By TED SILLANPAA
The Warriors’ Stephen Curry has become the go-to, clutch-shooting star that every really good NBA team needs. It’d be foolish to think Klay Thompson can’t become a star, too, despite his early season woes. David Lee’s having a career season.
Golden State has been winning consistently because head coach Mark Jackson and assistant Pete Myers are throwback NBA tough guys who finally put together a Warriors’ team that plays defense, plays it well and doesn’t back down even when overmatched physically. And, there are lots of games where the Warriors are physically inferior, particular around the hoop.
There are still only a very few teams that I can imagine winning the NBA title. I look at things realistically, rather than simply asking myself, “Can Team A beat the Spurs? Can Team B defeat the Heat? Could the Thunder lose to Team C?” I ask myself if I can imagine any team beating the Spurs four times in seven games and think, “Well, the Warriors couldn’t, but the Thunder can.” Then, I wonder, “Is there a team that I can imagine beating the Thunder four times in a short series?” I come up with the Miami Heat. And, even with a complete inability to rebound that haunts them today, I can’t imagine any team beating the Heat in a best four-of-seven series.
That translates into my guessing that LeBron James can find four ways to make the Heat the superior team in any seven-game series. The other day he played center on defense and point guard on offense against the Timberwolves. So, it has become impossible to overestimate his value or his talent.
The Warriors are closer than any of us would have dreamed to being a team that, if the stars aligned, could win a short series against any of the teams most consider championship contenders. Longtime NBA coach Stan Van Gundy said that if the Heat were to defend its title playing small, with pencil-thin Chris Bosh at center, it would be the first team to go small and win an NBA title in his memory. (Van Gundy knows the game. I believe him.)
That leads us to the Warriors. If guys like Van Gundy believe teams have to rebound and protect the rim to win the NBA title, the Warriors have to figure out how to win without relying on playing Lee at center with four perimeter players beside him. That makes for the best collection of talent that the Warriors can put on the court, but it makes it hard to rebound and defend the lane.
So, the Warriors have their star … they have their veteran having a career year and they have two rookie small forwards in Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green who can actually defend the great wing players in the NBA. They just need to be able to find a lineup that includes a guy to guard the lane and the rim that still enables them to win consistently. (Even when they find that big guy, the other four players have to slam the boards, too. Every possession.)
It doesn’t appear that Andrew Bogut will be back healthy any time soon. If the Warriors had Bogut, at his healthiest and best, they’d be just a notch below the Thunder and Spurs as NBA Western Conference contenders. Without Bogut, rookie Festus Ezeli becomes the player the Warriors need to become an increasingly effective part of the offense because he, alone, has the physical presence and skill to block shots, rebound and defend in the post.
This is in no way a knock on the Warriors. No way. For Jackson to have the club playing well enough that they’re a big man away from becoming legitimate championship contenders is amazing and worthy of praise.
They just need Ezeli to mature faster and faster every week — and they need to keep hoping against hope that Andris Biedrins can find ways to contribute under the hoop long after his once promising career fell to pieces.
If the athletic, hulking Ezeli can become a shot-blocking, rebounder who can defend the best NBA post men … the Warriors could, I would imagine, beat lots of NBA playoff teams in a best-of-seven series.
Who would ever have dreamed Warriors fans could have such heady thoughts right now?