Recently I’ve written a handful of stories explaining all the ways the Golden State Warriors’ title defense can go awry. I’ve pointed out potential issues with their bench, written about coach Steve Kerr’s ominous leave of absence due to complications from offseason back surgery, highlighted the pitfalls of letting Clippers coach Doc Rivers get in their heads and explained how very few members of the team are actually likely to improve this upcoming season. I’ve done everything short of literally raining on their parade.
It’s only fair then to look at the positives. Only a fool would dismiss the Warriors or not think of them as a top-tier contender, in rarefied air with only the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, those Los Angeles Clippers and maybe, if we’re being generous, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Everyone else is a notch below. It’s difficult in the extreme to see any squad outside of those six winning the next ‘chip, though honestly it’d be kind of cool to see just for variety’s sake, the way this baseball postseason has been. Sports are more fun when they’re unpredictable.
Okay, so I’m not doing a very good job praising the Warriors just yet. Here are all the reasons to be bullish on their chances of repeating: They’ve retained their entire core from last season, with the 10-man rotation all back in the fold, along with Brandon Rush and promising youngster James Michael McAdoo. The Spurs call this “corporate knowledge,” and the Warriors figure to be one of the league leaders in this intangible.
The Dubs have perhaps the best home-court advantage in the league at Oracle Arena. Once a couple of three-pointers drop and the team has a tiny sliver of momentum going, there’s nothing else like it in the league. A 6-0 run turns into 19-2 before opponents know what hit them. The fans are delirious there, and not quite jaded and bored by success just yet. Give them one or two more banners before they act spoiled and blase (just in time for the move to San Francisco).
Most of their best players have yet to reach their prime. Stephen Curry is 27. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are both 25. Harrison Barnes is 23. No one else in the league can boast of having a transcendent basketball wizard and two other star-level players that young. Nearly no one has three players that good on their roster period, regardless of age.
Curry, the reigning MVP, has been absolutely fantastic during the preseason. It’s pretty clear that in between all of his appearances and endorsement commitments, he still found a way to work on his game during the offseason.
Finally, while most of their subs are indeed on the back end of their careers, there’s promise in McAdoo and Festus Ezeli, and don’t be surprised if either or both wind up carving big roles in Kerr’s rotation.
The thing is, there’s more to like about the Warriors’ chances than just the stuff directly involving them. None of the other contenders look unbeatable. They all have clear flaws and chinks in their armor, right there for Kerr and his players to exploit.
Let’s start with the Spurs. Everyone is ready to crown them after they added LaMarcus Aldridge, the top free agent to switch teams. It’s true that the Spurs gave the Warriors plenty of problems in a pair of regular-season games last season, with Kawhi Leonard in particular hounding Curry into a miserable night.
It’s also true that Aldridge has been one of the toughest matchups for Green the past couple of years. It’s going to take Aldridge awhile to get comfortable over there, though, and they with him. He likes to hold the ball and play in isolation a lot more than they typically feel comfortable doing.
Also, the Spurs don’t have as much depth or shooting on their bench as they’ve had in the past. Their biggest issue, however, is that Tony Parker looks just about done at 33. He can’t zip by people in the paint any longer and doesn’t have any lift on his trademark floater. It’s hard to see them making it through four playoff rounds with a mediocre point guard.
The Cavs look like a veritable super-team in the East and should lap the field in the junior varsity conference. Like the Warriors, they’ve kept everyone that was important and even added Mo Williams for some scoring off the bench. Cleveland’s problem is that coach David Blatt will face the nightly dilemma of whether he wants to be an offensive team or a defensive one, because they can’t be both at the same time.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — both of whom are injury prone — are sieves defensively, as is J.R. Smith. Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova are all limited offensively. LeBron James’s odometer has passed 43,000 minutes, counting the regular season and playoffs, and it’s starting to show. He’s already required pain-relieving injections for his back and been forced to sit out the preseason. One suspects that he’ll try to coast as much as he can during the regular season, but that option won’t be available to him from the start with Love just getting back from surgery and Irving still rehabbing. Regardless, James is no longer an impact defensive player and there are too many vulnerable areas here.
Golden State’s rivalry with the Clippers might be the feistiest in the league right now, and each matchup is sure to be must-see TV. The Clips retooled their bench over the summer, adding a bunch of familiar names, but none of them can really shoot. Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, Wesley Johnson and Pablo Prigioni are all people you feel comfortable leaving open, while Paul Pierce is a statue in his own end at this point.
L.A.’s Achilles heel, however, is that they’re just too mentally soft. One questionable call by the refs, one bad quarter in the playoffs, and it just sends them reeling and they can’t recover. As wondrous as Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are, they tend to go haywire at the most inopportune times, and we’ve seen it over and over and over again.
Besides, if all else fails, you can just foul DeAndre Jordan a bunch.
It’s hard to take Houston too seriously as long as they’re dependent on James Harden and Dwight Howard to be their leaders. The Thunder, meanwhile, are counting on Kevin Durant to be good as new after three foot surgeries, and they have Enes Kanter, the worst defensive big man in the league, playing big minutes.
Even the best teams have holes, but we’ve seen this Warriors team win. We have evidence that they can. Everyone else has the burden of proof. If you have to bet your life on one team to win, you’d still have to pick Golden State.
That written, we’ll take you back to your regularly-scheduled kvetching as soon as they drop a regular-season game.