Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Warriors play the Lakers tough, but lose

The Warriors lost to the Lakers to the surprise of no one, but as I think about the game last night, it doesn't feel like a loss. The Lakers are not quite as formidable as they were last season, with recent complaints from Pau Gasol about not getting enough touches, underachieving Ron Artest, streaky Lamar Odom, and no standout at the point guard position. Still, the Lakers have tall, versatile players and the best player of the last decade in Kobe Bryant. I'm still not convinced there is a team that can beat the Lakers in a 7 game series, especially in the pressure of playoff atmosphere.

The Warriors, coming off a win over the Raptors Saturday ended a 6 game losing streak. The wins haven't been there, but the Warriors have been competitive in nearly every game. The most recent injuries have devastated the Warriors front line, leaving only Chris Hunter as the last remaining big, unless you want to count Anthony Tolliver. Monta Ellis shot 5-23, which had to be the worst shooting night of his career. Ellis must have been hampered by the sore back because he is too good of a shooter to miss as many jumpers as he did. Ellis still had an impact and kept the Warriors in the game. Ellis employed the drive and kick strategy, often finding open team mates on the perimeter for three pointers and played energetic defense on Kobe. Chris Hunter scored a career high 22 points, 7 rebounds, and shot 6-6 on free throws. Stephen Curry had 29 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds. The game was nationally televised on ESPN, allowing Curry to win more voters for the Rookie of the Year award.

The Warriors were down 3 points with 8 seconds to go and had two chances to hit a three to tie the game and induce overtime. The Lakers out rebounded the Warriors 56-25 and shot 46 free throws to the Warriors 13. The Warriors should have been blown out, but were able to stay within reach by forcing the Lakers to commit 24 turnovers and limiting their own to a season low 5.

The competitive nature of the few healthy Warriors and injured players healing hints toward a better season next year. The Warriors will have a high draft pick and some expiring contracts, so the opportunity to add more depth and talent to roster will be there if the jaws of life can open Chris Cohan's wallet. It won't be hard to do better than this season, considering all of the unfortunate circumstances. The big question is "will the Warriors be in the playoffs next year?"

Even if the injuries didn't decimate the roster, I don't think the Warriors would have made the playoffs this year. The Stephen Jackson drama, along with Monta Ellis' awkward resentment toward Stephen Curry, created a rift in the locker room before the season began. Curry has earned the respect of Ellis, while Ellis has been forced to step out of Jack and Baron's shadows to be the leader of the team. It would be interesting if the Warriors could add a talented rookie and a veteran leader, maybe draft Wes Johnson from Syracuse and sign Udonis Haslem from Miami.

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