The Golden State Warriors will begin their title defense in earnest tonight against Anthony Davis and whichever New Orleans Pelicans aren’t incapacitated by injury. As supernatural as Davis is, there will be stiffer challenges between now and next June.
There are valid reasons to doubt the Dubs chances of repeating. The Spurs, Clippers, Rockets and Cavs all upgraded their rosters—significantly in most cases—while the Warriors stood pat, reasoning that the full house they were dealt is plenty tough to improve upon.
Math and common sense are against them, on a macro level. If you look at as a question of the Warriors versus The Field then surely you’d take the latter since you have a 29/30 chance of wagging the “I told you so,” finger, which is why local columnists so rarely pick their home teams to win it all. Then you factor in that a club that didn’t have a single significant injury over the course of the season won’t be as fortunate again, and that changes the calculus.
In a vacuum, you’d take the Warriors in a seven-game series against any single opponent when Golden State has home court advantage, but those picking against them are betting on the collective weight of another grueling season. And the Warriors’ off-season was shorter than any but Cleveland’s. They’re betting on circumstances and odds more than any singular collection of boogeymen in tank-tops.
One thing for certain is this: It will ring awfully hollow if anyone in the organizations plays the disrespect card, and it’s something Steve Kerr will make a point of emphasizing that he doesn’t want to hear, regardless of who says what. Kerr played for Phil Jackson with Chicago and Gregg Popovich at San Antonio, and those organizations were polar opposites in how they dealt publicly with slights, real or imagined.
Jackson and his players had rabbit ears and reveled in exacting vengeance whenever they felt disrespected. They used it as motivation. Popovich’s philosophy has been to ignore or dismiss the chatter, to make it clear it’s not worth his time. Kerr’s leaned on Pop’s teachings and organizational philosophy far more than Jackson’s and one suspects he’ll do so again here, though, he’s made it clear that he’s willing to make an exception for Draymond Green’s trash-talk because he feeds off it, and the team feeds off him.
Then again there’s this: Jackson led his teams to three separate three-peats and then another repeat. Popovich’s Spurs have never repeated even once. Maybe there is something to the “nobody believes in you,” shtick.
So here’s some grist for the mill. Only seven of 25 ESPN NBA reporters are picking the Warriors to repeat. Eight picked the Cavaliers. Not one Yahoo! Sports NBA writer out of eight picked the Dubs to win again, and only three of the eight even has them reaching the Finals. Five picked the Cavs to win it all. Two of five CBSSports.com experts picked a Warriors repeat, six of 14 Bleacher Report NBA gurus have them doing so, and only two of seven at SBNation picked them.
That’s 17 out of 59 in total, which is about 15 more than who picked them last year and still a better percentage than the league’s general managers, where only 17.9 (some quick calculator experimentation shows that’s five of 28) have them repeating based on the annual survey they participated in for NBA.com. It’s the third-lowest percentage in the 13-year history of the survey.
There isn’t any lesson here. Predictions are meaningless, even in the most predictable professional sports league in the country. All it takes is one ill-timed turned ankle for a season to go kablooey. And that’s what makes all this fun, the not knowing. It’s why millions upon millions of people are such passionate sports fans because scripted endings are so mundane. Even the arguments after the fact, the “if ‘X’ then ‘Y'” fuel the sports media industry and give us something to talk about besides the weather and Donald Trump.
So don’t fret if not enough people to your liking are picking the Warriors to win. None of it matters once Stephen Curry lines up his first shot. All you need to know about the wisdom of predictions is that more money has been wagered at the Westgate Sportsbook on the Los Angeles Lakers to win the championship than the Cavs, according to an ESPN.com report. The same report states that the “sharp money” is going to the Sacramento Kings, so make of that what you will.
We’ll close with this: The NBA 2K16 simulator picked the Dubs, once again getting the better of the Cavs.
So there, ya happy now?