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 best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — 11 of them in the first half. Houston was up 17 in the first quarter and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.