Buckle up for what should be a very interesting Western Conference Finals.
When power forward Draymond Green entered the NBA in 2012 as a second-round pick of the Golden State Warriors, he had the reputation of being a hard worker. Green spent four years playing under head basketball coach Tom Izzo in his Michigan State Spartans basketball program. And by Green’s senior season, he was the Big Ten Conference’s Player of the Year, along with being a first-team All-American. In Green’s first two years with the Warriors, he was a bench player who barely averaged 20 minutes per game. However when the decision was made to fire Mark Jackson and replace with him with Steve Kerr as the Warriors head coach in 2014, Green now found himself in the starting lineup. In Green’s first season under Kerr, he would average 11.7 points and 8.2 rebounds as he would be key in Golden State winning their first NBA Championship since 1975. Green has gone on to become a two-time NBA All-Star, and although that his teammate in point guard Steph Curry is the reigning two-time NBA MVP, there is a consensus that feel that Green is Golden State’s best player due to the fact he can facilitate, rebound, score, and play defense. However as good as Green can be, there are some negative attributes that he brings to the table as well.
Green has taken it upon himself to become the NBA’s bad boy. Green has received his fair share of flagrant fouls and fines in the past few years due to his unnecessary contact with opponents. Two of the most infamous incidents occurred last year during the NBA Playoffs. In Game Three of the Western Conference Finals, Green kicked Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams in his groin. Green was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul and fined $25k by the NBA, and even with that some people felt that he got off light. In the Game Four of the NBA Finals, the Warriors were well on their way to taking a 3-1 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers when Green got himself into a tussle with Cavs small forward LeBron James. Both players would be assessed technical fouls, but since it was Green’s fourth technical of the postseason, he would be suspended by the NBA for Game Five. The Cavaliers would have new life as they rallied to win the NBA Championship, and many pointed to Green’s blunder as a big reason why.
And after the Warriors blew a 3-1 series lead, you would think that Green would have had a new outlook on things coming into this NBA season, but that hasn’t been the case. Green is still the glue for what the Warriors want to do, however he continues to make boneheaded decisions.
In the Warriors 132-127 loss to the Houston Rockets on December 1, Green could be seen kicking Rockets point guard James Harden in the face while attempting to secure a rebound. Green was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul, but he was not suspended by the NBA. During the Warriors 123-113 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on February 23, Green kicked Clippers power forward Blake Griffin while tussling for a loose ball which resulted in no fine or suspension by the NBA.
Green has yet to learn his lesson as gone are the days in the NBA when teams had enforcers who would be put into the game simply to retaliate against players such as himself. Early in the Hall of Fame career of Michael Jordan, if anyone were to breath on him in the wrong way, they had to deal with Charles Oakley. The Detroit Pistons of the late 1980’s were the ultimate intimidators who dared opponents to cross them. But ever since “The MalIce At The Palace” in 2004, the landscape of the NBA has changed with a no-nonsense policy as far as fighting goes, and Green has taken full advantage of it.
Green knows that he can continue his on-court antics because there aren’t that many players left in the league who are willing to confront him. And at this point the only way to slow Green down is a physical altercation due to the fact that fines and a suspension in the NBA Finals have not made him change his ways. However it will only take Green to try his luck against the wrong player in the NBA that would escalate into brawl before the league would be forced to sit him down.
There’s nothing wrong with playing with intensity in order to win. But there is a fine line playing hard and being stupid. Green is taking the latter approach and I don’t understand why this is being allowed to happen. Once again the Warriors have a very good chance of winning the NBA Title. However if nobody is able to get Green under control, all of the fantastic shooting ability that is possessed by Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson, or small forward Kevin Durant won’t mean a thing.
It isn’t that often in which an NBA team will come along and do what the Golden State Warriors are currently doing. The Warriors went 67-15 en route to winning the NBA Championship in 2015. Last season the Warriors would set a new single-season record by going 73-9, but they fell one victory short of repeating as NBA Champions. And although that the Warriors fell one victory short of their ultimate goal last summer, they still have a have a huge bulls eye on their backs during the current NBA season.
As if having two of the best perimeter shooters in the NBA in point guard Stephen Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson wasn’t enough, the rich got richer when the Warriors signed small forward Kevin Durant last summer. Now it’s a classic game of “pick your poison” as either Durant, Curry, or Thompson can explode for 40 points on a given night as this is a team that has embraced the spotlight.
The Warriors entered this NBA season with Curry being the two-time reigning MVP, along with the fact that there’s a huge consensus of basketball fans that are upset about Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder as a free agent in order to sign with the team that eliminated him in the Western Conference Finals last June. And once you factor in that the Warriors are very good, along with the notion of power forward Draymond Green not being Mr. Popular due to his questionable play on the court, Golden State might be the closest thing to a hated team that the NBA has right now. But if there’s a group guys who aren’t concerned about this, it is indeed the Warriors.
