The consensus is that the Warriors will win their first round match-up against the San Antonio Spurs. Some say it will take 5 games. Some say 7.
Nobody, except maybe the Warriors themselves, see a sweep like last year, when the team beat the Portland Trailblazers in 4 games in the first round.
When the Warriors get in gear, they're hard to stop. But getting in gear - flipping the switch - has been more of a problem this year. Steve Kerr put it charitable when he said in February:
“I think this year it’s been kind of a common theme that we’ve just eased into some games,” Kerr said. “And you guys know better than I do the third quarter numbers. We’ve generally stretched leads in the third and taken over games in that quarter. But I think there’s probably something to the idea that we’re easing into games, just like we’ve sort of eased into the season. It’s a microcosm of the big picture. That’s how I look at it.”
In practical terms, slow starts have translated into careless turnovers, shots not falling and less-than-aggressive defense. Generally, the team has looked less than fully engaged.
With Stephen Curry out of the lineup for the Spurs series, a key to all three will Kevin Durant. A turned-on and creative KD makes the Warriors a different team both offensively and defensively. It will be interesting to see if Durant comes out hot.
The other big factor is Draymond Green. When he's engaged, his defense both stymies opponents and opens the door for the Warriors' transition game.
We'll see if the spark is there or if the Warriors find themselves down by 10 at the end of the first quarter with a hill to climb for each win.
Beyond the first quarter, there are a bunch more factors that will determine how the Warriors gel. How many times they have to win each game.
There's a good deal of Stephen Curry in Quinn Cook. We'll see how much. In Curry's absence, he's shown he's ready and able to step up on the big stage. He makes 3. His pull-up mid-range jumper is a thing of beauty. He fits the team.
If he has a weakness, it's defense. Quinn getting beaten early has been part of a couple of the Warriors slow starts in the last part of the season.
Personally, I want to see Klay score 60 in 29 minutes again. But I'll settle for him going 4 on his first 5. It's a joy when the Warriors offense makes plays for him. Defensively, he's always there. He's a wonderful two-way player. I just hope he gets open early and knocks down shots.
It wasn't a surprise that Kerr first turned to Andre Igoudala when he let players coach that game against Phoenix this year. He's a veteran and a leader. When he's on the court, the Warriors play smarter and tougher. When his shots fall, the Warriors can be great. But he's not an unlimited resource. It will be good to see Andre help defensively and create on the offensive side, but the Spurs series is just the first round. There's a lot of basketball to go. Making use of peak Andre will be a challenge for Kerr.
There was a spell this year when David West shot an amazing percentage for his mid-range shots. At his distance, he can be almost automatic. If he gets himself into that zone, the Spurs will have yet more worry on their hands. He is arguably the Warriors best defensive center and an amazing passer. He has the kind of basketball intelligence that wins championships. West, however, is another limited quantity and so another player that Kerr needs to use wisely and well.
How many times have Shaun Livingston gotten into the post and shot over a defender? How many times has he slipped to the basket on a back cut for a dunk? After last years championship, there was a question whether the Warriors would bring back Shaun (and Andre Igoudala) for this year's season or look to younger players. The team chose experience. The Spurs series would be a good time to see that confidence pay off.
If anyone has earned a spot on the playoff roster, it has to be Kevon. He brings energy. His defense has been superb. He blocks shots. He rebounds on both ends of the court, whether to follow shots or win second chances. Lately, he has begun to hit mid-range jump shots. Kevon is the kind of depth that will help the Warriors win.
And then there's Jordan Bell and Damian Jones, both of whom are amazingly athletic and can provide spark to change or cement games. And the JaVale McGee / Zaza Pachulia dynamic. Does anyone provide better screens that Zaza? I have the feeling that when Curry rejoins the team, Zaza will have a big role in the rotation. And then there's Nick Young, the topic of the season premiere of Game of Zones.
Uncle Swaggy. LOL. May he rain 3s. And gets real Swaggy.