Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thunder survive Warriors in OT

The Warriors will miss the playoffs this season, but they got a taste of playoff atmosphere tonight at Oklahoma City. The Warriors played a solid game against the current four seed of the rugged Western conference, but lost in overtime.

Monta Ellis had rough shooting night against one of the NBA's top on ball defenders in Thabo Sefolosha. Ellis went 9-30 on the night, but hit the biggest shot of the night. It was a clutch three pointer that made overtime possible.

The Warriors played a great game, other than some costly turnovers at critical moments down the stretch. David Lee had 24 points and 15 rebounds. Steph Curry had 35 points, shot five of eight from three, and grabbed six rebounds. Ekpe Udoh had 12 points and created multiple fast breaks from blocked shots. The NBA.com box score said he had three blocks, but he had at least five. At least. Udoh is legit. Since Biedrins went down and Udoh's minutes have increased, the rookie out of Baylor has done nothing, but prove he belongs in the NBA. Udoh stays down and anticipates as well as anyone in the league.

The Warriors have added two solid players through the draft over the past two years in Curry and Udoh. The Thunder has done well in added talent through the draft. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green (now in Boston, traded for Kendrick Perkins), and James Hardin.

The Thunder are deep and beat the Warriors with superior bench play (and doubling up the Warriors on free throws). The Thunder shoot the most free throws in the NBA thanks to Durant and Westbrook. Both players are very good and still getting better, but I have a problem with the way they draw fouls.

Durant has studied Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Martin. All of the afore mentioned players will try to draw a shooting foul by sweeping the ball low and intentionally making contact with the defender's arms. This play has become common in today's NBA and it's a shame. It's bad for basketball and is not called in the college game. NBA officials need to gather up in the off season and stop calling this play. If officials ignore this pathetic plea for free throws, players will stop doing it.

It's not Durant's fault for being clever enough to find an advantage, but the NBA needs to make the change. Westbrook is almost unguardable. If he had a consistent perimeter game, he would be (Example A: Derrick Rose). The Warriors did well to dare him to shoot, but Westbrook still found a way to get in the lane and cause damage. Westbrook is very good, but sometimes out of control and throws himself into the bodies of defenders. A player should not be rewarded for being out of control. It doesn't have to be a charge, but a no call is fair. David Lee got his nose blodied on one of Westbrook's drives and was whistled for a blocking foul.

Are the Thunder for real?

I'm not a subscriber to the Thunder hype going into the playoffs. Russell Westbrook is too turnover prone and I think that will hurt them in close games, especially on the road. Perkins is not the player he once was. Perkins blew out his knee in the playoffs last year and is still not completely back from the injury. He also lacks chemistry with the other Thunder players. Also, I don't think the Thunder will get the foul calls in the playoffs that came during the regular season.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Warriors devour Eastern conference cupcakes

After a brutal trip through the Southwest, the Warriors were happy to get back to Oracle to play two of the weakest teams in the league. The Warriors obliterated the Raptors Mar. 25 and handled business against the Wizards, who have won one road game all season.

With eight games left, all of them against playoff teams (except versus Sacramento Apr. 10), what should we look for in this Warriors team?

The Warriors should be loose as there is nothing at stake for them. As of now, they are the fourth most improved team from last year going by total wins. The end of the season is near and many of the Warriors players would like to use this limited time to make final impressions and campaign for a roster spot or starting role next season.

Ekpe Udoh has proven to be one of the most important players on this team with the way he defends the rim. When Udoh is in the game, he gives the Warriors a legit shot blocker. Not only is Udoh on track to become an elite post defender, but he has shown a nice offensive skill set. He has a good understanding of making use of his pivot foot, he pump fakes, and can make a baby hook. Plus he can knock down the open fifteen foot jumper.

Andris Biedrins was a major disappointment this season and will likely miss the last eight games with an injured ankle. Perhaps the internal competition between he and Udoh for the starting center job next season will spark Biedrins to return to the productive big who averaged a double-double 2007 and 2008.

Dorell Wright has been a bright spot this year. I don't think Warriors fans knew he would be as good as he has shown to be. D-Wright is on pace to break Jason Richardson's single season franchise record for three point field goals. Wright is also talented enough to elevate his game when teams adapt to his three point shooting by utilizing the best pump fake in the NBA and driving. D-Wright could easily be the league's Most Improved Player.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Warriors notch fifth game of current losing streak

The Warriors absorbed a fifth consecutive loss at the hands of the Spurs, who have beaten the Warriors 12 consecutive meetings. Here's a shameful stat: the Warriors have now lost 26 consecutive games against the Spurs in San Antonio dating back to Feb. 14 1997.
In that game, Latrell Sprewell led the way with 32 points and Joe Smith (who is currently on the Lakers roster) had 20 points and 13 rebounds. Chris Mullin had 18 points and Mark Price had 11 on three of five three point shooting for Golden State.

