While the segment of NBA fans that can’t use google maps overreacted to Kevin Durant putting his Malibu home for sale, there is some cause for concern for GSW. The six and a half hour commute from Malibu to the Bay Area notwithstanding, there is serious cause for concern for the Dubs. Anyone that knows me knows that I hate predictions, however, I believe the Warriors future is laid out as plain as day.
Ever since last season it was decided that if Mike D’Antoni’s high flying Houston Rockets could beat the Warriors, that would be our best chance at seeing the behemoth reigning champion dethroned. Last season, The Rockets hopes and dreams were crushed by a Chris Paul injury and Trevor Ariza’s horrid performance. In that game, Ariza missed 9 three pointers and scored 0 points! If Ariza played his next 69 games blindfolded he may never have played a game quite so bad (in fact we know this to be true, playing for the Wizards is as close as an NBA player can get to playing absolutely blindfolded). Another thing people tend not to remember from that series, is that the Rockets led that game into the third quarter despite these issues.
My opinion here may not be entirely popular. The Rockets won’t pose enough of a threat to truly be considered a true candidate to Larry O’Brien’s throne. If we compare this to a work of fiction, they would likely be considered a miss-direct. The Rockets do sport who will likely be considered the greatest scoring 2-guard in the history of the game when he retires. Jesus, internet, relax on the Harden hate. James Harden would have outscored every NBA player if he didn’t shoot a single free throw all season. If I need to explain to you how dominant that is than do yourself a favor and watch something else because basketball clearly isn’t your thing.
Alright fine…here’s an aside to handle all the James Harden hate. I will reiterate, he scored more points than any other player even if you discount his free throws. That’s insanity! Secondly, this discounts the strategic element of having defenders in foul trouble and the fact that Harden is usually taking the most efficient shots (three pointers and attacking the rim). For the “back in my day” critics, I like to remind old-timers that Wilt Chamberlain attempted 17 free throws a game and Michael Jordan 11.9 free throw attempts in the 1986-87 season (That would be .9 more free throws attempted per game than Harden this season. This season is Harden’s highest FTA per game in his career.) In fact, every great scorer in the history of basketball has scored a ton from the free throw line. The reason for that is…BASKETBALL! For those who call him a “flopper”; perhaps those same people don’t remember that the “Reggie Miller” rule was named after him because he was known for kicking his legs out to draw out contact before hitting the floor after contact. Finally, the refs are on his side guys. These are the worst. Life will be hard enough for them anyway I don’t need to address them. Let them be coddled and told they’re special while they slam blood pressure meds on their way to their dead end jobs.
But I digress…
I don’t think the Rockets are the ultimate challenge. I think the Warriors will win this series and likely will do so with greater ease than last year. The Warriors have size and quickness and are as adept at defending the perimeter as they are at scoring from it. The Warriors also entered this series knowing that this was the team that nearly halted their run last year and are on the highest of alerts. Secondly, James Harden has had to carry too heavy a load all season. In the NBA playoffs teams shrink their benches and this will hit the Rockets harder than any of the remaining teams.
So why have we reached a point where all of this is over for the Warriors? I noted last season that the east was better than it had been in previous years. Lebron going out west did seem to hurt my argument on the surface. However, the Raptors signing Kawhi Leonard makes them vastly improved over past seasons. The Celtics seemed to have found rotations and roles that have improve dtheir play heading into the playoffs, the 76ers roster is long, athletic and particularly good at defending perimeter shooters. The Bucks have who I believe to be the best all-around player in Giannis and the rest of the roster is built particularly well with a lot of complimentary pieces. Even in the west, while people are just discovering Jamal Murray those in the know have known how good the Denver guard play was heading into this season.
The injury to Boogie hurts as well. Teams are now being built with the specific idea of having to beat the Warriors at some point. They look for tall athletic defenders as we’ve discussed and other teams are starting to shoot from range with either the efficiency of the Warriors or the frequency of the Rockets. Having Demarcus Cousins gave them a tough interior presence, another quality shooter and the ability to throw the ball into the post if nothing else is working. This is a development that wouldn’t have hurt any incarnation of the Warriors save for this one because of the NBA that they’ve created.
Finally, and most importantly. After the first championship with Kevin Durant there seemed to be sheer joy. Everyone looked like they were having a great time. Fast forward to a single season later. Having survived the Rockets in 7 and having beaten Lebron in the finals, there was a feeling of relief and exasperation on the faces of the Golden State Warriors. It was almost as if the fear that they may lose with the best roster ever constructed had begun to feel overwhelming. Further evidence of this has been brought to the surface this season as KD and Draymond Green simply can’t play nice. The impending free agency of Klay Thompson, and Demarcus Cousins as well as the potential opt out and all the rumors surrounding Kevin Durant’s departure seem to add to the feeling that we may be closer to the end of the Warriors dynasty than the beginning.
I scoffed when I first heard ex-NBA coach and executive Stan Van Gundy proclaim that not only would the Warriors not win a championship this year, but he believed this to be the end of the road for this run. Now, with all we’ve witnessed during the season, the complacency and the idea that Steve Kerr may not be able to get his message across to a team of superstars as compared to when they were the fun loving team form the bay area have me believing there may be credence to Van Gundy’s theory. If I have to make a prediction and it has to be spicy: give me the Warriors winning this series but, it will be the also be the beginning of the end for this dynasty.