Starting tomorrow morning, the Golden State Warriors will begin the playoffs as the sixth seed against a 57-25 team for the second straight year.
Just like last year against the Nuggets, the Warriors find themselves as heavy underdogs, with almost all national NBA analysts choosing against them.
While this may not have been the case a week ago, losing Andrew Bogut to a fractured rib against the Portland Trail Blazers as once again stacked the odds against the Warriors. However, last year the Warriors were forced to overcome adversity as well when they lost David Lee in the first game of his playoff career but they were able to rebound due to stellar performance by Stephen Curry and will need similar fireworks to pull it off for a second straight year.
However, if the Warriors were going to compete with the Los Angeles Clippers, even when fully healthy, Curry was going to need to have a great series regardless. This Clippers team has two of the top 10 players in the league in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and with the Warriors front line hobbled, they will look to take advantage inside. If the Warriors hope to compete in this series and possibly sneak it out, they will need players other than Curry to step up.
1) Bigs must set good screens
While losing Bogut is a huge blow for the Warriors defense, they are also losing one of their best screen setters who has helped Curry get open looks all season long.
The 1-5 pick and roll between Bogut and Curry has given other teams problems all season long, as opposing centers have had struggled to show hard on Curry coming off the screen, resulting in open looks from behind the arc. Bogut’s screens have been extremely important in making this play work, as he often delivers blows to the man on Curry, providing Curry just enough space to get his shot off. Just look at how Bogut walls off Damian Lillard with this great screen, as Robin Lopez sags off and forgets how great of a shooter Curry is.
With Bogut out for the series, the big man rotation will most likely be composed of David Lee, Jermaine O’Neal, and Draymond Green. While Green sets great screens similar to Bogut, Lee has the tendency to slip screens more than setting them, and O’Neal has struggled in that role all year. Curry will get his points either way, but with losing Bogut, the Warriors have lost someone who made it a lot easier.
2) Perimeter defense by Thompson and Iguodala
These two players have been great defenders all year, but they will truly be tested in this seven game series.
Going up against a backcourt of Chris Paul and JJ Redick is no easy task, and without Bogut, there will be no free safety lurking to give them insurance when they get beat, especially with the Warriors likely going small for extended periods with Lee at center.
However, there is reason to be optimistic. Andre Iguodala’s defense needs no hyping up as he has been one of, if not the best perimeter defender in the league the last couple years, and he has been saving his energy for the playoffs. Similarly, Klay Thompson has held Chris Paul to 40% shooting the last two games they have played with great defense (such as this) and has made great improvements in his on and off ball defense this year.
3) The bench needs to provide something
While the Warriors’ bench has improved over the last couple months of the season, the Warriors will need production from them to have a chance this series. They have struggled mightily this season against the Clippers, shooting just 26% (25-98) in the four games. It’s safe to say that if they do the same in this series, no matter how well Curry plays, the Warriors will be watching the rest of the playoffs from home.
The key to a change in this fortune will be Harrison Barnes. Barnes struggles have been very well documented all season, but he will need to get back into his postseason form from last year to help lift the Warriors bench. Last year, he thrived in the playoffs as a small ball four, and he might get the same chance this year with David Lee most likely playing extended minutes at center.
Ultimately, the cards are heavily stacked against the Warriors. Losing Bogut is a difficult turn of events that will be hard to replace, from his bone crushing screens to his defensive impact. However, the Warriors have players that have stepped up in the past and will need to do so again.
One thing we’ve learned from this team in the past is to never doubt them, and while a first round upset is not likely, there are circumstances where it is possible.