Two of the league's juggernauts face off on Thursday night in what could be a precursor to the NBA Finals as LeBron James and the LA Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets. Both sides sit second in their respective conferences and come into this fixture on the back of wins on Tuesday.
Given the high-profile nature of the game and LeBron's current MVP form for the LA Lakers, this article will analyze how James can stop the Brooklyn Nets' offensive trio and how he matches up against each player.
Brooklyn Nets vs LA Lakers: A potential NBA Finals matchup
LeBron James shares a unique history with each of the Brooklyn Nets stars and may be forced to face all three - if Durant is passed fit - when the LA Lakers welcome Steve Nash's side for the first time this season. On top of this, James will be without fellow Lakers star Anthony Davis, who is currently sidelined for the next few weeks.
If there is any player who can lead the Lakers against the Brooklyn Nets' offensive machine, it's LeBron James. In the most recent All-Star voting announcement, James led the way alongside one of his opponents on Thursday, Kevin Durant.
LeBron James vs Kevin Durant
Career head-to-head: Games Played - 35, LeBron James wins - 20, Kevin Durant wins - 15
LeBron James and Kevin Durant probably have the greatest history of matchups, certainly the most important, of any of the Brooklyn Nets' star trio. Both players are serial winners in their careers, sharing 7 rings, 6 Finals MVP and 5 regular-season MVP awards.
When Durant played in his first menacing trio with the Golden State Warriors, he led the franchise to two titles over LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning 8-1 on aggregate across two Finals series. That prompted LeBron to move to the L.A. Lakers, where he is on course to help the franchise win back-to-back championships.
The LA Lakers currently boast the league's best defense by far, though James will have his work cut out leading his side against Durant's ice-cold shooting consistency. KD is currently averaging 29 points for the Brooklyn Nets, the most since his MVP season in 2014 and is shooting at a career-high 43% from downtown.
KD missed out on the Brooklyn Nets' last two outings, though coach Steve Nash played down his injury. Therefore, given the magnitude of the opponent, fans will hope Durant returns to the floor to face his fellow MVP contender.
LeBron James vs Kyrie Irving
Career head-to-head: Games Played - 12, LeBron James wins - 10, Kyrie Irving wins - 2
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving share a fractious yet successful history together. When in Cleveland, both stars led the franchise to its first ever championship, with Irving hitting the famous game-7 winner to close the series against the Golden State Warriors. Given Irving's shorter time in the league and the length of time they played together, the two have faced off on only 12 occasions.
There has been speculation regarding the two players' relationship in the aftermath of their split in Cleveland, with some pointing to jealousy on Irving's part. Now at the Brooklyn Nets, the point guard has had to learn to give up a lot alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden and appears to be embracing the role, announcing that Harden will play his role while he supports at shooting guard.
Given the fluid nature of positions currently in the NBA and LeBron James' ability to play guard position at the LA Lakers, we can expect to see the two face off on Thursday. James will have the upper hand given his size, though with Irving's recent break and handles, we can expect an exciting and close matchup.
LeBron James vs James Harden
Career head-to-head: Games Played - 33, LeBron James wins - 21, James Harden - 12
James Harden has had to endure two 4-1 series defeats to a LeBron James side on both occasions after Harden's team won the opening fixture. The shooting guard did his best to will the Rockets past the LA Lakers in the conference semifinals last season, averaging 29.4 points throughout, though that wasn't enough.
After announcing he wanted to leave Houston in search of a championship, Harden landed with the Brooklyn Nets, where he has excelled as part of the league's second-most potent offense.
Harden showed what he was all about Tuesday night when he carried an Irving and Durant-less Brooklyn Nets side to a comeback victory in Phoenix.
Harden could well be LeBron's toughest opponent on the night should he be matched up with 'The Beard'. Like LeBron James, Harden has continued to adapt his game and is the Brooklyn Nets' leading facilitator on offense, averaging a career-high 11.8 assists, as well as 8.4 rebounds and 24.3 points.
Nets vs Lakers Prediction
LeBron James, more than anyone in the league, has the leadership ability to guide the LA Lakers to their 23rd win this season against the Brooklyn Nets. James has had a blistering start to the season and is leading the way amongst the MVP candidates.
The matchup is simply too close to call, though fans can expect an enthralling encounter between an exhilirating offense and a frustrating defensive unit.