The Warriors remain quite confident in their postseason prospects for a 14-14 team. That’s partly because there are 54 games left in the NBA regular season and mostly because THEY’RE THE FREAKIN’ WARRIORS.
Being the defending NBA champions and having won half of the last eight league crowns, certain allowances can be made for a slow start. And stepping up to slap down the Celtics in a Finals rematch last Saturday night supports the notion that Golden State will eventually be just fine.
But league sources are indicating the Dubs may not look exactly the same when and if they get there.
“I have a feeling the Warriors are going to make either (James) Wiseman or (Jonathan) Kuminga available,” one league executive told Heavy Sports, echoing the belief of a peer who’s also spoken to this site. “They just need another solid veteran.
“They think they’re decent enough talent-wise, but they just don’t think they can put those kids on the floor and execute. They recognize their talent and their athletic ability; they just don’t have the execution piece. And their logic is this: they only have X number of years of Steph Curry‘s elite level of play, and they don’t want to waste any of it. So far those two kids have just not developed in the same way Jordan Poole has, and I would think there’s somebody out there who’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’ll take one of those young guys and see if I can’t, with patience, get them to develop.'”
If you’re an NBA team official looking to pick up one of the two, think big. “Wiseman might actually be more available than Kuminga,” the executive said. “There’s a concern there that’s like, did he choose the game, or did the game choose him? How committed is he?”
As for a potential Warrior target, the field of possibility could be wide.
“It’s not like they’d be looking for another GREAT player,” said the exec. “Sometimes what you need is just a guy who’s reliable — a guy who knows what to do, knows what not to do. He’s not going to get in the stars’ way, and he’s going to be able to do the things necessary to help the team’s execution.”
Former Coach Defends Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla
The Celtics may have saved themselves a few uncomfortable days under the microscope with their overtime escape against the Lakers in L.A. on Tuesday night. From 20 ahead with less than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Bostonians slid into the same rut that lost them the two previous games at Golden State and the Clippers. Down by 13 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, they forced OT and cleaned out the Lakers with a 10-0 run in the extra period.
As with the losses to the Warriors and Clips, there were flashbacks to the stagnant offense and flat-footed defense that had dogged them in the 2022 Finals and in their worst moments early last season.
“You saw some of that Tatum-Brown my turn-your turn stuff, but there’s so much less of that this year with that team,” said one league source. “They’ve been killing teams with their cuts and movement, but sometimes you’ve got to rely on people to just make plays.
“The quality of how good you are is how many games you can win when you don’t have it going. One of the things I watch for is when a team is good enough to not play real well and still win games, and I think they are. They don’t have to play a complete game, because they have two guys in Brown and Tatum that can explode at any given time and sort of rescue the situation very quickly.”
Some of the defensive issues can be traced to the absence of Al Horford for the latter part of the road trip, and the fact that Rob Williams is still not back (though he is close). One opposing team official isn’t taking larger meaning from a rough stretch.
“Boston’s gotten off to such a great start, but they obviously haven’t been themselves the last few games — neither has Phoenix,” he said. “There’s just a lot of teams that go through this. Milwaukee’s had a couple of really bad stinkers. But with Boston, I think everybody reverts to habits a little bit — good habits or bad habits. But it can also be a reminder of how much a team has to change its habits to be successful.”
Celtic interim coach Joe Mazzulla took some criticism for keeping with a defense that allowed Curry and Klay Thompson to get loose for open looks.
“For sure, Boston got hurt with the drop coverage they played, but, first of all, without Williams and Horford, they were going to have a hard time on defense no matter what they did,” said one league scout who’s also spent years in the coaching ranks. “And are you really going to spend the limited time you have to get ready for that game changing how you do your defense? It’s not just the guys dealing with the pick and roll; you have to spend time going over where everybody else needs to be when you make a change.
“And do you want to change up for one team when you’re not going to really play them again for 70 or 80 games if you both make it to the Finals — other than the one other regular season game you have? I think usually you just stick with what you’re doing because you have very little practice time, and you needs reps to make changes. But I don’t read very much into it. It’s just everybody gets a little bit hyper when it comes to the bigger games of the year. And, like I said, without Williams and Horford, it’s even harder to make changes and have them work. Defensive-specific changes are harder to make when you don’t have your main guys.
“So they played their typical defense. They didn’t make specific changes. I think the philosophy is — and I think it’s a sound philosophy — to not make changes all the time in the regular season. It’s easy to be critical of a coach because he didn’t change his game plan, but coaches often don’t change their game plan for the benefit of the next few games. They want to get really solid with what they do the most.”
The NBA: Where Context Matters
The hazards of making major declarations based on regular season snapshots came to light again recently.
Said one GM to Heavy Sports, “You’re trying to make good judgments on teams and on players, but there are so many games being played with teams at less than full speed. And I’m not talking about role players that are missing, I’m talking about stars that aren’t playing. You’re seeing it in games every single night.
“Like, Boston played against a Clipper team that most other teams haven’t had to go against this year. With (Paul) George and Kawhi (Leonard) together, that’s a whole different team. The Clippers that beat the Celtics were the Clippers that everybody was predicting to win the Western Conference this year. And they’re just one example.
“Look at Golden State. Draymond (Green) and Curry didn’t even go to Utah when they lost to the Jazz. They were resting for four or five days to get ready to play Boston. So it’s not the same. You’re not measuring situations that are the same the way you are in the playoffs when both teams are under the same schedule once the series starts.”