ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Golden State Warriors

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Last season: The Warriors ultimately overachieved when all was said and done in 2013, getting to the second round of the playoffs and taking the eventual Western Conference champion Spurs to six games before their season was ended. For a sixth seed entering the playoffs with just 47 wins and having to go through the team that finished with the best home record in the league in the Denver Nuggets, it was a bold step forward for a club full of young talent.

Signature highlight from last season: It’s tempting to give Harrison Barnes the nod here for his incredible dunk over the Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic, but Stephen Curry’s breakout season was the main reason for his team’s unexpected level of success. As a result, enjoy the 54 points Curry dropped on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, even though the scoring barrage came in a losing effort.

Key player changes: Golden State landed a big-name free agent in Andre Iguodala, who would appear to be a perfect addition to the club on both ends of the floor. But they lost a couple of key role players in the process.

  • IN: Iguodala, who the team signed to a four-year, $48 million free agent contract. Marreese Speights was signed to a three-year deal in the offseason, Jermaine O’Neal and Toney Douglas are in place on one-year deals, and Nemanja Nedovic was Golden State’s first round pick in this summer’s draft.
  • OUT: Jarrett Jack is gone, signed by the Cavaliers in free agency. Carl Landry signed a multi-year deal with the Kings, and seldom-used Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, and Brandon Rush were all traded to the Jazz in a salary dump to clear enough cap space to land Iguodala.

Keys to the Warriors season:

1) Integrating Iguodala: Andre Iguodala is an interesting player, in that he’s one of the more well-respected wings around the league who can impact the game more on the defensive end of the floor than with his scoring. The Warriors were good but not great in both categories last season — 10th in the league in offensive efficiency, 13th in defensive efficiency. Iguodala should help in both areas, and whether he or Harrison Barnes is the one relegated to the second unit, the team should see an immediate impact made by both players in their new roles.

2) Replacing the depth that’s departed: Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry both left in free agency after playing key roles for the Warriors a season ago off the bench. Jack was often times on the floor playing crunch-time minutes in three-guard lineups alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He averaged almost 30 minutes per game, and it’s unclear at this point how those minutes will be distributed this season. Landry, meanwhile, played all 82 last year and averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds in 23.2 minutes per contest.

Barnes or Iguodala anchoring the second unit will replace a good portion of that production, but there’s still a void that needs to be filled there if the Warriors are going to exceed what they achieved last year. Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green may be pressed into greater roles, and whether or not they’re ready for them may partially determine how the team fares.

3) Curry making the leap to superstar: There’s no question that Curry is coming off of a breakout season, taking the crown as the game’s purest shooter with very little resistance. He averaged close to seven assists per game, too, but may have to up his production in that category even more for his team to continue to thrive, while cutting down on the turnovers as head coach Mark Jackson suggested this offseason.

Curry is poised to make the projected leap, and if he does so as expected, the Warriors’ unique collection of talent will be even more trouble for teams to stop.

Why you should watch: The aforementioned Curry is becoming a must-see player, and he along with Klay Thompson make for one of the more exciting backcourts in the league from a long-range shooting perspective.

Prediction: It took 56 wins a season ago just to make it to fifth in the Western Conference by the time the playoffs began, and if that’s the case again, it’s tough to see the Warriors finishing much higher than the sixth spot they earned last year. But this season more than most, playoff seeding won’t matter all that much in the West, where the top six teams can all make a strong preseason case as to why they should be favored to finish at or near the top of the standings.

Golden State has some interesting pieces in place, but there are questions surrounding Iguodala’s fit and whether or not they’ll be able to replace the bench production that was lost. A playoff berth seems like a lock; beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.