Saturday, April 14, 2018

Great Start to the Warriors Playoff Run

The Golden State Warriors defeated the San Antonio Spurs in the first game of the playoffs with pace, defense and some hot shooting.  It was a total effort with some stand-out individual performances: Klay Thompson had one of those great shooting games he's capable of, hitting on 11 of 13 shots.  From the start, Kevin Durant was in charge of the offense, made shots and combined with JaVale McGee for others.  Draymond Green made shots as well as led the defense.

Credit Coach Kerr for a surprising starting lineup, with Andre Iguodala at point guard and McGee at center.  Both were outstanding.  Andre was disruptive on defense and McGee was aggressive, scoring a season high 15 and handing the Spurs major scoring threat, LeMarcus Aldridge, on defense, with one spectacular block that led to a Klay three. When the starters play like this, the bench responds with defense and key shots. The Dubs led by 28 at one point.

The Dubs can't expect Thompson to be that hot or McGee that effective every game but the victory was a total package. (KD only had to score 24 for this blowout win.) The Spurs don't seem to have answers for the match-up problems Kerr exposed, so only a reversion to pre-playoff intensity by the Warriors is likely to prevent this being a short series.

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Big Challenge

At the start of the NBA season and well into it, everybody said another championship for the Golden State Warriors was a foregone conclusion.  But nobody is saying that now that the playoffs are about to start.

An almost incredible collection of injuries kept the Warriors from establishing any kind of rhythm, though they did have the possibly important effect of getting more players on the court in various combinations, and the coaches saw it all.

But not even notching 60 wins, and with losses to good, bad and indifferent teams, the Warriors have lost their aura of invincibility.  Everybody ups their game when they play them, but now everyone knows they can be beaten.

 Last year's playoffs the Warriors equaled the great Lakers mark of 16-1.  That's not going to happen this year.  They haven't blown teams out by 30 points in a long time, and so every game is going to be contested deep into it.  They are vulnerable, and the more games they need to play to win each series, the more vulnerable they become.

Steph Curry is all but officially out for at least the first round.  The Dubs now depend on Kevin Durant for leadership.  The style of play on offense is different, and the need for stellar defense is even greater.  For all their talent, the truth is that the Warriors haven't shown their championship selves recently.  Maybe when they beat OKC we got a hint.  But it doesn't seem anybody can have the confidence everyone had at the beginning of the season.  Anybody but the team itself, that is.

Across the bay, the championship hopes of the San Francisco Giants seemed to disappear almost before they got started. Their #1 pitcher Madison Bumgarner got hit on his pitching hand in a tune-up game and will be out until June.  Right now the #2 and #3 pitchers in the rotation are injured, as is their high-priced closer.

But the young pitchers and the new team on the field have produced some exciting baseball, capped with a 14 inning game at home against the Dodgers, in which new Giant Andrew McCutchen collected six hits, including the walk-off homer. One of those memorable games for the people who saw it.

Six hits in a game is very rare, even with extra innings.  The only time I even heard the broadcast of a game where that happened was when Dick Groat did it for the Pirates at Forbes Field in their championship year of 1960, in a nine inning game if I remember correctly.

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.