Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Happy Birthday, Steph!

On Steph Curry's 30th birthday he and two of the other Warriors All Stars--Klay Thompson and Draymond Green-- were out of the lineup with injuries.  But Golden State beat the surging Lakers anyway.

Happy birthday!

Monday, March 12, 2018

To the Playoffs---and Opening Day

With 15 games to go, the Golden State Warriors officially have a playoff spot.  After losing two games in a row while Steph Curry and four other rotation players were out of the lineup with injuries, it now seems clearer than ever that the Dubs aren't going to make any special efforts to go for the top seed and guaranteed home court throughout the playoffs.

In fact everything team members say as well as the reports coming from unquoted team officials suggests that they've more or less conceded the top spot to Houston, now two games ahead.  The Warriors were actually ahead for a few hours between a Rockets loss and their game in Portland, but with losses there and in Minnesota, they've dropped farther behind than they've been all season.

Instead the priority is to get healthy and rested for the playoffs.  Plus the Portland game showed that the Warriors can't be looking ahead to confronting the Rockets.  They may have a tough series before the western conference finals, if it goes that way.

Next game is in Los Angeles against the Lakers, and the Dubs could take another loss.  The Lakers are surging and confident, and although all the injured Warriors players are expected to be healthy enough, the team may not elect to play them all that soon.  And starters who have taken the brunt while Curry was out may be due for rest.

Meanwhile, the start of MLB is just around the corner.  Some of the SF Giant vets have been making some noise in recent spring training games (Hunter Pence hit a grand slam, Buster Posey a three hit game) and there's still active competition for the center field slot.  A number of old and new pitchers have looked good, with question marks remaining for Johnny Cueuto and Mark Melancon.

It's going to be an exciting start to the season in San Francisco.  With my favorite (now former) Pirate out there in Cutch, I'm stoked.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

5 Games In

Just five games past the AS break and neither Golden State nor Houston has lost.  But on Tuesday while the Warriors had trouble putting away the Nets with another inconsistent game, Houston took it to OKC by 10.  The Warriors have won 6 in a row overall; the Rockets have won 16 straight.

The excuses and rationalizations are fading.  Houston has a much easier schedule overall, but they've beaten GS twice and tonight they beat their only other real Western Conference challenger in OKC, without needing the late game heroics they've had for several victories lately.  So there's really no question that Houston is for real, and is probably playing the best basketball in the NBA.

They're still ahead for home court throughout the playoffs, and that remains a big deal, regardless of the rationalizations.  Sure, the Dubs could steal a game in Houston and have theoretical home court advantage, but the seventh game would still be played in Houston.  And that's what's huge.  Any edge either team has could be crucial.  It could come down to the health of role players and bench subs.

There is the possibility that the Rockets do what the Warriors did two seasons ago: have a euphoric regular season run but get worn out in the playoffs.  And all this frustrating pacing themselves the Warriors appear to be doing will pay off.

 But in that season, the Warriors lost their edge towards the end of the regular.  This year Houston is finishing the year with an amazing run.  Their confidence is sky high.  Even their bench players are excelling.

The Houston offense is getting the reputation of being "unstoppable" while the Warriors defense is not up to last year's.  That the Warriors aren't blowing anybody out is not necessarily fatal but don't the habits and the skills have to get established soon?

If everybody stays healthy, and not too much unexpected stuff happens before then, fans are going to love a Golden State-Houston series.  Sports commentators are openly rooting for Houston because this is what they want.  And right now the Rockets have the momentum.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Stretch Run

The NBA stretch run to the playoffs has begun.  With 20 or so regular season games to go, it still looks like Houston v. Golden State.

The Warriors addressed their slow first quarter starts with a lineup change: JaVale McGee starting at center, with Zaza coming off the bench.  In the first two games back, it worked very well: McGee gave the Dubs a starting surge of energy and electricity at the rim.  Hot shooting carried the first game, improved defense the second, leading to a late game eruption of scoring for a 32 point victory over OKC. McGee still has his problems but just a month or so after it looked as if the Dubs were preparing fans for his trade away from the team, he's proven to be a piece of the puzzle.