This NBA season didn’t begin like the previous one did for the Warriors when they won their first 24 games as on opening night, they fell at home to the San Antonio Spurs. And by Golden State’s sixth game, they had tasted defeat for the second time as the young Los Angeles Lakers got the best of them. But then Golden State would get on one of those vintage runs as they would reel of 12 consecutive victories and since then they have not lost two games in a row. Each time that the Warriors have lost a game, they followed it up by winning at least their next four in a row.
There were people who wondered how the Warriors would be able to make things work with Durant, Thompson, Curry, and Green all in the starting lineup. But Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has one of the most unselfish teams in the NBA. Each of these players have seen their points per game diminish this season, but it’s all for the greater good for the team in order to win another NBA Championship.
Durant led the NBA in scoring on four separate occasions with the Thunder which included a career-high 32 points during his MVP campaign during the 2013-2014 season. But Durant isn’t a one-dimensional player who is focusing on scoring as he wants to win which is what led him to joining the Warriors over the summer. This season Durant’s points per game are down as he’s average 26.2 per contest which still leads the team, however he has become more efficient.
With the Warriors, Durant is averaging a career-high in rebounds (8.4), along with blocks (1.7), while he is also shooting over 54% from the floor. Each time that Durant takes the court you can see the hunger in his eyes as he wants to win an NBA Championship, while also proving to people that he didn’t join the Warriors to merely ride the coat tails of Curry, Thompson, and Green.
Curry’s points per game (24.6), and three-point field goal percentage (40%) are each drastically down from last season. However Curry is still one of the best shooters from long range as teams around the NBA still have reservations as far as leaving him open from beyond the three-point arc.
Thompson might be the forgotten man on the Warriors this season as he’s still averaging 21.1 points per game. But on December 5, Thompson torched the Indiana Pacers for 60 points in just 29 minutes as the Warriors crushed them 142-106. And if teams want to focus on Durant and Curry, Thompson could still be Golden State’s ace in the hole.
Then there is the case of Green who is the Warriors omnipresent player. Curry may have won the NBA’s MVP last year, but there were people who made the case that Green was the best player on the team. This season Green is once again leading the Warriors in assists with 7.5 per game while he is also averaging 8.5 rebounds, 1.9, and 1.4 blocks. Green is still that guy that does the dirty work as any championship needs a player like that. But at times Green can be his own worst enemy as he has been known to make bonehead decisions on the court.
Green racked up several flagrant fouls in the NBA Playoffs last year which led to him ultimately being suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. And Green’s absence was the momentum needed for the Cavaliers to get back into the series and ultimately win the NBA Title. But Green has yet to learn as he kicked Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden in the head earlier this season, and you get the feeling that his antics could cost the Warriors once more when the chips are down in the playoffs.
In signing Durant, the Warriors sacrificed some size as they traded center Andrew Bogut to the Dallas Mavericks, while also allowing center Marreesse Speights to leave in free agency as he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers. And whereas there were some detractors who felt that the Warriors would have issues because of their perceived lack of size, they are currently sixth in rebounding as they are averaging 45.2 per contest.
The Warriors have a commitment to defense and rebounding which includes the likes of center Zaza Pachulia, power forward David West, point guard Shaun Livingston, and small forward Andre Iguodala who is still one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA.
It’s late January, but the Warriors have all but clinched the Pacific Division for the third consecutive year as they should not be tested until they reach the Western Conference Finals where they will more than likely face the Spurs. The Warriors have lucked out for the fact that they’ve not had to face the Spurs in the last two years in the playoffs, but this season it is almost inevitable as they are clearly the top two teams in the Western Conference. And if the Warriors can escape the Spurs, the Cavs are once again lurking in the NBA Finals.
But this Warriors team appears to be different from the one last season that was all glitz and glamour when they set an NBA record with 73 wins. This Warriors is more business like as the wins are still piling up. And Golden State knows that what they are doing now won’t mean a thing unless they are the last team standing in late June.
X-Golden State Warriors 65-17 (1)
Last year was a dream season for the Golden State Warriors as they set a new NBA single-season record for wins 73 that should stand for a very long time. The Warriors appeared poised to repeat as NBA Champions as they built a 3-1 series in the NBA Finals, only to falter and lose the final three games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which included two of those defeats coming at home. The Warriors only lost nine games during the regular season, but they would lose nine contests during the playoffs which includes their last three as they’ve had all summer to sit back and only ponder what could have been if they were able to repeat as NBA Champions. But after a record breaking season for the Warriors, don’t expect them to drop off that much.
What has propelled the Warriors over the past few NBA seasons has been their perimeter shooting. As a team the Warriors shot nearly 42% from beyond the three-point arc while they were led by “The Splash Brothers” of point guard Steph Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson.
