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There is mutual respect between LeBron James and Stephen Curry, respect earned in NBA Finals showdowns year after year — five of the last six NBA titles went to a team led by one of them, and they faced each other in four of those series.

Now Curry and LeBron will face off in a play-in game for the right to be the seven seed in the West. The winner advances as the No. 7 seed when the traditional playoffs start next week.

After the Lakers win Sunday, LeBron heaped praise on Curry and called him the MVP of this season. Via Mark Medina of the USA Today.

“We’re playing versus, in my opinion, the MVP of our league this year in Steph,” James said. “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 said. “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…

“Obviously, I don’t think Steph is going to get it because that’s another conversation in my eyes,” James said. “He’s played the best basketball year-round.”

LeBron is right, Curry is not going to win MVP this season, that is almost undoubtedly going to Nikola Jokic in Denver, but Curry will finish in the top five — likely the top three — in voting. There is a legitimate case for him to be on top of that ballot. LeBron himself was in the middle of the MVP conversation mid-season, until his sprained ankle forced him out for too many games.

LeBron is savvy and doesn’t say things on accident. He may well believe that Curry should be the MVP this season. However, this also sets up a great narrative for LeBron and the Lakers: Coming all the way back from injuries and the No. 7 seed to win the NBA title, having to go through everyone, starting with the should-be MVP Stephen Curry. LeBron understands the power of story and narrative, and he is laying the groundwork for another epic tale that ends in a title.

However, beating Curry and the Warriors will not be easy — Golden State is 8-1 in its last nine games with a top-10 offense and defense in the league over that stretch. Draymond Green is playing at an All-Defensive Team level and has pulled the Warriors up on that end, while the rest of a new crop of role players — such as Andrew Wiggins, Kent Bazemore, and Jordan Poole — have learned how to play off Curry and use the space he creates.

LeBron said one other interesting thing in his postgame press conference Sunday.

Um… has LeBron seed Godfather Part III? Sure, the first two are up there with the greatest films ever made, but Godfather Part III is, well, the Jar Jar Binks of the Star Wars films. It’s just not up there on the same level as the other two, despite one great line (“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in”). I’m not sure LeBron should want his Lakers years linked with Godfather Part III, but it’s his legacy.

LeBron knows the story he wants to tell.

Here’s the latest on the Lakers

NBA Play-in schedule 2021: Dates, times, odds, where to watch Portland beats Denver, sets up Warriors vs. Lakers play-in game; West payoffs… Check out NBA world’s reaction to Kobe Bryant entering the Hall of…

LeBron on Curry: “We’re playing versus, in my opinion, the MVP of our league this year” originally appeared on