Monday, April 30, 2007

Catching Up On The Warriors

As many of you know, the Warriors have been my adopted step-team this year, what with Portland in the midst of their re-build. Why the Warriors? Simple: they’re fun to watch, and I live in the Bay Area.

Easy enough. I’ve always felt that you were not committing sports bigamy if you were rooting for a team from the city in which you live, and as long as you still kept your primary team as team #1 at all times. It’s one of two ways you can get away with rooting for a second team (the other being if you have a particular affinity for a certain player due to his previous performance either with your alma mater or your primary team.)

Regarding the Warriors, they’ve been making the Mavs look awfully bad this week. They’re on the brink of being the first #8 seed to upset a #1 seed in a seven-game series. A friend and I were discussing today whether the Mavericks really were that good during the regular season, or if their 67 wins was overachieving.

I really do think Dallas is that good, and if they somehow escape this series, look out. With Dirk doing his outside-in thing, Terry and Harris flying all around the court, Stackhouse (who kept them in the game last night by the way) hitting jumpers and grabbing rebounds and getting to the line like a cokehead, Josh Howard doing everything, and Diop and Dampier taking turns as the shotblocking /rebounding center, they are a pretty unstoppable team with a multitude of weapons. It just seems to me like the Warriors are a mismatch for them, for several reasons.

1. Baron Davis has been the best player on the floor. He’s having one of those epic series that star players are capable of having. My question: why aren’t the Mavs double-teaming him? So you leave a guy like Biedrins or Pietrus open on the perimeter. Isn’t that better than letting Baron go off?

2. The Warriors have dictated the pace of almost every single game. I cannot stress this enough. The funny thing is that the first half of game 4 was probably the best that we’ve seen Dallas get back on defense; but the problem is that the guys who can get back — Harris, Terry — are too small and get pushed around or muscled away from the hoop. The Mavs have more talent on offense and I don’t see why they’re not walking the ball up and slowing the game down. If I were Avery Johnson, I’d be giving Erick Dampier more playing time and I’d be feeding the ball in to him and Josh Howard on the post. Say what you will about Dampier, he’s bigger than anyone in the Warriors’ rotation by three inches and he has a few low-post moves. And his hacking ways won’t be quite as exposed since the W’s rarely run any post-up offense. As good a shotblocker as Diop is, Dampier should be getting a little more burn than he is now. At least give it a try, because with the W’s locking down Dirk and Howard, something has got to give. The most success that Dallas had on defense was the first two games, when Howard was guarding J-Rich.

3. Davis and Jason Richardson are both such big guards that Devin Harris and Jason Terry can't ever play together. As mentioned, they get pushed around and outmuscled. And the Warrior big men are quick enough to help out, even on players as fast as Terry and Harris.

4. The W's are fast enough at every single position that they can double team Dirk, and they still have the quicks to either get back and help, or stay in front of the mavs' quick guards 1-on-1 (whiich most teams can't do).

5. The Mavs don't have a single player who's best offensive game is back-to-the-basket, which is what kills the W's the most. This plays right into golden state's defensive strength, which is perimeter defense.

6. ...which is probably why Al Harrington is having such a piss-poor series. He’s not shooting at all, can’t seem to get into the flow of the game, and his face-up post D isn’t really helping out here. If he struggles in the first half on Tuesday night I wouldn't be surprised if he rides pine for the entire second half.

7. The W's have so many athletic 6-6 - 6-9 type guys (Stephen Jackson, Pietrus, normally Harrington, Matt Barnes, Richardson) that they match up perfectly with Dallas' two best scorers, Nowtizki and Howard. I'm actually surprised that Dallas isn't feeding Howard the ball more in the mid-range on the opposite side of nowitzki so he can either put one up or back his man in and then dish or make a post move. The way that Golden State is swarming around Dirk, it seems like the Mavs should be running more of their offense through Josh Howard.

8. Speaking of Matt Barnes, I think he’s been a key to the Warriors this series. He’s one of few guys on their team who likes to bang around, he can shoot the three, and he’s a relentless rebounder. I hated Matt Barnes when he played for UCLA and used to kill the Ducks, but he’s a perfect fit for this Warrior team and frankly, I enjoy watching him play.

9. Is it possible that the Mavs’ style of play simply fits in to the regular season more than the playoffs? It IS a different style of game in the playoffs, I don’t care what anybody says. And the Mavs have lost seven of their last 8 playoff games. However, that doesn’t necessarily apply here. Typically in an NBA, the playoffs turn the game into a slower-moving, half-court game; and anyone who’s seen the Warriors play know that they run the ball about as much as Phoenix does. So the style of play in this series doesn’t fit the stereotypical playoff style that would benefit, say, a San Antonio or a Houston.

It goes without saying that the Warriors have been a step ahead of Dallas for the entire series, and it’s a bit scary that they’re doing it all without getting any kind of contribution from Al Harrington or Monta Ellis, two of their top-five players during the series. Granted, the Mavs aren’t getting a whole lot from Jason Terry. Thing is, the Warriors aren’t deep enough to be able to withstand long stretches of bad play by multiple players, and Don Nelson flat out said last night that if Harrington and Ellis don’t start getting it going, he might cut his rotation down from 8 guys to 6. Golden State might be able to do that for a half of a game, but certainly not throughout all of games 5 and 6.

Game 5 is Tuesday night at 6:30 and Game 6 is Thursday night at 6:30. There are a lot of folks out there who think that if Golden State allows this to get back to 7 games, they’re sunk. I don’t quite agree with that, but I do think Game 5 will be an all-out war. I was a bit scared that last night had blowout potential, after what the Warriors did to the Mavs in game 3, but they were able to withstand Dallas’ big run in the first quarter, and never let the game get away. It will be interesting to see if Avery experiments with a big lineup in Dallas on Tuesday night. I hope you’re enjoying this series because it’s been a blast so far, and I only expect it to get better.

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