Curry is the reigning two-time NBA MVP who is one of the best perimeter shooters that the game of basketball has seen as he is indeed a pure shooter. Last season Curry averaged 30.1 points per game and at times he can make deep shooting almost look like making layups as it doesn’t take that much for him to get into the zone.
Thompson is no slouch either when it comes to scoring as he is a career 42% shooter from downtown, while also seeing his points per game average increase in each of his five NBA seasons.
But one element that hurt the Warriors in their NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers was the fact that Curry nor Thompson have the ability to score close to the basket, while they are not nearly as effective when opposing defenses keep a body on them to prevent them from consistently getting open looks at the basket. And in a very surprising move which could remedy that issue, small forward Kevin Durant decided to join the Warriors on Independence Day.
For nine years Durant was the face of the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. Only Gary Payton scored more points than Durant’s 17,566 in the history of the franchise, and no one who ever played for the organization made more three-point field goals (1,143) than him. Durant also helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals in 2012, but allure of playing with the Warriors, while being lukewarm at best to remain in Oklahoma City and playing alongside point guard Russell Westbrook was enough to persuade him to take his talents west and join the Warriors.
What Durant gives the Warriors is a bigger scorer, but is he indeed the missing piece that can get Golden State another NBA Championship?
For Durant’s NBA career, he has averaged 27.4 points per game, but he is never going to be confused with being a defensive stalwart, which is an element that the Warriors are going to need if they are going to once again claim the NBA Title. The other big issue is going to be how will Durant fit in with Curry and Thompson as there is only one basketball to go around. Durant doesn’t appear to be the kind of player that will want to rock the boat as he understands that there is a winning formula in place, while Curry and Thompson must love the thought of having another scoring option that can take some of the burden off of them.
The Warriors do have a defensive presence on their team in the form of power forward Draymond Green and small forward Andre Iguodala. Last year Curry was the NBA’s MVP, but in actuality Green is the Warriors best player. Green can do it all as he is a perimeter scorer, interior, rebounder, defender, facilitator, and the heart and soul of this team. I also doubt that Green would have an issue in taking a backseat to Durant, Curry, and Thompson as far as the scoring goes, while he can still strengthen the team in other areas.
But all is not well with the Warriors as they’ve lost some of their depth that was key to their success over the last few years. In making room for Durant, center Andrew Bogut was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, while center Marreese Speights left to join the Los Angeles Clippers, and shooting guard Leandro Barbosa is now a member of the Phoenix Suns. On top of that small forward Harrison Barnes left in free agency to sign with the Mavericks after the Warriors made it clear that they were zeroing in on Durant.
The Warriors new supporting cast includes the likes of veteran power forward David West and center JaVale McGee to partner with stalwarts off of the Golden State bench such as point guard Shaun Livingston, but will it be enough to get the Warriors back to the NBA Championship?.
In spite of not winning the NBA Championship last June, the Warriors will still have a bulls eye on their backs due to what they did in the last regular season. And Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will have to make sure that his team will be up for the challenge.
Y-Los Angeles Clippers 54-28 (3)
The last three years have seen the Los Angeles Clippers be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but they’ve been unable to get over the hump in the postseason. The Clippers have never won an NBA Championship and dating back to their stints in Buffalo and San Diego, they’ve never gotten to the conference finals.
Doc Rivers has been the Clippers head coach for the last three years and he has given this organization a high level of respectability. Under Rivers, the Clippers have won 50 games in each of the last three seasons, and once you factor in their 56-win campaign under Vinny Del Negro during the 2012-2013 NBA season, Los Angeles is in the midst of their best run in franchise history. But unfortunately for the Clippers, they have taken a backseat to the Golden State Warriors in the Pacific Division which is something that must change if they are going to achieve their ultimate goal which is to win an NBA Championship.
As point guard Chris Paul is set to begin his sixth season with the Clippers, he is the leader of this team, but who is the their go-to-guy? Aside from Paul, the other recognizable faces of the Clippers are power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan. Paul is one of the better floor generals in the NBA as he has averaged 9.9 assists for his 11-year NBA career, while Jordan is currently one of the top rebounders in the league. Injuries limited Griffin to just 35 games last season, and he needs to find a way to remain healthy for this campaign. But you have to wonder if the title window is closing for this trio?
Griffin has never come off of as being “the guy” for the Clippers as he plays off of Paul. Jordan has never developed his offensive game enough to be a consistent scorer, while he is also a liability late in contests due to the fact that he is a career 42% free throw shooter. And as for Paul, he has never shown the ability during his NBA career to be a player that a team can consistently count on to score 25 points per contest.