Still, Houston won their first two back as well, including a close game against Denver.  Winning the close ones is a necessary skill for a contender.  Houston's confidence must be sky high, they're riding the destiny train.  I don't see them losing more than 2 games the rest of this season, even with a tougher schedule than Golden State.  They could win out.

So could the Dubs but more likely they'll lose a couple more.  That would keep the standings static and give Houston home court. In the playoffs OKC is a challenge for both teams, perhaps more for Houston, but a Rockets-Warriors western conference championship series seems as close to inevitable as these things get.  The key for both teams is keeping all their stars healthy, because the team that loses just one will be at a big disadvantage.

Houston is hungry, and the Dubs have the advantage (that is also a disadvantage) of experience.  They seem back on track now but it doesn't take much to become a distraction.  Houston isn't likely to get distracted, at least not until the playoffs.  If everybody's healthy, that series goes seven, which means it's up for grabs.

The East meanwhile continues to be unimpressive.  Boston has faded, Toronto proves vulnerable and after a dominating start with its new lineup, the Cavs look not so great as that.  They lost to a depleted Spurs team on a losing streak.  None of these teams seem capable of taking either the Warriors or the Rockets in a 7 game series.

Things have a way of not working out so neatly, so there's potential drama ahead.  But right now, Houston and Golden State seemed fated to clash for all the marbles.


Friday, February 09, 2018

After the Deadline, It's Houston v. Golden State

At the break update: With a close loss in Portland, the Golden State Warriors dropped to second place vs. Houston, in the competition for home court throughout the playoffs.  There are several ways to look at that loss.  On the one hand, on a night when the entire team shot poorly, the Dubs came within a few points of winning anyway, due to a 50 point performance by Kevin Durant.  On the other hand, even the Durant insurance policy wasn't enough to offset subpar performances by the other stars and the bench.  Is there a problem in team dynamics?  That possibility can no longer be ignored.

Meanwhile Houston looks invincible, as do the reborn Cavs.  The championship is really not a foregone conclusion, the playoffs aren't going to be as smooth as last year, and if there are weaknesses they need to be identified before it's too late.

As the fallout from trades and signings around the NBA trade deadline continue, some conclusions can already be drawn.  For the Golden State Warriors, they mostly reinforce what's become evident over the past month.

The wholesale changes in the Cleveland Cavs lineup suggest the team may yet get into the playoffs and make some noise.  But until the new Cavs can prove otherwise, the Celtics remain the only (remote) challenge to the Warriors in a finals series.

The Warriors are very likely to get their major challenge from Houston in the Western Conference playoffs.  With the addition of another big man, Houston added to its formidable scoring machine.  Houston is performing better than the Dubs right now, and they look likely to first of all challenge for home court throughout the playoffs.  They appear to be the only team in the NBA that can hang with the Dubs for a seven game series, although when the Warriors aren't playing well (not enough defense, too many turnovers), they are vulnerable to teams like OKC and Boston.

The Warriors have made zero moves so far.  Neither did the Spurs, and they are fading.  So the season and the playoffs are shaping up to be Houston v. Golden State.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Not So Fast

It's not the All-Star Game break yet, and some are declaring the NBA season over, with the Golden State Warriors as playoff champs.  An article in Slate declares: "Sure, someone else could win this year’s championship. It’s also possible the sun could take tomorrow off and we could wake up to find the forest moon of Endor hanging in the sky."

But a couple of games this past week suggest, not so fast.  Right now the Warriors are champions of the regular season.  Other teams have slumps.  The Warriors rarely lose even two games in a row.  The Warriors slump at times during games, which could become a fatal habit in the playoffs.  But their depth protects them in the regular season.