Dominique Wilkins led the Spurs with 22 points as a reserve. Three players on that 1996-97 Spurs team are now current head coaches in the NBA. Can you guess who they are? Avery Johnson, New Jersey; Vinny Del Negro, Los Angeles Clippers; and Monty Williams, New Orleans.

Do you remember who coached the Warriors that year? Hint, he's still a current head coach....It would be none other than Rick Adleman, who led the Kings to the Western conference finals years later in 2001 and 2002. He now coaches a gritty Houston Rockets team.

...That's enough reminiscing, let's get back to the present. The Warriors lost to no one's surprise. The game started off ugly. The starters, especially Monta and Steph were terrible, but the reserves led by A.C. Law led a nice comeback in the second quarter to cut an 18 point Spurs lead to nine.
The Warriors clawed to within six points in the third, but then the game got weird. Spurs head coach Greg Popavich went berserk after a non call on Richard Jefferson's right corner three point attempt. At this point in the game, the Warriors had cut the Spurs lead to seven after an Ekpe Udoh left hand finish from a brilliant Dorell Wright delivery in the lane. The ensuing play for the Spurs was the Jefferson non call and subsequent technical which led to the Curry free throw and thus a six point lead for the Spurs.

After coach Pop's tech, the Spurs were not called for a foul for the five minutes of game clock that followed. The Spurs crushed any Warriors momentum and went on a 22-11 run after the tech was called. The Warriors were guilty of digging an early hole in the first quarter, but the refs gave the Spurs help they didn't need. Still, the officiating would not have made a difference, the Warriors lost to a championship contender.

The Texas back-to-back has to be the most difficult in the NBA when a team must face the Mavs and spurs on back to back nights. Both those teams could win the title this year. A close second is the Florida back to back against the Heat and Magic.

The next game against the Rockets will be just as difficult as these last two, as the Rockets are two games behind the Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the Western conference playoffs. They're going to be hungry and play hard, something the Warriors have done sporadically this year.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Warriors struggle in the South

The Warriors have been difficult to watch lately, or at least more so than usual. I admit March Madness has drawn me away from Warriors basketball (you know, competitive basketball and everything).

The Warriors have run into a difficult stretch. They got whipped by the Kings to start this new losing streak, then have lost to the Mavs, Suns, Mavs, and will surely lose to the Spurs tomorrow.

The Warriors have no confidence and don't trust one another. There has been no consistent effort from this group collectively. This team has nothing to play for and it couldn't be more obvious, as they ten to "check out" mentally for stretches of the game.

Every team in the NBA has elite talent. Any team can beat any other team on any given night, but that talent needs to be motivated. Motivation comes in many forms, from the desire to win a championship like the Lakers to a basement team like the Kings trying to avoid embarrassment in front of millions.

The Warriors need to find something to play for.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kings beat listless Warriors team

Pathetic. Embarrassment. Apathetic. Heartless. There are more words to describe the Warriors play in Sacramento tonight, but unwatchable will do, or un-listenable if you tuned in on KNBR.

The Kings are not a good team, but NBA players are capable of beating anyone at basketball when the motivation is there. The Kings, after getting their hearts ripped out twice in two overtime losses by the Warriors, were not going to lose this game. Sacramento brought intensity from the opening tip and attacked the Warriors in the paint. That's how to beat this Warriors team. Attack them inside because they will foul you and you can live on the free throw line.

The Warriors not only let the Kings get into the paint at will, but failed to get back on defense on made baskets. That is simply a lack of focus.

This abysmal performance is not new to this team. We've seen these kind of basketball failures in games against the Suns, Hawks, and Lakers earlier in the season.

It's difficult to understand how a team can hold Kevin Love to six points and Dwight Howard to 13, but allow Samuel Dalembert to go for 27 points and 16 rebounds. The Warriors should be ashamed that Marcus Thornton scored 42 points. Monta Ellis played sound defense against the likes of Kevin Durant and Brandon Roy. The Warriors showed they were capable of limiting Derrick Rose when he came to oracle in February.

The Kings wanted this game, the Warriors came into this game with the attitude of a miserable office worker on a Monday. They thought they could just cruise through this game, but got beat in every facet of the game and embarrassed Warriors fans who wore their colors to Arco Arena (I won't acknowledge the bracelet company).

Key Stat

Rebounds: Kings 46, Warriors 24. Biedrins and Lee combined for four rebounds and Biedrins had none. That's concrete evidence for a total lack of heart and will to win.