But aside from this the Clippers still have a team that can do some damage in the regular season as long as they can remain healthy. Shooting guard J.J. Redick is one of the best deep range shooters in the NBA which was evident last season when he connected on nearly 48% of his shots from downtown. Jamal Crawford is set to begin his fifth season with the Clippers, and after averaging 14.2 points off of the bench last year for Los Angeles, he will once again be vital to their success as he is the only three-time winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. At 39-years of age, small forward Paul Pierce is not the player that he was during the prime of his career, but his knowledge of the game should be able to help the Clippers in this his last go round in the NBA. The last few years have seen center Marreese Speights be a valuable role players coming off of the bench for the Warriors, and he should be an upgrade at the offensive end of the floor for the Clippers when Jordan goes to the bench. And at 6’10”, Speights’ size will also help the Clippers at the defensive end of the floor last season as they were seventh in the NBA in points allowed.
In order for the Clippers to have a shot to contend with the power teams in the Western Conference such as the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, they must take care of their business against the also-rans. And if everyone is one the same page, the Clippers should be a tough team to reckon with in spite of the fact that they more than likely won’t win the NBA Title.
Sacramento Kings 36-46
You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time that the Sacramento Kings finished an NBA campaign with a winning record. Over that stretch the Kings have gone through eight different head coaches with a ninth in Dave Joerger set to begin his tenure with the club. The Kings have not won more than 38 games in a season during their latest journey to futility, while they’ve also been an organization that has lacked leadership which means that Joerger will have his work cut out for him.
Joerger spent the last three years as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies where he compiled a record of 147-99. Joerger also led the Grizzlies to three consecutive playoff appearances which included guiding a Memphis team last season that had a slew of injuries. Joerger is an excellent communicator, while he also focuses on defensive basketball, but he will have his hands full as far as turning things around in Northern California.
Center DeMarcus Cousins has been the Kings best player in each of the last six years, but he has also been the organizations biggest headache. Cousins is coming off of a season where he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, while also being a member of the United States Men’s Basketball Team that won the gold medal this past August at the Summer Olympics. However the category that the Kings need Cousins step up in the most is his leadership.
As Cousins is now on his sixth different head coach with the Kings, it is safe to label him as a “coach killer”. But Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac continue to keep Cousins as their centerpiece in spite of the fact that he continuously clashes with head coaches, along with being unable to make the players around him better which will more than likely be on display this season due to the fact that Sacramento has individual talent and not a group of guys that will more than likely be able to function as a cohesive unit.
Along with Cousins, the Kings are set to return four of their top five scorers from last year’s team. Small forward Rudy Gay is set to begin his fourth season with the Kings. During Gay’s time in Sacramento, he has averaged 19.4 points per game, but just like Cousins he has been unable to help the Kings get over the hump and back to the playoffs. Point guard Darren Collison is set to begin his third season in Sacramento, and he could have more of an impact this year due to the fact that he won’t be looking over his shoulder after the Kings allowed point guard Rajon Rondo to leave in free agency. Small forward Omri Casspi gives the Kings a solid perimeter scorer coming off of the bench which will be vital as Sacramento does’t want to get lost in the shuffle once again in the Western Conference.
During the off-season, the Kings also picked up veteran wing players in small forwards Matt Barnes and Arron Afflalo who aside from both playing their college ball at UCLA could provide Sacramento with experience and more importantly a defensive toughness that is going to be necessary for them under Joerger.
Something will have to give for the Kings as no team in the NBA allowed more points per game (109.1) last season than they did, while Joerger typically had one of the better defensive teams in the league during his time in the Memphis. For the Kings to improve at the defensive end of the floor, it is going to take a collective effort, but players such as Cousins, Gay, and Casspi don’t have a solid history of being solid defenders which puts Sacramento in an interesting situation being that Ranadive and Divac have been known to chose Cousins over their head coaches.
Just like last year, the Kings have tremendous individual talent, but they must learn to play together as a team. The Kings are currently one of the most poorly run franchises in the NBA, and the only highlight of their season will be the unveiling of their new home in Northern California which is the Golden 1 Center.
Los Angeles Lakers 33-49
It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of their worst stretch in franchise history. The last three years have seen the Lakers fail to post a winning record, while they’ve also been unable to qualify for the playoffs. This marks the first time in the illustrious history of the Lakers franchise that this has happened as they are now coming to grips with a very unfamiliar word which is “rebuilding”. The upcoming NBA season also marked the end of one era for Lakers basketball, and the beginning of a new one.
The past 20 years have seen shooting guard Kobe Bryant as a fixture on the court for the Lakers. Bryant helped the Lakers win five NBA Championships. But like all good Hollywood productions, Bryant’s time on the court has come to an end. Bryant’s departure means that the focus will be on the youth movement for the Lakers, along with a new voice on the sidelines.
