Sunday, February 24, 2013

Are the Golden State Warriors a first-round exit waiting to happen?



The bad luck by the bay has reared its ugly head…again. Andrew Bogut was just cleared to play with no reservations after the All Star break and after back-to-back games, he has traded his uniform back for a suit on the sideline. Was it an excuse not to wear the bright yellow t-shirts they wore against the Spurs? The Warriors can only wish.

Before bashing the Warriors front office for making the trade for an injury-prone center, it is worth mentioning that Golden State is holding out hope that Bogut will return during the road trip. However, that’s not something to get too excited for. Recent memory serves as a reminder that Bogut’s injury, a protruding disc, was the same exact problem that Dwight Howard had last season. The end result of that was a major surgical operation and something that has lingered with the now-Lakers center.

Will Bogut return full strength? Hard to say. Even in the few games that he was on the court, he looked sluggish. His defensive presence was extremely valuable but a 6-6 record when he was on the court deviates wildly from the 26-17 when he’s not playing. But remarkably, even this fact can be misleading. The Warriors have played better teams in his appearances (Jazz, Rockets, and Grizzlies) who have formidable post presences of their own. So to say that the Warriors are better off without him may be true based on previous record, but it is not a fair indicator of future success or failure.

The Warriors don’t need Andrew Bogut to make the playoffs. Let’s completely remove that thought from consideration. Their core has proven to have an upside capable of putting together wins against Miami, Los Angeles (Clippers), San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are the best shooting backcourt in the NBA—there’s no debating that, either.

Problems will arise in May basketball. Their first round matchup will likely be a top-three team (one of those very same teams that they have beat in the regular season). The problem in a series against playoff-savvy teams like San Antonio and Oklahoma City is that their experience and talent will overpower a team like the Warriors that has a weak interior. Whether it’s Duncan and Splitter, Perkins and Ibaka, or the Blake Show and DeAndre Jordan, the Warriors don’t match up very well against those teams in a seven-game set. How about Marc Gasol and Z-Bo? It wouldn’t be pretty.

Could the Warriors pull off a couple games against those teams? Their regular season performance against top teams is proof that that is possible. But relying on Steph and Klay’s outside shooting for the duration of the playoffs is a disaster waiting to happen. So, what about David Lee? Harrison Barnes? Again, tough interior defenses will find a way to shut them down. The Warriors may grab a game or two, but in a best-of-seven series…the odds are not in their favor.

I wrote a column a month ago about the optimism that the Warriors should have if Bogut returns healthy, but that is slowly and painfully fading from reality.

One thing that Bay Area fans may cling to is the recollection of the 2012 MLB playoffs. All-Star outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for PED use and he was an instrumental part in their regular season success until that point. But a Melky-less Giants still pulled off an incredible World Series championship. Teams like the 2011 New York Giants, 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, and those 2012 Giants prove that it is possible to make a deep playoff run if you get hot going into the playoffs.

Granted, basketball has become a league of powerhouse teams and talent has become increasingly concentrated amongst only four or five true championship contenders but the Warriors are a team slowly making their way into that discussion. Bogut—or another defensive post presence—is going to be an absolute necessity for that to happen, even if there are growing pains. Even the Big Threes assembled in Boston and Miami took time to gel, so it’s nothing significant that the Warriors are 6-6 in games that Bogut has played. Just look at the struggles of the sub-.500 Lakers…putting together great teams takes time, especially when nagging injuries are involved.

Mark Jackson has changed the culture in Golden State. David Lee and Steph Curry lead the way into a laid-back locker room that is all-business on the court. Their primary weaknesses are defense and rebounding—something that has ironically begun to deteriorate relatively recently.

If the Warriors can get hot at the end of the season, with or without Andrew Bogut, “We Believe” part 2 is in order. “We Believe” is on it’s way to “We Belong.”

If they don't, it could get ugly.

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