The Old Man and the Greek: N.B.A. Tale Needs Only a Great Ending

Wes Matthews, the 33-year-old forward and guard, was charged with guarding James this night. He succeeded, as much as anyone could, in bewitching the league’s reigning grand old man. One minute he bumped with James, the next he backed off and switched. “It’s a tremendous honor,” he said of guarding James.

Did you and James, I asked, chatter during the game? Matthews nodded his head. “Most definitely, LeBron and me have a history,” he said. “He’s 17 years in the league and I’ve got 11 years. It’s a lot of banter, man.”

These teams have a not-dissimilar architecture. Each has a couple of stars — the Lakers Davis and James, the Bucks Antetokounmpo and the sweet-shooting Khris Middleton. They have surrounded these cores with a mix of young players and wise old heads, including the Bucks’ 38-year-old Kyle Korver, who presumably honed his still deadly long-range shot with Jack Marin and Archie Clark. (Note to not-so-old readers: Plug those names into basketball-reference.com.)

The Lakers lean heavily on their two stars. Davis, 26, has taken on the heaviest scoring burden at 27.4 points per game. James had not faded, averaging a hair short of 26. But most remarkable this year is his embrace of the art of the pass. Like a latter-day Magic Johnson, he is averaging a career-high 10.6 assists, and he can find cracks and crevices in even the tightest defenses.

Davis will be a free agent at season’s end, and if he has a whit of self-awareness he should sign up again with the Lakers. James is a near-perfect running partner for him, as game after game he delivers the ball precisely when and where Davis needs it.

(Remember, by the way, the small ball triumphalists? Those who watched the Golden State Warriors and told us the poor big man had become a dinosaur? Well, big is back. The Lakers’ starting lineup goes 7 feet, 6-10 and 6-8 across the front line, with the 6-11 Dwight Howard available off the bench. The Bucks are loaded with powerfully built big men, too, not the least the Lopez brothers, Brook and Robin.)