36-year old Luke Walton is set to become the 26th head coach in the illustrious history of the Lakers franchise and there is only one way for him to go which is up. Walton has played for the Lakers as he was a member of their championship teams in 2009 and 2010. Walton has spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors and he hopes to bring the same ball movement offense that has been successful in Oakland to Los Angeles. And although that Walton doesn’t have the same level of talent to work with in Los Angeles as opposed to Oakland with the Warriors, all is not lost for Walton as there is some potential on the Lakers roster.
As the Lakers have combined to lose 181 games over the last three NBA seasons, it has also seen them picking very early in the NBA Draft. In 2014, the Lakers used their first-round pick on power forward Julius Randle. In 2015, the Lakers used the second overall pick of the NBA Draft on point guard D’Angelo Russell. And after winning just 17 games last year, the Lakers once again had the second overall choice; this time they selected small forward Brandon Ingram whom they are hopeful will be another piece to their young core of players.
In the first game of the 2014-2015 NBA season, Randle suffered a broken leg which ended his rookie campaign before it even started. Randle would return last season in what was his de facto rookie campaign as he averaged 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds as he is showing that he has the potential to be a low-post presence in Los Angeles. Russell had an up and down rookie campaign as he averaged 13.2 points and 3.3. assists while having the locker room turn on him after an incident with shooting guard Nick Young. Russell is only 20-years of age, and there is still a level of immaturity that must be curbed if he is going to grow as a professional basketball player. Aside from Russell, the Lakers are high on another guard in Jordan Clarkson. Last year was Clarkson’s second NBA season and after averaging 15.5 points per game, he received a four-year extension that is worth $50 million. Ingram showed flashes of what he could be during his one year of collegiate basketball for the Duke Blue Devils as he averaged 17.3 and 6.8 rebounds en route to being the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year. And Ingram’s development as a wing player and all-around player are going to be vital for the Lakers who are looking to pick themselves up off of the canvas in the Western Conference.
Aside from the Lakers youth movement, they do have veterans on this club such as small forward Luol Deng and shooting guard Lou Williams who’s experience will be important as Walton looks to get his message across to his young team.
It might not seem like it, but the Lakers are in the process of building something special, and although that the 2016-2017 NBA season will more than likely see Los Angeles miss the postseason once again, they are on the verge of building something very special.
Phoenix Suns 30-52
Throughout the 48-year history of the Phoenix Suns franchise, they’ve never won an NBA Championship, but they have had a reputation of being a perennial playoff team. However things have really gone awry for the Suns as they have failed to make the postseason since 2010. Over that stretch the Suns have had four different head coaches which has taken away from their ability to build some cohesion. Earl Watson was the Suns interim head coach for the final 33 games of the 2015-2016 NBA season after Jeff Hornacek was fired. The Suns would go 9-24 under Watson, but team general manager Ryan McDonough decided to stick with him heading into the upcoming NBA season. However it doesn’t matter who will be coaching the Suns as this organization has lost its luster.
When you think of the history of Suns basketball, an uptempo pace that produces plenty of points generally comes to mind. But last season the Suns were 22nd in the NBA in points per game at 100.9 per contest. One issue that the Suns have had is that they’ve concentrated too much on being a guard oriented team. In the past five years the majority of the Suns draft picks have been guards and this has robbed the Suns from gaining cohesion on the basketball court along with an overall identity. The Suns two best players are a pair of point guards that played collegiately for the Kentucky Wildcats in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, but it is counter productive to have each of them on the court at the same time when they have the same skill set.
However regardless of whether it is Bledsoe or Knight that is running the show for the Suns at point guard, they have a promising player to run with in the Phoenix backcourt in shooting guard Devin Booker. Last year as a rookie, Booker was the Suns third leading scorer at 13.8 points per game behind Bledsoe and Knight and the ceiling is very high for him as his second year in the NBA is set to begin.
The Suns do have a veteran presence in their front court with center Tyson Chandler who is still a solid rebounder, and power forward Mirza Teletovic who is a quality scorer as he averaged 12.2 points per game last year for Phoenix, but it is highly unlikely that it will be good enough to make them a playoff team.
Five of the Suns first eight games this year will be on the road, and a slow start could be the prelude for another long season in Phoenix.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth
After winning their first NBA Championship in 40 years last spring, the Golden State Warriors came into this season looking to do it again. The Warriors won 67 games en route to winning an NBA Title, and they somehow found a way to top that this year by setting a single-season NBA record by winning 73 games. As a result of this, the Warriors found themselves compared to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who have been viewed by many as the greatest team in NBA history. But unlike the Bulls who won 72 games en route to winning the NBA Title, these Warriors didn’t and in the process missed the opportunity to see themselves alongside the greatest teams in sports history.
The regular season was a breeze for the Warriors as they won their first 24 games. It didn’t stop there for Golden State as many of their wins came in blowout fashion. And as the win total increased, so did the comparison to the Bulls as this team never lost consecutive games all season long. Warriors point guard Steph Curry would be named the NBA’s MVP for the second consecutive year, and he became the first player in the NBA history to win the award unanimously.
