Around the NBA’s West at Midseason: Warriors Remove Drama While Three-Point Barrage Continues
As the NBA season heads towards its mid-February All-Star Break, let’s zoom out and take a look at the hoops landscape. Three-point records continue to fall, as math (three-pointers and shots in the paint: yes; everything else: no) continues its systematic domination of NBA offense until rule changes move the line further back or more teams recognize zone defense is a wise alternative. Currently, there is an allergy to anything inside the arc. I love the three-pointer, but when 25 of the NBA’s 30 teams are attempting to do the same thing (drive and kick, swing the ball, find a corner three-pointer), a lack of variety diminishes the viewing experience. One should not eat steak every night.
With a week left in January, the winter is taking its toll on most rosters. Arctic temperatures in the Midwest and northeast, and the chilly, rain-soaked west coast aren’t helping. Upper respiratory infections are rampant. In addition to the cold and flu season, as we approach the 50-game-mark, many of the top players are recuperating from injury.
LeBron James and the LA Lakers: A hamstring tweak is not something any NBA player can play through. There’s no DHing in basketball. The Lakers now face quite an uphill climb toward the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. James is likely taking a few extra games in order to gear up for a March/April run at the 8th seed. The NBA would like nothing more than a Warriors-Lakers playoff series, even if it appears destined to end in anticlimactic fashion in the first round.
Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans: Nobody wants to see a finger specialist. Rumors will swirl until summertime, when a big trade is increasingly likely. Get ready for the future 30–35 win New Orleans Hornets, competing in the West despite being geographically similar to Milwaukee and Chicago. At least Julius Randle will have fun becoming this generation’s Derrick Coleman.
Chris Paul and the Houston Hardens: Will the Houston Hardens, err Rockets, survive until the All-Star Break? After losing Trevor Ariza to free-agency, they were hamstrung by Chris Paul’s hamstring, and now they’ve lost center Clint Capela to thumbiness. Yet, the slow-motion supernova known as James Harden continues his cartoonish avalanche, steering them into the win column by scoring 50+ points on a nightly basis. For Harden’s sake, Paul will need to carry more weight in the 2nd half. Either way, the Warriors recently added a rather talented center to an already overloaded cast. Signing Kenneth Faried, recently bought out by the Brooklyn Nets, to gobble up a few rebounds, isn’t going to help Houston win in April and May.
Golden State and the West Jumble
The summer news that DeMarcus Cousins, coming off an Achilles tear, would be signing a one-year deal with Golden State seemed laughable. The rich keep getting richer, as has been happening in this country for the last few decades. It seems even nuttier to watch them all on the court together. A literal All-Star team, collected to play in the regular season against 29 other collections of NBA players. Remember when the media was running with Draymond Green’s Durant-fueled court tantrums as signs of Warrior malaise? Remember when Klay Thompson was struggling from deep? Look up and see the Warriors at the top of the West, having reeled off eight straight, and Klay making his first 10 threes in a lopsided win in Los Angeles. The Warriors are a dessert menu with five tempting options. The rest of the NBA has type 2 diabetes and will wither away after ingesting a sip of that sweet nectar.
Despite Paul George’s sensational season, Oklahoma City doesn’t have the shooting to survive that onslaught. They’d need at least one more perimeter threat to even dream of keeping pace. Denver’s defense isn’t likely to bother the Dubs, as the advantage of playing in the thin air of Denver matters less without the travel of the regular season.
Utah has already begun to make a similar push toward the top half of the West bracket, winning 8 of 10. The Jazz always seem to face a tougher schedule in the first few months, forcing them to climb the ladder as the season ensues. Utah needs the mysterious Ricky Rubio to match last year’s career-best-spring, and will rely on Gobert’s defense and electrifying second-year-guard Donovan Mitchell to take over in key moments. Utah’s defense provides the only hope of slowing the Warriors at full-strength.
The revamped San Antonio Spurs refuse to go quietly into the dark night. But anyone who’s watched DeMar DeRozan in Toronto knows it’s not wise to expect a long playoff run. DeRozan’s midrange savvy doesn’t translate so well to playoff physicality, though his court awareness does. The Spurs young backcourt of Derrick White and Bryn Forbes has risen to fill the holes left by Danny Green, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and the injured Dejounte Murray. Expecting White, Forbes and stretch big Davis Bertans to play this well in late April would be a mistake.
The Los Angeles Clippers peaked in December and most coaches wouldn’t trust Tobias Harris or Lou Williams to get them a crunch-time bucket in the playoffs. As much as I love Damian Lillard, last year’s Blazers were swept in the first round by Anthony Davis’ Pelicans. I don’t see them threatening any of the top four.
In the meantime, the Sacramento Kings are this year’s lovable playoff-fringe crew. More than any other story, the perennially downtrodden Kings finally making it back to the playoffs after a dozen years away would be the most heartwarming tale of the regular season. Sadly, that possibility (currently at 11% according to basketball reference) is slipping away with each loss.