The Golden State Warriors head into the NBA postseason with mixed emotions. The team is coming off the first 50-win season since 1993-94, but the team will have to play without their frontcourt lynchpin, Andrew Bogut.
The Dubs had to wait until the last game of the season to find out who they would play, but they are very familiar with their first-round opponent, the Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors want to severely disprove the theory that last year’s run was lucky.
Final Regular-Season Record: 51-31
Playoff Seed: No. 6 Seed in the Western Conference
First-Round Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers (57-25)—Third Place in Western Conference
Top Three Storylines Going into NBA Playoffs
Loss of Andrew Bogut
Andrew Bogut is a monster on defense, and he doesn’t mind mixing it up with opponents. As you can see from the video, Bogut holds his ground against DeAndre Jordan:
The problem is Bogut will miss this series with a fractured rib. The injury bug bit him again as he was trying to help clinch a return trip to the playoffs.
Instead of the stout front-line defense he provides, Bogut will have to be a cheerleader on the bench and provide insight to his teammates during timeouts and other breaks.
Bogut was second in the Association in defensive rating, so it is a tough loss. However, teammate Draymond Green was fifth, so the Dubs will have to rely on him to patch some of the holes.
In Bogut’s place, Jermaine O’Neal will get extra exposure with help from David Lee, Green and Marreese Speights.
The Warriors hope that they win this series early or it goes the distance because the schedule is so spread out (it could span two weeks), there is a very small possibility Bogut could see action in a Game 7.
Coach Mark Jackson
Coach Jackson just pulled off a 51-win season for the Warriors, but he is still doesn’t have a firm commitment from the front office. Co-owner Joe Lacob stated that he wouldn’t make a comment about his coach until after the season.
Coach Jackson has a built in buffer with the recent loss of Bogut, but Jackson doesn’t believe in excuses. Instead, he uses the next-man-up philosophy in comments provided courtesy of Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Well, we’re a no-excuse basketball team. Next man stand up. We prepared for this all season long, and it’s going to be a great opportunity for other guys. We move forward and other guys are expected to step in and fulfill a role.
If Jackson can somehow coach his way through the Bogut injury and advance to the second round, he might put himself at the forefront of discussion during offseason management talks.
With a first-round loss and the dismissal of two of his assistants earlier in the season, Coach Jackson might not be making any friends. The ball is in his court.
The Warriors are going to have to use a small-ball lineup to really push the pace with the Clippers to try to hide some of their deficiencies. The two teams sit neck and neck together near the top of the pace rankings.
The Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) will have to be hot the entire series and space the floor to give their teammates more opportunities.
Andre Iguodala will need to unpack his offensive firepower and drive the line to earn assists or necessary trips to the foul line. He will be key to creating more holes in a relatively solid Clippers defense.
O’Neal will get his minutes, but at the age of 35 and with limited tread on his tires, he can’t be relied upon for more than 25 minutes a game.
Coach Jackson will have to use his rotations well and outsmart the Clippers to advance. Clippers coach Doc Rivers will be tough to beat.
Injury Report (via CBS Sports)
Golden State Warriors
- Andrew Bogut—fractured rib; out indefinitely (but possible if the Warriors advance to second round)
- Festus Ezeli—knee; possible, but limited time in first round (day-to-day)
Los Angeles Clippers
- Danny Granger—hamstring; should be ready for the first round (day-to-day)
Key First Round Matchup to Watch
The biggest matchup will be between the two elite point guards, Stephen Curry and Chris Paul. These two players are the most dynamic on the court and the key will be limiting each’s offensive firepower.
Curry can definitely shoot the three-pointer as shown in the video below:
Curry is one of the most exciting players in the NBA, and he will be able to test his leadership and skills versus the player that is generally viewed as the most well-rounded point guard in the Association.
Curry is the engine of the Warriors offense. If the Clippers can do an effective job of directing him into traffic and limiting his offense, they will have an effective advantage.
Paul is the NBA leader in assists and steals per game, along with being second in the plus/minus category. Paul has many offensive options he can turn to, but he can also shoot, averaging 19.1 points per game.
The Warriors absolutely need Curry to be at his best to win, but the Clippers can get less from Paul and still have a chance. Curry will have to minimize Paul and hope his teammates can carry their load.
Draymond Green is definitely becoming the team’s X-factor for the Warriors. He is talented on so many levels, but his skills are rarely represented in the box score.
Green has a coach’s basketball IQ and the fire to not let anything get in his way. He hustles, knows how to position himself, spaces the floor and is also developing the knack of hitting the clutch three-pointer.
His defense is another reason he shines, as Green can guard four positions on the floor.
He is also very aware of his surroundings and isn’t afraid to call someone out for missing an assignment. With his current play as of late, the second-year player will find more minutes in this season’s playoff run—and next year as well.
Post All-Star break, Green is averaging 8.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 2.4 APG.
Keys to a First Round Warriors Victory
The Warriors are going to have to use their remaining top defenders to slow the Clippers and compensate for Lee’s lack of defense. If Iguodala and Thompson can minimize the perimeter threats and fill up the passing lanes, the Dubs have a more realistic shot.
The Dubs will need to fluster DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin so they can force the Clippers into more isolation plays and away from their free-flowing game. They can also employ the hack-a-Jordan free-throw strategy.
The disruption of the Clippers' rotations will lead to a slower pace on defense for the Warriors, who can hope to transition with speed and maximize their opportunities on offense.
Play with Intensity from the Tip
This is the playoffs, and it is win or go home. There is no time to slowly get your game going and try to catch up in the second half.
The Warriors have had way too many games where they have sleepwalked through the first half. Coach Jackson needs to have the team firing on all cylinders from the get-go if the Dubs want to have a chance at beating the Clippers.
Curry, Iguodala and Green need to be out of the floor vocalizing this call to action and making sure that each player is playing his “A” game.
Space the Floor and Hit Shots
The Dubs will need to be space the floor when they have the ball in order to create better chances on the offensive end. Curry will no doubt have most of the pressure applied to him, but if he can give open teammates high-percentage looks, the Warriors will be right in it.
The key to basketball is to shoot the highest percentage shot each time down the floor. With good ball movement and players moving effectively on the court, more open shots become available for them to hit.
To be effective, Curry and Thompson can’t take on the entire load. David Lee needs to be involved with the pick-and-roll and Iguodala has to be a playmaker.
The Warriors are in a lot tougher spot than they were at this time last year. Most sportswriters picked the Denver Nuggets and their huge home-court advantage.
Looking at the early picks, this year’s team has similar odds as the Dubs go up against a highly talented and deep Clippers squad.
The teams split the season series with each team winning its games at home. Last season, the Warriors won the series 3-1 with Bogut out of every game.
I give the Warriors a better chance than most writers because I feel they are comfortable in this matchup (even without Bogut) and know to how to play the style of Clipper basketball.
I think the key for the Dubs in this series is the play of Harrison Barnes. With Green elevated to the starting five, Barnes can really salvage his season here.
If Barnes can play the way he did in his final regular-season game, or even a percentage of what he brought to last season’s playoffs, the Dubs could drag this out seven games.
Here is a look at what he could provide:
In the end, I think the Clippers are getting more comfortable in the postseason, and they now have a coach who has won an NBA title. Curry will have another highlight series, but one man isn't enough against this squad.
The Dubs make it respectable but go home in seven games.