The first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs would be cakewalk for the Warriors as they made short work of both the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers. But in the Western Conference Finals, Golden State got all that they could handle from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder’s duo of point guard Russell Westbrook and small forward Kevin Durant kept the Warriors on their toes while role players such as center Steven Adams and shooting guard Andre Roberson made their presence felt on the defensive end of the floor. The Warriors would lose three of the first four games in the series before rallying to win the last three and advance to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
In the NBA Finals, the Warriors would find themselves taking on a familiar foe in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last June these two teams met in the NBA Finals with Golden State triumphing in six games. And even though that it was expected to be a very intense series, the Warriors were still favored to be NBA Champions for a second consecutive year.
It was all Warriors to begin the series as they won the first two games at home easily and had another NBA Title to be within their reach. The series would then shift to Cleveland were the two teams would split Games 3 and 4 with Golden State returning to Oakland for Game 5 with a commanding 3-1 series lead. Everything was in the Warriors favor as no team in NBA history had ever lost the finals after possessing a 3-1 series lead as they were 82-0. Two of the final three games would be played at the Oracle Arena in Oakland where the Warriors had only lost twice during the regular season while they had never lost three games in a row all season long.
But the series shifted in Game 4 during an exchange between Cavs small forward LeBron James and Warriors power forward Draymond Green. During Green’s brief NBA career, he has developed the reputation of being an agitator as he talks smack and loves to get into the heads of opponents. Words were exchanged between Green and James where Green proceeded to call James “a b—h”. James took extreme offense to this which led to the two players getting tangled up later in the game. James and Green would go to the floor, and when James stood up, he stepped over Green which led to Green kicking James. James would be assessed with a technical foul, while Green would be assessed with a flagrant foul. And due to the fact that Green had already been assessed several flagrant foul in the playoffs, he was suspended by the NBA for Game 5.
The Warriors would lose Game 5 at home by 15 points with James and Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving each going for 41 points. The series would return to Cleveland for Game 6, but once again the Warriors could not stop James who had once again scored 41 points. Game 7 would be a battle of wills as Green put the Warriors on his back to the tune of 32 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists, while James chimed in with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. And in crunch time it was James the stepped to the forefront to lead the Cavs to their first NBA Title in franchise history.
So as the Warriors let a chance at history slip through their grasp, what they were able to do in the regular season was taken away from them in the NBA Finals as “small ball” couldn’t cut it.
All season long it was the Splash Brothers of Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson that would put on shooting displays with their long three-point shots. And as people wanted to dub Curry as the best shooter that the game of basketball has ever seen, you could see that the majority of the shots that he was attempting during the regular season weren’t even contested.
But in the Warriors March 19th loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the blueprint was laid out as far as neutralizing Curry. Defensively the Spurs kept a hand in his face, while he was never able to get free as he came off of screens. The Spurs also chipped him and disrupted his timing. The Spurs would defeat the Warriors that night 87-79 and Curry was limited to just 14 points.
And whereas that the Thunder simply tried to outscore the Warriors, the Cavaliers were focused on making the Warriors have to work on the offensive end, while also making Curry who is not a great defender, have to work as far as guarding Irving. For the NBA Finals, Curry only averaged 22.6 points per game, while in Game 7, he was held to just 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting as his and the Warriors season ended just one victory shy of their ultimate goal.
The Warriors inability to win it all illustrates once more how difficult that winning a title is, and it also shows why people should think twice when it comes to attaching the term “greatest of all-time” to a team, or an individual athlete. This Warriors team that only lost 9 games all season long ironically would lose 9 games in just four rounds of the playoffs.
What made the 1995-1995 Bulls unique was that they had one of the greatest head coaches in NBA history in Phil Jackson running things. The Bulls also had arguably the greatest player of all-time in shooting guard Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest sidekick in NBA history in small forward Scottie Pippen, and arguably the greatest rebounder in NBA history in forward Dennis Rodman while each player was also known for his defensive prowess. Jackson was a tremendous philosopher who knew how to motivate each of his players to maximize their ability, while he also put his team in the best spot to win. And even with all of that, the will of Jordan to be the greatest would not allow the Bulls to lose sight of the NBA Championship once the playoffs rolled around.
That same will was on display in these NBA Finals, but it was possessed by James who was able to lead his team to the promised land as he denied the Warriors of a title. The Warriors began this NBA season seeking to make history, and although that they made history in the NBA Finals, it’s not the kind that they wanted as they are now simply thrown back into the pile with the other 29 teams that didn’t win a title this season..
Y-Golden State Warriors 57-25 (3)
It took a couple of generations, but the Golden State Warriors are once again sitting on top of the basketball world. This past June, the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers to claim their fourth NBA Championship in franchise history, but their first since 1975 and they have a team in place that doesn’t want the organization to wait another 40 years to once again be champions.
