It’s still very early in the NBA season — we’re still watching small sample size theater — but we are starting to learn some things. Here is what we learned on Sunday while wondering why the United Nations has not looked into the UFO phenomenon….
1) Teams are being physical, trying to punk Warriors, and Draymond Green has taken notice. For the past couple of seasons, the Golden State Warriors have punked teams. The Warriors were chippy, they tried to push buttons, they played with arrogance — they acted like the bully. But just three games into the new season the book on how to beat the Warriors is out — be physical. San Antonio did it in the opener and pushed Golden State around, New Orleans tried to do it, and the Phoenix Suns followed the pattern Sunday behind Tyson Chandler and Eric Bledsoe. Teams are playing to get a measure of revenge. Golden State still picked up the victory over Phoenix behind 37 from Kevin Durant on Sunday, but the Warriors struggles on defense continued, and teams are trying to push them around. Draymond Green has taken notice, as he told Monty Poole of CSNBayArea.com.
“Definitely. Definitely, he said Sunday, after a 106-100 win over the Suns. “Teams are trying to punk us. It’s fine. We’re not going to get punked.”
Being physical with them is something teams have tried for a couple of years, but the Warriors could push and bang with anyone inside in seasons past. However, with Andrew Bogut gone in the paint and other long, athletic players also shipped out — Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes, for example — the strategy has taken on a new urgency. Sunday, Stephen Curry pushed back, shoving Brandon Knight to the floor after the play.
So far this physical strategy has worked best when the elite Spurs used it, but it’s going to continue until the Warriors prove it doesn’t work — and the way the Suns hung around and was in Sunday’s game until the end, it clearly still works.
2) Utah desperately misses Gordon Hayward. There are a couple of things I took away from attending the Clippers home win over the Jazz Sunday. One is that the Clippers are playing incredibly well to open the season — their bench has a real comfort level we haven’t seen in recent years, they are very physical on defense, and Blake Griffin is playing at an elite level.
But the other is that the Jazz desperately miss Gordon Hayward — they need his shot creation to make their offense work. Utah’s defense was as advertised — their length had the Clippers missing shots they normally make — but Utah can’t generate enough good looks of its own. George Hill gives them some of that, Joe Johnson can for spurts, but Hayward is a borderline All-NBA kind of player, and without him their shot making is not the same. Ask coach Quin Snyder about that and he almost shrugs. “I think the biggest thing for us now is just to keep getting better… part of it for us is getting better, and part of it is getting healthy and hopefully we can do both.” Hayward is out a couple more weeks at least after breaking his finger.
3) Angry Russell Westbrook is putting on a show — and putting up numbers. Big numbers. These are historic numbers to start a season: Through three games, Russell Westbrook has 116 points, 37 rebounds, and 35 assists. Sunday, in a 113-96 victory over the Lakers, Westbrook had 33 points, 16 assists, and 12 rebounds. That’s two triple-doubles in three games. It is amazing to watch.
My only question: Will this load at some point wear Westbrook down? How long can he shoulder this?