind of holds that standard that each team wants to become,” Lakers big man Anthony Davis said. “We have the target on our back this year. Teams are trying to matchup to beat the Lakers, and it comes with the territory when you’re holding the title.
“We’ve been doing a good job of continuing to do what we do, and getting better at what we do, to hold that title and try to keep it here in L.A. for the season. Every night you’re going to get the other team’s best shot.”
Kyle Kuzma, the longest-tenured member of the Lakers, said seeing the Warriors go from perennial title contenders to fighting to make the postseason shows how quickly things can turn in the NBA.
“It’s just the cycle of life in the NBA from a team’s perspective,” Kuzma said. “It’s very hard to be the San Antonio Spurs and go to the playoffs 20-plus years. They’ve had unfortunate injuries, even this year, too – but there are still the Warriors, in a sense. They play Warriors basketball. Any time Steph steps out there, he’s the greatest shooter ever. So, there’s still a formidable team.”
Like Kuzma, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said the change in power highlights the cyclical nature of the NBA.
“It’s sort of how this league works, right?” Vogel said. “There’s times where clearly a team is on top of the league, like Golden State was for those five years. But those dynasties don’t always last forever. At some point, whether it’s injuries or trade, or a free agent like KD (Durant) leaving the balance of power shifts.
“Last year, we felt like the West was wide open because of the injuries and KD leaving. And really the whole league was wide open because of that, and we were able to capitalize on that and win the championship. And obviously, we’ve retooled and come back with a strong team again. But it’s just part of what’s this league is about. There’s always a balance of power shift at certain points.”
Davis also talked about the significance of playing on Martin Luther King Jr. day with what’s happening across the country.
“It’s an honor,” Davis said. “I think in my career I’ve probably played four or five times on MLK Day, and it’s always an honor. Usually, when I was in New Orleans it was in Memphis, which is a whole different honor, but I think just playing on MLK Day is an honor for me. It’s an honor for our organization, for our team. Especially with everything that’s going on around the world over the past year, and then leading to this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a lot of guys speak out tomorrow (Monday) about everything that’s going on.
“There was a lot of talk about starting the season tomorrow, just to make it more powerful. But for everything that MLK did for us and did for this world, any time you get a chance to play on MLK day and represent what he wanted all along, you couldn’t be more happy to do so.”