Don’t look now, but the Golden State Warriors’ are comin; exactly where and how far once they get there is the question that remains. Whatever the case may be, it has become abundantly clear the decision to make former NBA great Mark Jackson head coach was not only a great move on the part of ownership and management, but also serves notice to the basketball world that these Warrriors’ are no longer brandishing “toy swords.”
For instance, coach Jackson played in the NBA at time when- as i’ve mentioned before- what’s considered a flagrant 2 in today’s NBA would have been a put a band aid on it and get back out there moment during his day. The toughness and attention to defense that he’s brought to this current group of Warriors’ is somewhat similar to what you see in Chicago with Tommy T and the Bulls. The idea is that all 5 guys must play on a string defensively if there is no one player on the team who can do so individually. On offense the shot selections will be done selective and strategically, not helter skelter; with an emphasis on the overall offensive approach being “inside-out”, and not “outside-in.” This is the approach used by teams’ like the Spurs’, Lakers (before D’Antoni), and Celtics. All of which have won numerous titles throughout their existence. It’s not about building for the all important and ever so elusive one, but instead creating a system and mentality that will produce many. Here today, and still here tomorrow is the mindset Jackson is trying to establish. Who else deserves 75% of the credit for David Lee being an All-Star this season? Lee has been a decent statistical player (for the most part) since his arrival to the NBA, but it’s the attention to defense implored by Jackson that has put Lee in his first All-Star uniform.
Because the NBA over saturates the viewing public with only a select few, most people don’t get a chance to see the Warriors’ and the up and coming formidable roster they have put together.
Stephen Curry has become one the league’s most dangerous shooter’s, who at times looks as though he can shoot from anywhere on the floor now that it seems his ankle issues are (for now) a distant memory. Richard Jefferson apparently took a drink from the fountain of youth, because his play in the Bay area has been far better this season than at any time during his stint with the Spurs. Jarret Jack is a throwback; every NBA team should have one. The Dallas Mavericks’ had one in Deshawn Stevenson. The difference being Jack can score- averages a soild 12.4!! His understanding of game tempo is not on the level of CP3, or Rondo, but the fact he has an idea of what it means is invaluable to the Warriors’ come playoff time. Throw in the high basketball I.Q. and dead-eye shooting Klay Thompson with the better than I expected Harrison Barnes, and the rejuvenated Carl Landry to go with the Tom Izzo coached Draymond Green and thorn in your side Brandon Rush, the Warriors’ will be a playoff problem in the West. In a recent matchup against mainstream favorite OKC, the Warriors’ made Durant and Westbrook look like jackers of all shots and makers of none in a 104-99 victory 1/23/12. A game the Thunder led for 3 1/2 quarters with a double digit lead more than once. A healthy Bogut makes for an interesting out come if these 2 meet in the playoffs.
I’m not saying the Warriors’ will win an NBA title this year because playoff experience is a key ingrediant to winning it all. I am saying any team that faces them better not make the same mistake the 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics did losing to the Denver Nuggets in the first round, or the more recent Denver Broncos to the Baltimore Ravens after being heavy favorites.
The San Antonio Spurs are what I like to call authentic. Where they rank in statistical categories is not even worth the mention, because it really doesn’t matter if they’re at the top, middle, or bottom, the playoffs always seem to be a foregone conclusion. The Spurs are one of two teams'(Grizzlies are the other) whose style of play could survive the removal of the 3-point line. Know why? They play from the inside out; Which of course is a key ingredient to 4 NBA Titles.
The other key ingredients are none other than Greg Popovich, Tim(The Big Fundamental) Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and a host of players who not only understand their roles, but relish in the idea of being role players minus the ego. A rarity in today’s NBA and just about any other professional sport. Unlike the more talked about NBA teams, if you get a chance to “witness” the Spurs in person or on t.v. leave your popcorn at home and instead bring a pen and pad- school is in session!
Playing in his 16th NBA season at the ripe old age of 36, Tim Duncan is a class act who unfortunately, doesn’t get the SportCenter credit that he rightfully deserves. Can you believe this dude is puttin’ up 17pts per? That’s insane for a guy (according to some) who should’ve been put out to pasture eons ago. Talk about durability. Along with Parker and Ginobili (if healthy), the Spurs core is a formidable one no matter how fast the other team is. Throw in a bench comprised of blue collar construction types in Splitter, Jackson, Blair, Leonard, Green, Neal, and Diaw, you have the makings of what a legit NBA title contender should look like.