This is a loss that hurts Keith Smart's rehiring chances.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Warriors lock up T'Wolves, end Love's streak

After the offensive explosion to beat the Magic two days ago, the Warriors showed they can win a grind-out style game in a convincing win over the T'Wolves tonight 100-77.

The Warriors forced the T'Wolves into 27 turnovers, the most by any opponent the Warriors faced this season. The biggest headline of the night was the end of Kevin Love's double-double streak at 54 games. In the win over Orlando, David Lee worked hard to help the Warriors limit the NBA's most formidable big man in Dwight Howard to 13 points. Lee brought that same intensity to the defensive side of the floor against Minnesota's work horse, Love.

Lee was terrific in "doing his work early", meaning he battled Love for position and played love physically. Love was held to just six points and twelve rebounds, as he averages around 20 points per game. The Warriors did a good job to deny post entry with defensive rotations.

Over the past two games the Warriors have improved a detail of their game that has bothered everyone who has followed this team in 2010-11. When competing against elite post players like Dwight Howard and Kevin Love, they have made a point to get their money's worth on a foul call and not allow 'and-one' opportunities. A fingernail foul that leads to a three point play is utterly demoralizing. Either foul with purpose or get out of the way. The message seems to be getting through to the Warriors.

Confidence is high in the Warriors locker room. The Warriors overcame a 21 point deficit to set a franchise record for three point makes, then follow that game with a so-so shooting night, but hold Minnesota to 36 percent from the field. The Warriors didn't get three happy and force bad shots. They played solid defense and scored of turnovers.

It's good to watch this group of players learn how to win together and hopefully this nucleus of Ellis, Curry, Lee, and Wright will stay together while the front office adds pieces around to solidify the roster in years to come.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Warriors top Magic in epic shootout

The Warriors came back from a 21 point deficit to beat the Orlando Magic in overtime. This game had a "We Believe" 2006 feel, coincidentally with Jason Richardson's return with the third different team since being traded.

The Magic got white hot in the second quarter and built a 21 point lead with exceptional perimeter shooting, but to the credit of the Warriors-who played a terrible game in New Jersey-showed heart, effort, and came back in the later part of the second quarter.

Orlando, much like the Warriors, can beat any team in the league when they heat up from three point range. Orlando neglected to feed Dwight Howard in the second half due to the success of the perimeter shooting, but also give credit to David Lee for the work he put in on defending Howard. Images throughout the telecast showed images of Howard throwing his elbows recklessly into Lee's face, chest, and throat as he established position inside. Lee made several overplays where he was able to deflect entry passes and bother Howard with quick hands.

The perimeter shooting of Orlando played into what the Warriors like to do. Teams that operate inside seem to give the Warriors more problems, but Orlando's willingness to launch three's gave Warriors players unspoken permission to answer, which they did by hitting 21 of 35.

Unfortunately the officiating was biased against the Warriors. Orlando took 35 free throw attempts to the Warriors 13, it's astounding the Warriors won this game with such a disparity. The Warriors were whistled for 23 fouls to Orlando's 13.

This is the biggest win of the year for this Warriors team, especially for the Warriors big four (Ellis, Curry, Wright, Lee). This team is capable of putting up epic shooting stats, but have looked like amateurs in recent games against the Hawks, T'Wolves, and Nets. After beating the Magic, the people who wanted to trade Ellis or Curry are quiet.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sixers best Warriors in OT

The Warriors, or Monta Ellis, did well to get the Warriors into overtime where they fell to the 76ers. After the All-Star break, the game plan against the Warriors has been to play aggressive defense. Opposing defenses have made a concerted effort to close out on shooters, specifically on the three point line. The Warriors are a perimeter shooting team and do the most damage when they get hot from beyond the arc. Also, off-ball defenders are jumping pass lanes and gambling for steals, which resulted in turnovers and fast break opportunities for the opponent.

If teams close out strong, I'd like to see more pump fakes and drives to the rim. The Warriors don't get to the free throw line enough. Sometimes its inequitable officiating, other times it's their reputation of a team that doesn't attack the rim. The Warriors scorers must continue to put pressure on the officails to make a call by driving to the rim and not falling in love with perimeter offense. When off-ball defenders want to crowd, the wings should space out wide and cut back door. It worked several times for Monta Ellis on Rondo in the Boston game.

The 76ers have a lot of weapons and credit Doug Collins for getting all of his players to buy into sharing the ball. They lack a premiere player, but there are at least six, maybe seven players on this team that can go for 20 points on any given night. Andre Iguadala's production is down, but his efficiency is up and he allows his team mates to take more shots. Igualdala also showed he is a serviceable closer when they need a bucket at the end of the game. Evan Turner has a dynamic game. Judging from what I saw Mar. 6, he will be a Brandon Roy-esque triple double threat once he gets more minutes.

