It’s post-NBA All-Star Break and there’s only 32 days until playoffs begin. The Golden State Warriors — who’ve appeared in the finals every year since 2015, winning three of four — are the favorites to take home the trophy for the third year in a row.
However, several teams have emerged as challengers to the Warriors’ reign over the league. Some believe none of this matters and the Warriors will sleepwalk to the title once again. Others believe the Warriors are the most vulnerable they’ve been in years and their dominance is over. Members of the JMU women’s basketball team give their thoughts on who they believe will win it all this year.
This is the year Golden State loses
Michael Turner | The Breeze
Five NBA All-Stars, two MVPs and the second best 3-point shooter of all time make up Golden State’s starting five. The Warriors are stacked and have the best starting five in NBA history. It’s clear why many think they can’t lose. However, with a dose of luck and the right matchup, there are a few teams that could beat Golden State.
The most obvious answer is the Houston Rockets. Last year, in the Western Conference Finals, Houston managed to push the Warriors to seven games. It’s often said among fans that if point guard Chris Paul doesn’t get injured in Game 5 or if the Rockets don’t shoot historically poorly in Game 7 (with a record-breaking 27 missed threes), the team would’ve made the finals.
While indulging in hypotheticals is pointless, last year’s Rockets demonstrated they were capable of beating Golden State, and despite some roster changes this year, the team has continued to show the qualities that stifled the champs last post-season: an isolation and pick-and-roll style that slows the pace. Center DeMarcus Cousins, a weak link in the Warrior’s defense alongside point guard Stephen Curry, now offers another target for Houston’s fleet-footed guards to exploit.
Outside of the Western Conference, the teams most likely to beat the champs are the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. These two teams are among the best in the league at defending the three-point shot — which the Warriors have continuously excelled in.
In Boston’s case, it’s the length, athleticism and excellent defensive rotations that allow the Celtics to guard the perimeter better than most teams. With defensive studs like guard Marcus Smart, forwards Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris and center Al Horford, the team boasts the personnel to make Curry, guard Klay Thompson and forward Kevin Durant’s lives difficult in a seven-game series.
Likewise, Boston’s length makes it possible to attack passing lanes and disrupt the Warriors’ ball movement. For a team that’s already turnover prone, that’s worrisome.
Similarly, the Bucks possess length, athleticism and depth akin to Boston, but their strategy for defending the three pointer is unique. Of all the teams in the league, the Bucks allow their opponents to shoot more three pointers than any other team.
With the three-point revolution, teams have realized the value of the three ball. Common wisdom says that an open three is better than an open two. However, this implies that the threes are being made at a rate greater than 33 percent. Sinking 50 percent of field goals and 33 percent of three pointers both yield one point per possession, so to to make the three pointer statistically more valuable, the shooter must shoot better than 33 percent. As a result, the Bucks realize that an open shot taken by a poor shooter is a waste of a possession.
Due to that, the Bucks will drop back on pick-and-roll coverage, drop off poor shooters and help generously on drives to the rim. The Bucks aren’t afraid to let their opponent’s take bad shots if it means they can eliminate the opportunities for good ones. To that end, they’ll concentrate on protecting the paint and hounding the opponent’s best marksmen.
This is particularly troublesome for the Warriors. One of Golden State’s weaknesses is its top-heavy shooting. Outside of Curry and Thompson, the Warriors have few floor spacers. When one of the two struggles, especially Curry, the Warrior’s offense grinds to a halt, hence why the Bucks’ strategy is so effective against them. Moreover, the Warriors seem to have very few answers for forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Warriors are proven champions. Their coaching staff and players know what it takes to be the best; however, all dynasties come to an end. While their decline is not a certainty, the Rockets or Bucks pose serious threats to Golden State. Should the Warriors lose this year, it’ll most likely be to one of those teams.
Contact Michael Turner at email@example.com. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.
The Golden State Warriors will three-peat
Lexie Barrier, Kamiah Smalls and Aneah Young
For many members of the JMU women’s basketball team, the Warriors are the pinnacle of the sport. They personify the phrase “the beautiful game.”
The team’s ball movement, selflessness and fundamentally sound style are awe-inspiring. While the Dukes don’t attempt to mimic Golden State’s style, the players do try to embody the togetherness the NBA champs demonstrate on a nightly basis.
Due to the talent and philosophy the Warriors have, many players don’t see the Warriors losing anytime soon. To them, the real threats to the Warriors are sparse.
“Maybe the [Houston] Rockets,” junior guard Lexie Barrier said of the Warriors’ competition. “Before the beginning of the season, I think everybody would’ve said the Lakers, but I just don’t see that anymore. With LeBron, I feel like they have a chance [to make the playoffs].”
Barrier believes the Rockets are the most credible threat to the Warriors’ championship aspirations, possibly having the chance to bump the Warriors from the playoffs before the final series. Last postseason, in the conference finals, it took the champs seven games to finally defeat Houston. Despite a rough start to the season for the Texas-based team, the Rockets’ ability to climb back to the third seed and several monster performances from MVP candidate James Harden demonstrate they’re just as dangerous as they were last year.
For some on the team, even the Rockets don’t stand a chance. Their game isn’t team oriented. Rather, they focus heavily on isolation basketball — inferior to the beautiful, flowing style of Golden State.
“[James Harden] plays one-on-one basketball,” senior guard Aneah Young said. “That’s not basketball. One person goes off a pick-and-roll and scores every possession. That’s not basketball, it’s pick-up. It’s a pick-up game. It’s not fun to watch. There are five players on the floor. Use all five players and play real basketball like Golden State.”
To Young, the Warriors are the spiritual successors to the 2014 San Antonio Spurs. The coaches and players’ philosophy is what drives the team’s success. It’s not just their substantial firepower — it’s the principles behind the team, which will allow them to win this championship and many more.
However, the Warriors aren’t universally adored. Some Dukes, like junior guard Kamiah Smalls, despise the team. Although, even she admits the team is the favorite to win the chip this year.
“As much as it boils my blood, yeah, they’re up there for sure,” Smalls said. “The Boston Celtics, if they get it together, [could beat the Warriors]. They can’t stop Jayson Tatum. Jayson Tatum is a problem, and Kyrie, on top of that, [is too]. If they come together, Golden State’s got some problems.”
Michael Turner contributed to this report.