In Steve Kerr’s first season as the head coach of the Warriors, he was able to push all of the right buttons which resulted in an NBA Championship. Kerr has the benefit of having one of the best back court duos in the NBA play for him. Warriors point guard Steph Curry comes into this NBA season as the reigning MVP as he is the modern version of the “Microwave” due to the fact that it doesn’t take that long for him to heat up and once he gets going, just simply pull up a chair and enjoy the magic. Curry has the ability to average 30 points per game, but he doesn’t have to due to the depth that the Warriors possess around him. However Curry is still a phenomenal passer and like most good jump shooters, he is lights out from the free-throw line. Along with Curry in the Warriors backcourt, there is shooting guard Klay Thompson. Together Curry and Thompson form the “Splash Brothers” and aside from them both being the sons of former NBA players, they each possess tremendous jump shots as they each have the ability to put the Warriors on their respective backs for extended periods of time.
The Warriors also receive tremendous production from their front court. Last season saw small forward Draymond Green emerge as an impact player which saw him rewarded by the Warriors with a five-year contract extension over the summer that is worth $82 million. The Warriors have a ton of depth on their club that includes the likes of small forward Andre Iguodala who is the reigning NBA Finals MVP and he is also a defensive specialist which comes in handy when Golden State faces some of the premier teams in the Western Conference.
Last spring the Warriors swept the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the NBA Playoffs as these two teams will meet in two of their first three games this season. But being that the Warriors will comes into this season as the defending NBA Champions, they must expect to get every team’s best game on a nightly basis. It also won’t help the Warriors that Kerr will be sidelined to begin the NBA season as he is recovering from back surgery to repair a herniated disc. And in the interim the Warriors will be led by former NBA player Luke Walton as their head coach as it will be interesting to see if he’ll be able to get his message across to this team.
X-Los Angeles Clippers 57-25 (4)
Doc Rivers has been the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers for two years, but he hasn’t been able to get his club past the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Last season the Clippers held a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals, but they were unable to close them out which left them scratching heads. The Clippers would undergo a few changes this off-season with the biggest one coming in the form of new uniforms.
Center DeAndre Jordan became a free agent over the summer and he flirted with joining the Dallas Mavericks. Jordan”verbally” agreed to join the Mavericks, but he had a change of heart and worked things out in order to re-join the Clippers. What the Clippers get with Jordan is a player that led the NBA in rebounds last year at 15.0 per game along with being one of the better shots blockers in the league. From 2004-2013, Rivers was the head coach of the Boston Celtics and he helped the organization win their 17th NBA Title in 2008. At the center of that was small forward Paul Pierce who was the cornerstone of the Celtics franchise during the 2000’s. After being traded by the Celtics to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, and spending last season with the Washington Wizards, Pierce has decided to join Rivers in Los Angeles. For his 17-year NBA career, Pierce has averaged 20.7 points per game and he’s also been one of the best clutch players during this era of basketball which is the kind of player that the Clippers have lacked. Pierce is also a native of Inglewood, California and he’ll now have the opportunity to play for one of his hometown NBA teams.
The signings of Jordan and Pierce are good for the Clippers, but the success of this team will come down to the ability of point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin. Paul continues to give the Clippers quality seasons as he is one of the better floor generals in the NBA along with being in line with what Rivers expects from his point guards while Griffin must continue to develop into a valuable go-to-guy for the Clippers.
The Clippers are also hopeful that they were able to solidify their role players this off-season when they signed forward Josh Smith and guard Lance Stephenson along with re-signing guard Austin Rivers. Rivers is the son of the Clippers head coach while Smith and Stephenson have a history of being “loose cannons” which could hurt or help the Clippers this season.
The Clippers will have a chance to get off to a fast start in the first four games which includes a pair of meetings with the Sacramento Kings. And you can go ahead and circle November 4 on your calendar when the Clippers travel to face the Golden State Warriors who are the defending NBA Champions as there is no love lost between these two clubs.
Phoenix Suns 38-44
The past five years have seen the Phoenix Suns fail to qualify for the NBA Playoffs which ties their longest stretch without reaching the postseason in franchise history. Jeff Hornacek is set to begin his third season as the head coach of the Suns and in two years in Phoenix, he has made the most of his situation with the Suns, but unfortunately this is a team that lacks a star player that can put this team on his back.
The closest thing that the Suns have to a star player is point guard Eric Bledsoe. This will mark Bledsoe’s second full season in Phoenix and for him to lead the Suns to the postseason, he is going to put up an MVP caliber season and unfortunately he won’t be able to do it all by himself. The Suns are hopeful that power forward Markieff Morris will be able to take his game to the next level, but he currently isn’t a happy camper in the valley of the sun. Morris’ twin brother Marcus was traded by the Suns this off-season to the Detroit Pistons which has left Markieff disgruntled. Because of this Morris doesn’t want to play in Phoenix anymore, but the Suns are not budging due to the fact that he is under contract with them which has produced a stalemate.