Just as important as personnel is coaching. Who is better than G Pop in the game today? Pop has a system that won’t wow you with the flashy, but will bore you with the fundamental. Matter fact, Pop’s style is so boring 8 out of the 12 players’ on his roster shoot better than 80% from the free-throw line, and no player- except Parker (19.7)- averages more than 20 pts/g!! Every player makes his minutes count.
When it comes down to the San Antonio Spurs’, what’s already understood really need not be explained.
I don’t usually deviate from my blog script, but last week’s blog about the L.A. Clippers instead of the Oklahoma City Thunder was, in my estimation, absolutely necessary given the fact both the Clippers’ and Lakers’ are the talk of the town despite OKC holding the best overall record in the NBA at 28-8. It’s not to say OKC is not worthy of conversation, it’s just not Hollywood;- and we all know Hollywood rules!! So they say.
As I just mentioned, the OKC Thunder are a league best 28-8, but I hate to have to be the one to tell you that an NBA Championship is not in the cards for the Thunder this year, and this time it won’t be because of David Stern. This OKC team reminds me-in many ways- like the 2006 Dallas Mavericks. A team that scores in bunches (105.7 per-leads the NBA), shoots well from the 3-pt line(39.6% also 1st-NBA), 1st in ft% at 84%- which is a crucial element come playoff time- and are 3rd overall from the field at 48.9%. These are the types of offensive numbers that can win you a regular season and maybe a playoff round or two, but is it enough to win it all? That’s the million dollar question. Let’s not forget: Live by the jumper, die by the jumper; anyone who watches the NBA knows Durant, Westbrook, and Kevin Martin are all volume shooters!!! No matter how much of an offensive threat a team is, establishing an inside presence and defense are key components to winning a title.
When it comes to rebounding the ball, the numbers are contradictory to say the least. They rank 24th overall in offensive rebounding with 379 (lg avg-417), and 7th in defensive rebounding with 1182. This contradiction gets lost in the fact that OKC is 10th in the league in pts allowed at 96.5. I’m not suggesting that defense is totally absent in OKC, i’m merely pointing out the fact that offensive rebounding deficiency has a funny way of rearing it’s ugly head the further you advance in the playoffs. The game is shortened and slowed down in the playoffs; long jumpshots lead to long run-outs for the other team.
Free-throws are not only playoff crucial, but it’s an area where the Thunder(84%-NBA best) don’t have any worries as long as they can maintain it during the pressure packed moments that each playoff round brings. Despite all the fancy, more games are won/lost at the free-throw line than they are by taking jumpshots. Look it up.
OKC on paper can run/outrun any team that’s put in front of them on any given day. The absence of Ibaka’s 14.3 per/g on the inside, Westbrook’s ability to make good decisions and control “game tempo”, and Durant posting up like Dirk in 2010, will not only have their fans’ “running for the exits”, but send OKC home with another silver medal.
If you’re a fan of basketball the way it was intended to be played, the L.A.Clippers’ are the team you must absolutely root for. Not because they just recently completed a league best 17-game win streak, or because they are affectionately referred to as “Lob City”, nor the fact that they are 4th in pts allowed (93.1) and 7th in pts scored (101.9); You must root for this team simply because of Chris Paul.
I have always said that no matter how much scoring is increased and dunks are lauded, in order to win an NBA Title a team must have a facilitator, and Paul fits the description to a tee. For all you stat geeks, Paul is 48%fg, 89%ft, 91stl(thru 35 gms), 104 d-reb — yeah, defensive reb!!–, 326ast, and 199 3-pt att; which tells me he’s selective and not just jackin’ em up.
The question remains, can the Clippers win come playoff time? Yes. As long as Paul stays healthy. More important to me than numbers is Paul’s ability to control tempo on both ends of the floor and keeping everyone else in their natural order. While most NBA fans were marveling at the 17- game win streak, I was more impressed with how Paul was determined to let the Warriors’ know that there would be no ” 3rd time’s a charm” after losing twice to Golden State this season before putting on a clinic in a 115-89 victory this past Saturday. Avenging the losses to the Warriors’ mattered more to Paul than the fantastic win streak; that’s the mindset mandatory for the playoffs.
The Clippers’ will go as far as Paul takes them; hopefully to a new building next year if nothing else. They’ve clearly outgrown the Staples Center.