The Golden State Warriors are coming off a season where they posted the best record in NBA history at 73-9, but fell tantalisingly short in the NBA Finals.
So what do they do? Sign four-time scoring champion and NBA MVP Kevin Durant to accompany their big three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, that’s what.
One could be excused for thinking that this would make them unbeatable. As much as teams may be able to keep up with them in the regular season – they are currently 47-9 – the playoffs are a different animal.
Sustaining good play on both ends of the floor against them is difficult, but there is a common trend for teams that have had success against them this season.
The three ball.
In their most recent loss to the Denver Nuggets, Denver tied an NBA record with 23 made three-pointers. In their loss to Houston earlier in the season, the Rockets capitalised from deep, a common trend for a Mike D’Antoni led system. Memphis made thirteen threes to defeat them earlier in January, and also beat the Warriors in December – becoming the only team to defeat Golden State twice this season.
So aside from the odd game here or there where the Warriors just play terribly, the best way to beat them is by excellence from three.
And there is only one team that is capable of doing that consistently over a seven match series – Houston.
The Rockets, led by MVP candidate James Harden, have a team of three-point specialists and defensive players, allowing them to compete on both ends of the court. Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon can shoot at will, and Harden’s ability to break down the defence allows them to get open shots.
At the centre position, Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell and Nene are all viable players on both ends of the court, while Capela and Harrell are great in pick and roll situations.
The improvement of Sam Dekker off the bench has allowed them to play an up-tempo style with both units, putting constant pressure on the opposing team.
The thing that separates Houston from the likes of Denver, Memphis and Utah is not only their dominant shooting, but the genuine greatness of James Harden.
Harden is nearly averaging a triple-double while leading the league in assists and being third in points per game. He has hit many clutch shots in tight games, and his leadership has elevated to a new level this season.
To beat the Warriors, you have to beat them at their own game. Playing a half-court style may upset them once in a while, but not in a seven game series. Relying on one player to dominate will look good at times, but ultimately fall flat. See, Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins.
Putting pressure on their defence for 48 minutes leads to offensive mistakes from the Warriors. As the Rockets found, their offense becomes stagnant late in close games and in overtime, and missed shots leads to easy chances on offense for the opposing team.
In a seven game series between Houston and Golden State, the Warriors would be comfortable favourites. That said, the Rockets have a bigger chance than anyone of causing an upset.
Just don’t tell the Spurs I said that.