Coach Mark Jackson jettisoned not one but two assistant coaches in the last month, reassigning Brian Scalabrine and dismissing Darren Erman. Jackson has been under increased fire throughout the regular season, as everyone from fans to media types to even owner Joe Lacob has questioned why the Warriors play with wild inconsistency.
A surprise media darling last postseason after knocking out the Nuggets and pushing the Spurs to six games, it's not unfair to wonder whether Jackson will be coaching for his job this April. Golden State finished in sixth place in a crowded Western Conference and is a first-round underdog against a loaded Clippers team following Andrew Bogut's rib injury.
For a franchise so defined by losing throughout its history, the Warriors are weirdly on tilt. But they're also perhaps the most dangerous bottom-half seed in the entire NBA.
Golden State's starting five wasn't on the floor as much as anyone would have liked during the regular season, but was arguably the league's best unit when it was. The Warriors starting five outscored opponents by 15.4 points per 100 possessions, the best mark in the league among units that played at least 300 minutes together.
Of course, this team is always riding a precarious wave of injuries and injury scares. Bogut's injury means a new face will have to step into a minutes-heavy big role. Stephen Curry is remarkably healthy for the second straight season, but fans still hold their breath every time they see a hobble. Andre Iguodala and David Lee each missed more than 10 games while dealing with different problems.
The health of their remaining starters is paramount in deciding whether Golden State pushes L.A. to six or seven games. Either way, it's Western Conference basketball. This is gonna be good.
With that in mind, let's check in on the first-round schedule for Warriors-Clippers, and we'll highlight a few areas of note while we're at it.
|4/19||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/21||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||10:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||10:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/27||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/29||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||TBD||TNT|
Warriors Round 1 Storylines
Can the Warriors Avoid Hemorrhaging Points With Curry on the Bench?
First obvious point: Curry is going to play a ton in this series. He averaged 41.4 minutes per game in last year's postseason, and I'd be surprised if he didn't match that or surpass it this year. Teams typically ratchet up their minutes for starters in the postseason regardless, but Jackson is going to extract every last ounce of energy he can out of his star.
And for good reason. The Warriors were reliably dreadful any time Curry took a seat during the regular season. In almost 3,000 minutes with Curry on the floor, Golden State averaged 109.7 points per 100 possessions—equivalent to a league-best rate. When Curry sat, that averaged dropped down to 93.2, a number embarrassing enough to make the Sixers feel good about themselves.
There is noise in that number as there typically is with lineup stats. Players who get a majority of their minutes with starters—particularly on a shallow team like Golden State—are prone to favorable splits. But these are at the extreme spectrum. Curry is the ecosystem around which the Warriors' offense runs, and without him they're iso-heavy and prone to ball stoppages that lead to contested shots.
Assuming Curry sits seven minutes per game, Jackson has to find ways for his team to not fall apart during those stretches. He needs to be more inventive in staggering his lineup combinations—and not inventive in the strange way he so often throws out weird combinations. For all of the talk about Jackson being a traditionalist, he has a habit of going a level beyond funky.
Experimenting with staggering Iguodala and Curry more is a good idea. Iggy can handle some of the primary offensive caretaker duties when asked, and if Jackson goes big(ish) by subbing Draymond Green into a starter-heavy unit, the Warriors shouldn't lose much defensively. Lineups mixing Green and the regular starters have been dominant at times this season.
Jackson is also going to have to simply hope for more from Steve Blake. The midseason acquisition is shooting just 38.2 percent since coming over from the Lakers and hasn't quite provided the steadiness at the backup point guard spot the Warriors had hoped.
Golden State averages just 97.6 points per 100 possessions in minutes Blake is on the floor and Curry sits, per NBA Wowy. That's worse than the rate when the team uses Jordan Crawford as the primary point guard.
Translation: Not great.
Some of this lies at the feet of the bench talent. Harrison Barnes has taken a gigantic leap backward in his second season, Jermaine O'Neal is basically useless offensively and Marreese Speights can't really be trusted. Bench-heavy units are going to perform poorly because management gutted last year's bench and then made mistakes with its replacement signings.
