Point/Counter: Warriors Repeat or New Champion?

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Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23), forward Kevin Durant (35) and guard Stephen Curry (30) react after Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley fouled out during the second half of Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Oakland, Calif., Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors have become arguably the most dominant dynasty the league has seen since the 1990s Chicago Bulls and are the model franchise of the modern NBA. The Dubs are the favorites to take home the trophy once again, but will have to best some of the stiffest competition they’ve ever seen on their way to a third straight title. Will the Warriors repeat, or will the NBA see a new champion this year?

Story Salit

Campus Correspondent

The Warriors are still undoubtedly the team to beat in the league, but the team has some clear problems this season that could be exposed as the playoffs go on. For starters, the season-ending injury Demarcus Cousins sustained in the stunning 31-point comeback game two victory with the Clippers leaves the Warriors without a dominant low-post paint presence for the remainder of the postseason. Although Golden State has made championship runs without an all-star caliber center before, the Warriors suffered from spells of inconsistent play throughout the regular season until Cousins started to return to full health in January, sparking an 11 game win streak. The Warriors have other personnel problems besides Cousins, however. Draymond Green is simply not the shooter he has been in past seasons and provides little on the offensive end besides his ability to find open looks for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on the perimeter. The looming offseason saga surrounding Kevin Durant has proven a distraction, a chemistry issue and a lessened sense of invincibility. On top of these issues, the Warriors may not be the clear-cut best team in the NBA, as they only finished with the third best record in the regular season.

Sean Janos

Staff Writer

I just want to go on the record and say that I am so sick of Golden State’s basketball dominance. But they have been on top of the NBA for so long for a reason. It seems like every season the “chemistry problems” narrative comes around, but they overcome that almost every time. They are one Draymond nut-tap-related suspension away from doing it literally every time. Curry and Thompson’s ability to space the floor out to 30 feet and beyond is unparalleled by any team in the league. I don’t see any team having an answer for the tandem, even with Green struggling and Boogie out. What Green is lacking on offense, he makes up for on defense and in keeping a team that’s perhaps bored with winning excited and focused. Durant, the two-time reigning finals MVP, takes a team that is already better than everyone else and puts them over the top. There are two, maybe three players in the entire league that are a good matchup to guard Durant. I hate to be a pessimist, but I don’t see this being the year that the Warriors are dethroned, especially in LeBron-less playoffs.

Salit

The Warriors certainly create matchup problems with their unprecedented ability on the perimeter and because Durant is a practically unguardable offensive weapon. However, the rest of the NBA has seemingly closed the gap on the reigning champs. Golden State will truly be tested in the second round, as they will likely face a Rockets team that is playing some of its best basketball ever. Houston has become one of the better defensive teams in the playoffs and has the personnel to match Golden State’s speed on the perimeter and will likely assign their ever-reliable lockdown defender PJ Tucker to cover KD. James Harden has not shot the ball well in big playoff games to this point in his career, but if he plays to his full ability against the Warriors, the defending champs are in big trouble. If the Dubs are able to get past the likes of Houston, Portland or whoever else reaches the Western Conference Finals, they will face a major challenge from whichever team makes it out of the surprisingly strong East. I have to predict the Warriors will play the winner of this Celtics-Bucks second round series in the finals. If Milwaukee meets Golden State in the finals, the Warriors do not match up well with Giannis and the top-overall-seeded Bucks (who own home-court advantage throughout). Giannis will likely torch the Warriors in the paint while simultaneously serving as the primary defender on Durant, and the Bucks have the ability to match Golden State in terms of 3 point shooting. On the other hand, the Celtics have beaten Golden State in the regular season each of the past two seasons and have the defensive versatility and offensive depth to best the Warriors in a long series.

Janos

I’m really excited to watch this upcoming Rockets versus Warriors series. While I will also note that Harden has laid some eggs in the playoffs, I don’t see him struggling this time around. The James Harden that we’ve seen this season is one of the best scorers we’ve ever seen, but his fellow Rockets of Houston don’t impress me at all. While Harden has managed to take a step forward following an MVP campaign, his three most valuable colleges have seemed to regress. Chris Paul is averaging three less points per game and is shooting 41.9 percent from the field, four less than last season. He is also 33 years old coming off of a couple of leg injuries, so I have to imagine the 6-foot veteran has lost a step on defense. Clint Capela is playing six more minutes per game so his raw stats don’t reflect a decline, but his per 36 minutes stats do. He’s scoring 0.4 less points and 0.6 less rebounds per 36 minutes. Eric Gordon is averaging 1.8 less points per game and is shooting a dismal 40.9 percent from the field. It’s going to take more than a one-man effort to take down the Dubs, and I don’t see a second man stepping up in Houston.

As for the Bucks, they pose a better matchup for the Warriors than Houston, but not by much. Unlike Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo actually has help from Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon once he returns from injury. But I can’t think of a single player in the NBA that matches up with The Greek Freak than Durant. Durant is the only player with the same elite combination of basketball IQ, footspeed and length as Antetokounmpo. Since joining Golden State, Durant has turned himself into a masterful rim protector. He is one of the only players that can keep Giannis from blowing by him or finishing over him. I expect Antetokounmpo to matchup with Green on the other side of the ball so he can leave him open behind the arc to play his usual “free safety” position. While this strategy has proven effective –– (Bucks led the league in defensive rating this season) –– no team can spread Giannis as thin with their spacing as Golden State thanks to Durant and the Splash Brothers.


Story Salit is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at story.salit@uconn.edu.

Sean Janos is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sean.janos@uconn.edu.

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