At the Golden State Warriors’ practice facility in downtown Oakland yesterday, I had the privilege to not only attend the team’s practice, but the opportunity to personally interview head coach Keith Smart and find out his thoughts and plans on trying to beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night at home.
I approached my questions as a sportswriter, but always from a fan’s perspective—although just this time, with the access I’d been granted, I was more the inside fan.
And I couldn’t help but love the irony of being at a Warriors practice as they prepped for the LA game. I felt like a spy on the inside, asking questions of the enemy since I’m a Lakers fan and a Lakers Featured Columnist here at Bleacher Report.
My questions to Coach Smart centered strictly around the Warriors’ plan of attack against the Lakers.
After the Warriors lost a disappointing road game on Sunday against the LA Clippers, Golden State now looks to get back on track against the world champs. It’s a tall order to lose a game against a team you should have beat in the Clips and then try to get it back versus the Lakers.
I found Coach Smart engaging, informative and a very positive guy. He runs a tight but upbeat practice. After the Clipper loss, there was no blame or finger pointing. It was one loss in a long season and Coach Smart is smart enough, so to speak, to understand this.
Who Wins Wednesday Night?
He didn’t take any frustration out on his team during the practice session, at least the part I sat through. Instead, it was all business for the Warriors.
The Warriors are an up-and-coming team who really haven't had the chance to play together this year due to injuries. In fact, the Warriors finally have their entire roster available for the first time in over two seasons.
Also, Monta Ellis and Dorell Wright did not practice with the team today due to the flu and an excused absence, respectively. So, again, the Warriors weren’t at full strength.
They have some great people working for their organization and some quality players to go along with Smart. As hard as it is to admit, I actually like the Warriors. I won't root for them against the Lakers, but after this firsthand experience, might pull for them in all other games.
Warriors vs. Lakers on Wednesday Night
Regarding the Lakers, Coach Smart spoke about how his team needs to focus on their game, that they can’t really do anything different just because they are playing the defending champions.
He said, “The only thing that matches up well against the Lakers is a very, very good basketball team.” That’s a great way to put it.
Only problem is, the Warriors aren't a very good team. But, any team can be beat, right?
Coach Smart expanded on this point, noting that for the Warriors to beat LA, they needed to bring “high energy” and “enthusiasm.” The home crowd at Oracle, set for a sellout as the Lakers roll into town, will help.
Divulging Defensive Thoughts
I asked Coach Smart if he does anything different with the Lakers defensively with their two bigs, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, on the floor at the same time.
“Anything you throw at those guys, they’ve seen it,” Coach Smart said. “There are no gimmicks. They’re talented all the way through their first five.”
Coach Smart also singled out Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown who are “two guys coming off the bench who have been playing great.”
You can see the uphill battle a young coach such as Smart has going up against the Lakers. It seems almost daunting, knowing your team is undersized. He alluded to this, even saying, “There really isn’t much you can do, just match energy.”
When asked about how he would defend Kobe Bryant, Coach Smart did say that Monta Ellis would probably guard Kobe, at least late in the game.
But the head coach made the point that this particular matchup (Kobe vs. Monta) isn’t what “hurts” the Warriors. It’s “Odom on the glass or Gasol having perfect games.”
It’s the Lakers’ length that really bothers the Warriors. “Odom’s versatility really creates issues,” Coach Smart also said. Lastly, with Bynum now back, they have to deal with “the other big guy” who the Warriors haven’t seen yet this season.
The way Coach Smart talks about it, you almost feel sorry for the man. Almost.
He’s like that old cliche. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. That’s the sense I almost got. The Warriors only have knives to fight with.
Warriors Practice Against the Triangle
I also asked Coach Smart if he had the team practice specifically against any Laker triangle offense sets.
He said, “We practiced against the triangle today as well as having a play [put] in for ourselves to look at different options.”
But Coach Smart explained that as a head coach, you can’t spend the time to teach your team “all the automatics [of the Laker triangle] that they have built in” because the Warriors only play LA four times a year.
This stage of the season just doesn’t allow it. So, Coach Smart and his staff focused on “the basic concepts of the triangle and the different reads.”
In the end, Coach Smart has his work cut out for him. The Lakers are world champs for a reason. While the Warriors have some quality pieces in place, especially on the perimeter, this is a tough matchup due to the Lakers’ size.
The only way I see the Warriors winning Wednesday is to push the pace and hope both Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry get super hot. If they shoot lights out, the Warriors have a chance.
It’s a slim one, but hey, I had a small chance of being a Lakers Featured Columnist and getting into the enemy Warriors’ practice. So, you never know, huh?
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