With the addition of Andre Iguodala and several key role players, the Golden State Warriors are suddenly more than the feel-good story of last year’s playoffs. Now considered a part of the Western Conference’s elite, Stephen Curry and company are shooting for a spot in the NBA Finals.
But being a contender is one thing. Actually getting there is another. Just ask the Lakers.
In order to win the west, something the Warriors haven't done since 1975, they will have to win four games against at least two other teams that are more than capable of knocking them out. That’s tough. Possible, but tough.
Between the Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets, anyone can make it. Here, we discuss what Golden State must do against the others in a playoff series in order to represent the west in next year’s finals.
Dwight Howard vaults Houston into NBA Finals consideration.
Houston got a major boost with Dwight Howard, although there are still a few issues to solve that the Warriors can exploit. Howard protects the rim, but the Rockets still haven’t addressed possibly their most glaring issue—perimeter defense. Especially guarding three-point shooters.
According to Team Rankings, they ranked 28th in the NBA last season in threes allowed. And while it should go without saying, Golden State’s shooters cannot be left open from deep, leading the league in three-point shooting at over 40 percent. Curry and Klay Thompson will be licking their chops.
Second, Houston has a lot of inexperience at the power forward position. Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones are both young players who hadn't gotten consistent minutes in their rookie seasons. Jones played in 19 games last season while Motiejunas was in 44. They combined for 40 minutes total in their only playoff series.
This creates a big opportunity for David Lee to not only take advantage offensively, but use the two’s inexperience to make up for his defensive shortcomings. Marreese Speights could also see an increased role as well.
Lastly, Houston does not take care of the ball. The Rockets led the league in turnovers at 16.4 per contest. With the addition of Iguodala, the Warriors can put more pressure on Houston’s ball handlers and get extra possessions off steals.
And if it’s still a tight game, you can always send Dwight to the free-throw line.
The Grizzlies bring the NBA's best defense to the table.
The key for the Warriors will be stopping Randolph one-on-one while double-teaming Gasol in the post. The San Antonio Spurs did a fantastic job on Z-Bo in their playoff series by taking away his left hand. As a result, he never scored more than 15 points in a game and never shot above 36 percent.
How much does Randolph love using his left? Click here to see Randolph's shot chart in the playoffs. Almost half of his shots came from the left block.
Take away his left hand, and he’s much easier to handle. Additionally, since Memphis doesn’t have any prolific long-range shooters outside of Mike Miller, Golden State can afford to double-team the post if need be.
The main hurdle to get over with the Grizzlies is scoring on them. They have three all-NBA defenders in Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Gasol. Tayshaun Prince is no slouch either. How do you get past that?
Once again, look no further than the Spurs. They continuously ran pick-and-rolls, forcing the Grizzlies’ big men to defend perimeter players. Here’s a great breakdown of how it happened (begin at 4:03).
Curry and Iggy should be the recipients of several screens from Andrew Bogut and David Lee, creating plenty of matchup issues Memphis won’t be able to solve. Both Curry and Iguodala run the pick-and-roll very well.
San Antonio is older, yet as always remains a contender.
The Warriors were oh-so close to toppling the Spurs last year. With their new additions and San Antonio’s big three not getting any younger, Golden State should take serious lessons from what happened the last time the teams met and use some of the same strategy (save for the late-game meltdowns).
What does that mean? First, play some small ball. Barnes or Iguodala at the 4. The Spurs only have one Kawhi Leonard, so whomever he doesn’t guard will get the opportunity to have a field day.
Second, turning the game into a sprint will wear down Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in a series, especially if it goes to six or seven games.
Third, the Spurs were exploited by the high pick-and-roll in their series against the Warriors, something Golden State should continue to implement. Watch the video here, starting at 1:38.
San Antonio’s big men are not quick enough to either aggressively hedge screens or keep up with the likes of Curry and Iguodala coming off a pick. It’s a good way to create a quick mismatch, especially with the shooting prowess of Curry and Thompson (and maybe even Harrison Barnes, if he continues improving).
Lastly, the Warriors have to win the battle of the boards. From Team Rankings, San Antonio’s ranked 20th in rebounding, giving up over 11 offensive boards a game (19th overall).
While Golden State did finish fourth in total rebounding, the majority came on the defensive end. Grabbing offensive boards and getting extra possessions is huge against a team that always seems to create efficient shots.
An uber-athletic roster has OKC thinking championship
With everyone healthy, the Thunder’s starting lineup can be a nightmare to score against. Each member of their starting five is a reliable one-on-one defender for his position. They also protect the rim, leading the league in blocked shots at seven-and-a-half a game.
With that in mind, Golden State can’t get caught up in a game of isolations. Team ball has to be emphasized. Quick ball movement, off-ball screens and back cuts will gain separation from defenders in order to make plays.
Additionally, the Warriors have better depth and should make use of it. They automatically have the better sixth man regardless of whether it’s Barnes or Thompson. Marreese Speights could be the best reserve post player between the two teams and matches up very well against OKC’s post players.
But perhaps the main knock against Oklahoma City is their lack of discipline. They were in the top fourth of the NBA in both turnovers and fouls committed. If Golden State can force more turnovers than it makes, it not only leads to more points but also takes more touches away from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Finally, the Thunder gave up the fourth-most number of offensive rebounds a game. Like I mentioned against the Spurs, the Warriors need to capitalize and crash the glass when their shots go up.
Blake Griffin and the Clippers are looking to take it to the next level.
If the Thunder aren’t the most dangerous team in the west, the Clippers are.
They brought in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, shoring up their inefficiency from beyond the arc. More importantly, LA found a bona fide coach in Doc Rivers to instill a winning mentality to a team that was already one of the best in the league. How do you beat that?
Looking over the roster, Rivers has nowhere near the small forward Paul Pierce was as an overall player. Iguodala and Barnes’ talent heavily outmatches that of Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes. The Warriors small forwards outplaying L.A.’s is a start.
Second, the Clippers’ only visible weakness on defense is stopping the three, as they still lack enough perimeter defenders to stop a deep shooting rotation of Curry, Thompson, Barnes and more. Warriors perimeter shooters will have to be as on fire as ever.
Aside from that, Golden State has to out-rebound the Clippers to win. In the three regular-season meetings between the two that the Warriors won, they snatched 30 more boards than LA. And finally, like the Rockets, the Clippers have bad free-throw shooters in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Warriors must commit smart fouls on those two.