But the playoffs are about match-ups.  And this week's game with Houston showed that when its three stars are playing, that team can beat the Warriors, as they did in that game.  Only a playoff series itself can say at this point whether they've got enough to win four out of seven.  And with the star of the team that presents Houston with matchup problems--the Pelicans--down for the season, it seems pretty likely that they will survive the playoffs long enough to meet the Warriors in the western conference finals.

If the Dubs win that series and either Cleveland or Toronto wins the east, then it could be time to say the Warriors will be champs.  Neither of those teams can beat the Dubs in multiple games.  But if Boston wins the east, then it gets more interesting, and there will be a real Finals series.  The Dubs have problems with them, as evidenced by Saturday's game, when the Warriors won by just 5 points at home, due to a 49 point outburst by Steph Curry. The problem for the Celtics is getting there.  For awhile now they've haven't been able to beat anyone else.

But even beyond all this, the playoffs depend on which star players are healthy and which are not.  That can't be predicted this far in advance.  The quality of team play and their physical and mental condition at the end of the season are also determinative and unpredictable.  The second half of the season means something, and anyway, it's a long time till May and June.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Corners Set for the Giants, Dubs Wait for Cavs Moves

It's official in San Francisco.  Andrew McCutchen is slated to play right field for the Giants, while Hunter Pence moves to left.  Both players said they were with the program, which has several advantages.  Both Cutch in center for the Pirates and Pence in right for the Giants had sub-par defensive years the last year or two.  Cutch is definitely faster and covers more ground than Pence, so he's a good fit for right.  Pence still has a rocket arm, so playing left is an upgrade for the defense.

With lesser defensive ground to cover, both players may see the offensive upside, in hitting but also base-running.  Cutch is always a threat to run and to take the extra base.  It should be a more dynamic situation out there.

With their outfield corners set, Evan Longoria, their other big acquisition, will start at third, the hot corner of the infield. That makes a potentially solid infield, though whether it can return to the chemistry it had with Matt Duffy at third remains to be seen.

This of course leaves center field as the big question mark.  The Giants are open about wanting to deal for an established center fielder, opting for defense over offense if necessary.  Currently the speedy journeyman Jarrod Dyson is the favorite, since the Giants dropped out of bidding for the Royals' Lorenzo Cain. Cain's free agent price has reportedly been dropping though, so that could change. Failing a deal, they have a few speedsters in their farm system to examine.

 The club also says it's on the lookout for relief pitchers but didn't sound hopeful.  This remains a conspicuous vulnerability.  Their closer, Mark Melancon, another former Pirate, is reportedly healthy after a year of injury and bad results.

Meanwhile, the two teams who've met in the NBA finals for the past three years and are expected to again, are looking at the February trade deadline in totally opposite ways.  The Warriors are pretty much uninterested.  The Cavs are desperate.

News is flying about the Cavs many interests--notably in a couple of Clippers (a team that lost 11 games in a row to the Dubs)--and it appears that nobody but LeBron (and a few of his close friends) is off the trade table.  The urgency increased after the Cavs lost to the Dubs again, at home, by ten.

Meanwhile the Warriors keep winning through injuries to their stars and supporting cast.  The injuries have had an up side in that more players on the roster have gotten playing time and Coach Kerr has been able to experiment with different combinations of players in game conditions.

Whatever combinations of stars played, they tended to dominate.  Klay Thompson is still capable of breakout scoring games, Kevin Durant takes over games and ran the offense in Curry's absense, and very quietly perhaps, Steph Curry is leading the league in scoring efficiency, with a higher shooting percentage than in his unanimous MVP year.

As for new talent, well, the Warriors are watching yet another young talent in Chris Boucher--playing in their first G-league game after recovering from a serious injury, which is how the Dubs got him for almost nothing.  They are quite simply loaded.  That doesn't mean they won't surprise with a deal before deadline, if opportunity knocks.  But they really don't have to.  The overheated media rumor mills suggest the Cavs aren't being shy about their belief that they really really do.