But it's up to Jackson to figure out an amenable middle ground.
Indefinitely. It's an annoying word teams use readily about the statuses of players they have no interest in giving concrete information on. The Warriors say Bogut is out indefinitely with a rib fracture, which means he could be back in six days or July 6, 2016. The history of similar injuries say Bogut is all but guaranteed to be out through Round 1 and possibly even through a second series.
BREAKING: Sources say this is not good news.
When looking at roster composition, Bogut is probably the Warriors' second most important player behind Curry. He's the team's defensive anchor in the middle, atoning for Curry's matador defense on the perimeter and Lee's noted struggles with help down low. Opposing players shot just 45 percent when Bogut was within five feet of the rim, the sixth-best rate league-wide among bigs with a large sample, per SportVU data.
The Warriors allowed only more points per 100 possessions when Bogut sat compared to when was in the game, but his absence puts palpable stress on an already-thin frontcourt rotation. O'Neal is not capable of matching his playing time to his age. He's able to be effective in short bursts and play 20 minutes a night of tough defense, but opposing players shoot a solid 47.9 percent clip against him at the rim.
Expecting O'Neal's body to hold up banging with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin over a seven-game series is too much.
The ship carrying Lee's defensive reputation has long since sailed, hit an iceberg, sank and been eroded by ocean water. Lee is bad. His offensive impact is vastly underrated because of his huge contract, but never for a second forget David Lee is very bad at playing defense. Having Iguodala and Bogut (and to an extent Klay Thompson) on the floor most of the time with Curry and Lee went a long way toward making Golden State a top-tier defensive unit.
Green's responsibility, as noted, is only going to grow from here. He's Jackson's most versatile defender off the bench, able to guard both forward positions and capable of switching onto centers if absolutely necessary. Jordan doesn't have the post-move repertoire to hurt Green with their size differential, so it wouldn't shock me to see the two match up more than you'd think.
Barnes should also get more minutes in the small-ball 4 role he excelled in last postseason. We'll have to see whether any of this works in the same way it did against Denver, which also ran a little small. The Clippers have their own issues with big depth behind Jordan and Griffin. Glen Davis has mostly gone bust since his arrival and could wind up jettisoned from the shortened playoff rotation for all we know.
Jackson is going to have to grit his teeth and hope his two second-year guys can step up.
Warriors-Clippers Round 1 Prediction
Full disclosure: I was prepared to take this to seven. These two teams have fostered a strong dislike of one another during the regular season dating back to their Christmas Day meeting, and it seemed that if we weren't going to get Clippers-Grizzlies III, this would be the next best thing.
Bogut's injury dampens the excitement a bit. Rivers has done a marvelous coaching job this season, none more so than in his work with Jordan and Griffin as a pair. Last season, Vinny Del Negro didn't trust Jordan to the point he wheeled out Lamar Odom's remains over Jordan in crunch time. Rivers has gone the complete opposite direction, overpraising Jordan to the point of mockery.
How does Clippers-Warriors play out?
And it's worked. The Jordan-Griffin lineup works in crunch time now—thanks in large part to Griffin's improvement from the free-throw-line—and Doc already plays both heavy minutes as it is. If he pushes their minutes threshold into the 38-, 39-minute range every night, that's going to be a problem. Golden State can't match up against the Clippers bigs over a long sample, and if Jackson starts sending help into the post, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, et al. are going to knock down their long-range shots.
The Clippers boast the best offense in basketball, a quietly improving defense and a deep stable of wings able to be shuffled in and out depending on how they're playing. The Warriors are a defense-first unit who lost their anchor. Green steps up every time he's called upon and O'Neal will push himself to the limit, yet there's only so much you can ask.
Curry will have his one #CurryGame at home, and the Clips are still prone to occasional defensive breakdowns. I'm just having trouble seeing this going longer than five, with a max-out of six, with Bogut out of the lineup.
Series Prediction: Clippers in 5.
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