Ekpe Udoh continues to develop and should continue to start at center for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately for the Warriors, Udoh got into early foul trouble in the first quarter and had to sit. His absence opened the door for Philadelphia to attack the rim and take momentum.

I didn't care much for Keith Smart's decision to start Biedrins in overtime. Thadeus Young owned that match-up and set the tone for the 76ers in the extra period by scoring the first basket.

David Lee has been playing great basketball of late. He scored 14 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and didn't shoot a free throw. Lee was fouled on multiple shots, but the officiating was tilted toward the home team. Keith smart even picked up a technical foul. I don't think that's happened all season. That in itself is an indicator that the officials had a bad game.

Around the NBA

Before watching the Warriors, I DVR'd the Lakers versus Spurs on ABC. The Lakers absolutely pounded the Spurs from the opening tip. Unlike much of this season, the Lakers were highly motivated as the Spurs stole the last meeting on an Antonio McDyess tip-in put back with a fraction of a second left. This game showed the Lakers are still the alpha dog of the West and the NBA. When they are interested, there's no better team in the league.

The Miami Heat bumbled another game in the final seconds in a loss to the Bulls in Miami Mar. 6. The Heat failed to get a key defensive rebound that led to Joakim Noah hitting the go ahead free throw. With the last possession, the Heat elected to let LeBron dribble up top and make a play. Chicago packed the lane and forced James into an errant shot. LeBron is no Kobe and certainly nowhere near as clutch as M.J.

Miami's struggles this season, especially executing in close games, leads NBA fans to re-examine the concept of "Big 3". Boston's model of a big three is the right way to do it, as Garnett, Pierce, and Allen all have unique roles. Garnett is the foundation of defense and the heart of the team, Allen is the sharp shooter who can stretch the defense but also put it on the floor, and Pierce is the guy who can create his own shot and get to the free throw line when needed. Pierce is also the closer. The Spurs have fielded a big three for years with Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.

I'm still not ready to sell the Heat, they can still make a deep playoff run and even get to the finals, but they still look very unsettled in their roles.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Warriors comeback falls short in Boston

Monta Ellis was himself again last night and nearly led the Warriors to what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the regular season. Ellis scored 41 points and David Lee added 26 points and 12 rebounds in the loss.

The Warriors, like most NBA teams, play with more urgency against elite teams and take nights off against poor to medium teams. The Warriors out-rebounded the Celtics 39-28, but let the T'Wolves, Hawks, and Pacers push them around. It's frustrating to see the Warriors get outworked by mediocre teams when they show the potential to stay with (and sometimes beat) top teams. Thanks to Ellis' hot hand, they had a chance in Boston and back in February, they beat the Bulls at Oracle Arena.

Keith Smart has to find ways to get this team to play with "Celtics game" intensity, even if they play the T'Wolves or Wizards.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Warriors end four game losing streak

The Warriors put a four game losing streak to an end with a win over the Wizards on the second game of a back to back.

The Mar. 1 loss against the Pacers was an ugly game. The officiating crew did a poor job, highlighted by Violet Palmer. I respect her for having the determination to hold a position in an industry controlled by men, that speaks well on her character, but she is a terrible official. The players on both teams had no idea what was a foul and what was just physical play. There was no consistency. When in doubt, officials just gave the benefit of the doubt to Danny Granger...

Okay, back to the game of basketball.

Poor Andris Biedrins, he was terrible against the Pacers. He gave the Warriors nothing and we saw his confidence crumble as we watched him drop passes, commit silly fouls, and turn the ball over. Enter Ekpe Udoh, who started tonight against the Wizards.

Bringing Andris off the bench was a good move by coach Smart. Udoh gives the Warriors everything Biedrins does, but adds an offensive element. Plus, Biedrins can boost his confidence against opponents' second units.

Despite losing to the Pacers, the Warriors didn't play a bad game (i.e. the Atlanta beat down Feb. 25). The Warriors should never lose if Reggie Williams scores 26 points off the bench. The bench, which has been a weakness this season, has played well for the three games of this current road trip.

In the past two games, the bench energy has ignited the whole team. Monta Ellis started off cold, but carefully asserted himself. Monta picked up his defensive intensity and smothered the Wizards Nick Young in the third quarter.

The win against the Wizards doesn't compare the beating the Bulls, Thunder, or Hornets, but the Warriors needed this one badly. Their body language showed a frustrated team. Tonight, the Warriors were able to smile and have fun for the first time after the All-Star break.

The smiles will disappear when the bus pulls into TD Waterhouse Garden to play the Celtics this Friday Mar. 4.