Heart and hustle have made the Suns competitive in Hornacek’s first two years in Phoenix, but the 2015-2016 NBA season will be a completely different beast as they should struggle in the Western Conference.
Sacramento Kings 39-43
The Sacramento Kings have not posted a winning record since 2006 and six of the last seven NBA seasons have seen them lose at least 50 games. The Kings have also become one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA which is evident by the past few months. Last season the Kings went through three different head coaches with George Karl set to led this team for the 2015-2016 NBA season. Karl hasn’t been on the same page with Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins which led to Karl wanting to trade Cousins prior to the 2015 NBA Draft. But Kings owner Vivek Ranadive decided to step in as he wants Cousins and that almost led to Karl being fired.
Cousins is one of the premier power forwards in the NBA and he would be more of a household name if he played in a bigger market and/or on a better team. But if Karl and Cousins are able to get on the same page, he is a player that has the potential to average 25 points and 15 rebounds.
Along with Cousins, the Kings have a proven scorer in small forward Rudy Gay. In nine seasons in the NBA, Gay has averaged 18.5 points per game as the Kings are the third different franchise that he has played for. But Gay’s versatility on both ends of the floor make him the perfect compliment to Cousins. The Kings used the sixth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft on center Willie Cauley-Stein who is a shot blocker that will need some time to get adjusted to the NBA game. The Kings also have size behind Cauley-Stein in center Kosta Koufos while they have a young in shooting guard Ben McLemore who is emerging as a scoring threat while they have also proven veteran scorers in small forwards Caron Butler and Marco Belinelli. But the Kings have a huge question mark at the point guard position.
In 45 games with the Kings last season, point guard Darren Collison averaged 16.1 points and 5.6 assists. But the Kings still went out and signed point guard Rajon Rondo who has been known to clash with head coaches; regardless of their credentials in the NBA. And this is something that Karl will have to find out the hard way for himself.
It won’t be an overnight turnaround for the Kings, but as the season progresses, Karl will begin to mold this team in his own image or get fired trying.
Los Angeles Lakers 34-48
The start of a new NBA season means that hope will spring eternal for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers coming off of their worst two-year span in franchise history as they’ve combined to win just 48 games over the last two seasons which typically represents just one down campaign for them. The Lakers must find a way to be more competitive under head coach Byron Scott this season as en route to losing a franchise worst 61 games last season, they lost 9 games be 20 or more points.
Unfortunately for the Lakers they are pinning their hopes on the return of shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Bryant only appeared in 35 games last season due to injury. Bryant is the Lakers all-time leading scorer, but it is hard to expect him to return this season at 37-years of age and be the player that he was several years ago when he was one of the top scorers in the NBA. Scott also intends to limit the amount of minutes that Bryant plays this season, but is there another viable scoring option for the Lakers behind him?
Like Bryant, Lakers small forward Nick Young missed significant time last season due to injuries and he also clashed with Scott. Young is a proven scorer in the NBA as he has averaged 12.3 points per game over his eight-year NBA career, but will he be able to remain within in the realm of what Scott wants from him?
In 2014, the Lakers made power forward Julius Randle the seventh overall pick of the NBA Draft, but he suffered a fractured right tibia in the first game of the season as the book is still out on him. This summer, the Lakers had the second overall pick of the draft and they used it on point guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell is only 19-years of age and it will be a steep learning curve as far as him getting adjusted to the professional game. The Lakers entered the 2015 NBA Draft with a pair of first-round picks as their second choice was used on forward Larry Nance Jr. If the name sounds familiar it is because his father Larry Nance Sr., played in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers and he was the winner of the league’s first slam dunk contest. Like father, like son as Nance Jr. has tremendous athleticism which led him to being named as the Mountain West Conference’s Player of the Year in 2015 during his senior season at the University of Wyoming.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak signed guard Lou Williams in the off-season as he’ll be looked at as far as providing scoring off of the bench while Los Angeles also acquired center Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers. In seven season with the Pacers, Hibbert always had instances where he would flash potential, but he’s never been consistent and the Lakers are hopeful that a change of scenery will do the trick for him. And in a surprise move just before the beginning of training camp, the Lakers signed veteran small forward Metta World Peace aka Ron Artest, but you just have to wonder if the NBA game has passed him by at the age of 35?
Early on in the season, the Lakers will have a five-game road trip which is a good time for this team to bond with so many new parts. Bryant will be eager to reclaim his post as one best players in the NBA, but whereas in the past he has dished out tough love to his teammates, this is a young team that will need that big brother to put his arm around them. And if Bryant doesn’t adjust, his time in Los Angeles this season will be very frustrating for him.